You’ve been preparing for months. Ever since you learned that your little one was on its way you’ve been making plans.
In fact, the little tyke has already consumed a major part of your life and there’s a good chance you’ve changed all of your regular habits to make sure that the baby arrives safe and sound with all ten toes and fingers healthy and ready to take life on.
You’ve done all your shopping, changed your eating habits, given up those nasty bad habits, and more than likely made a major shift in your time schedule not to mention the redecorating, restructuring, and repositioning everyone else in the household.
With all that anticipation and preparation going on to welcome the new baby home it’s no wonder that there is a houseful of joy at the new arrival. Whether it’s your first baby or a subsequent one – visions and hopes for its future usually surround them from the moment they arrive.
So, why is there such a wide range of varying opinions about which is the proper method for getting their baby to sleep? While you may have a host of experts weighing in on the subject the bottom line is that children are all different and unique.
What method may work best for one child may not work at all for another. Even within the same family, you may find children that will require entirely different strategies in all aspects of child rearing.
With that in mind, this guide entails some of the most common and acceptable methods for getting a newborn baby to sleep.
Since we’ve already established that no two children will respond to techniques in the exact same way feel free to thumb through these methods and try them within the confines of your family dynamic.
If you feel that one method does not work well for you, don’t distress, just skip it and try the next method.
We are confident that a strategy that will help your baby to get that all-important shut-eye when it is needed so you can have the peaceful life that we all secretly long for is just a matter of finding it.
A Healthy Sleep Cycle for Your Baby
What to Expect
After the excitement of a new baby dies down the real work of parenting begins. If you are a new parent then chances are you’ve been inundated with well-wishers and many with good intentions, each wanting with all their heart to help you.
This however, is one of the first tasks you’ll have to do as a parent, to sift through all the chaff and come up with a parenting plan that will create a family dynamic that will benefit everyone.
Unfortunately, this is not always easy to do. Just keep in mind that you have three main objectives to accomplish in those first few days with your baby.
- To get to know your little one. Yes, he or she already has a personality and believe it or not a mind a mind of her own. It is up to you to learn and understand her needs, wants, and expectations.
- To reinforce the person that is trusting you with their lives. You want your baby to feel safe and cared for. Even at this early stage what you do to reinforce their sense of security can benefit that child for years to come.
- To enjoy your new role as a parent. There will be times when you will be so exhausted that you won't be able to think straight. There will be times when you won't have a clue what your baby wants. These times can be discouraging, especially when it's 3:00 in the morning and the incessant crying seems to never end but if you use those times to remember the joys of parenthood you'll have a better chance of plowing your way through those rough nights.
The manner in which you and your baby connect can actually influence every aspect of that child’s life, not just his or her sleeping patterns so the sooner you decide what type of relationship the two of you will have the sooner the baby will begin to adjust to life in this great big world. This means that you must educate yourself on what a normal baby’s sleep patterns should be so you will know when your baby’ sleeping schedule is out of whack.
So, what is a normal sleep pattern for a newborn baby? It goes without saying that they will be sleeping a lot. There is a lot of energy expended in being born and the first few days they will be pretty exhausted and in need of rest.
According to the babycenter.com, there is nothing unusual about a newborn sleeping as much as 16 to 17 hours a day. The biggest challenge for many parents is that they tend to wake-up at the most inopportune times, at which point their needs must be tended to. This translates into an extremely irregular sleep pattern and a limited amount of sleep for you.
Birth to six weeks: Newborns tend to have unpredictable sleep patterns, which are much shorter than what older children or adults are accustomed to but there is a reason for this. Unlike adults, much of a baby’s sleep time is spent in the REM stage (rapid eye movement).
This stage is believed to be essential for enhancing the development of their little brains. Still, it can be frustrating when you can’t seem to get your REM sleep because your babies REM stage is so short. The good news is that in healthy babies, this stage usually starts to get longer at about six weeks of age.
Six to eight weeks: At around six weeks of age, babies tend to have discerned the difference between day and night. It is at this point that they will naturally begin to adjust their sleep cycles taking shorter naps during the daylight hours and start a longer sleep routine during the night.
You can encourage this routine by following some very basic steps in the family routine that will help the baby to understand when it is time to sleep.
Four to six months: At four months, most babies have stretched out their sleeping cycle to at least eight hours and some have managed to sleep through a full twelve hours. While some babies reach this stage earlier (at around two months) most do not reach this milestone until sometime after the four-month marker.
Simple Strategies to Help Babies Learn a Sleeping Schedule
It is important to note that even healthy babies will have trouble slipping into a regular sleeping routine, which can make it very hard for the parents to maintain a consistent schedule.
However, there are a few things that can help the baby to acclimate to a more normal sleep cycle. In training your baby to know when to sleep try these simple strategies:
- In the first few weeks, most babies will only be awake for an hour or two at a stretch. Encourage sleep by making it easy for them to take regular naps. It may seem counterproductive to encourage sleep but if the baby is kept awake for longer than their natural cycle they can become over-stimulated and then it will be more difficult for them to fall asleep naturally.
- Teach them the difference between night and day. In the daytime keep the room bright and let as much light in as possible. Allow your home to fill with natural noises heard through the day and play and interact with your little one as much as possible. When darkness falls, dim the lights and play soothing music for your baby. The house should be as peaceful as possible and resist the temptation to play with them. This will encourage a more regular sleep pattern and before long the baby will learn to distinguish that daytime is for activity and nighttime for resting on his own.
- Follow your baby’s cues. Babies may not be able to speak but they do know how to let you know when they need something. Look for the different signs they give when they are tired. Watch for the rubbing of the eyes, pulling the ears, and that tell-tale sign of irritability when all their needs are met.
3 Benefits of Healthy Sleep for Your Babies
Most parents fully expect that in the first few months of a baby’s arrival that they are going to lose a lot of sleep. It starts with the feeding times every two or three hours and moves on to answering the baby’s cries at all hours throughout the night and day.
This routine is perfectly normal in the first few weeks but if you find that your baby is still struggling to sleep through longer stretches of time as they grow older, it is something that needs to be addressed. There are many good reasons why babies need to have good quality sleep in their lives.
You’ve probably already seen what happens when your baby doesn’t get enough sleep. One of the first things you’ll notice is that it actually disrupts their attention span, which can have a negative effect on their lives in many ways. Consider these points:
- It inhibits their ability to learn. From the time your child enters the world a learning process begins. For your baby's brains to mature they need to be able to sleep well. Studies have shown that those babies that receive higher quality sleep during the night developed better cognitively.
- It affects their mood. Quite often, babies that sleep better tended to have a calmer temperament. They were more receptive to the world around them and were less distracted. Those infants who lacked an adequate amount of sleep tended to be more irritable and much more easily frustrated when they were separated from their mothers.
- It retards their development. Aside from the impact lack of sleep has on the brain and its ability to learn, prolonged sleep deprivation in your baby could result in other developmental issues. Studies have shown that many children suffering from ADHD did not get enough sleep when they were younger. There is also some concern that this condition could lead to obesity, diabetes, and other serious medical conditions.
With all these things in mind, it is very important that every child no matter what age is able to get an adequate supply of sleep every day. It's is okay to miss a day or two of sleep; it happens to everyone but concern should be that these occasional nights without sleep do not become a pattern that will lead to problems they may have to deal with for the rest of their lives.
What You Need to Prepare Your Baby for Sleep
Babies Fall Asleep Differently
Some parents may not have trouble getting their babies to sleep but are having difficulty getting them to stay asleep. They know all the techniques for rocking, cradling, swaddling, among other things, which work perfectly but as soon as they put the baby down it seems they are instantly awake.
It can be frustrating for the parent because in such situations they are often already exhausted themselves and they may not be thinking clearly due to their own lack of sleep. This makes it even more difficult for them to understand what is happening with their baby.
In many cases the problem lies not in the baby’s difficulty in staying asleep but in the parent’s understanding of a baby’s normal sleep cycle. For most older children and adults, falling into a deep sleep is a relatively straightforward process.
As they fall asleep their higher brain centers slowly start to shut down so they can quickly enter what is called non-REM sleep. This is a deep sleep that is indicated by shallow breathing and very relaxed muscles. After a period of about an hour or more the brain goes into another stage of increased mental activity called REM sleep.
This stage is evidenced by the rapid movement of the eyes under the closed eyelids and is sometimes called the dream stage. This phase is a lighter form of sleep. Throughout the night, the brain will alternate back and forth between deep/non-REM sleep and this dreamlike state where you can be easily awakened.
While adults can go straight from being fully awake into a deep sleep babies cannot. Their brain transitions are much slower and they first drift off into a lighter sleep pattern. At first glance, you may think they are asleep but they are not fully into that deep sleep stage.
If you put the baby down during this stage, he will easily reawaken and demand your attention. This stage can last for around twenty minutes or more. Once a baby reaches the stages of deep sleep, however, you can easily put them to bed, change their clothes, or do whatever needs to be done and they won’t be disturbed.
The key here is to identify the different signs of deep sleep in your baby. Once the little one drifts off try to keep him in the same position until you see the tell-tale signs that he is in a more penetrating sleep. You’ll notice that:
- She will no longer make facial twitches.
- Her breathing will be regular and shallow.
- The muscles will be completely relaxed.
- Her fisted hands will relax and open.
- Arms will dangle weightlessly.
As the baby gets older, they will begin to enter a deep sleep much more quickly. This can happen at different times for different babies so it's up to you to learn to identify your baby's deep sleep stages.
The Shorter Sleep Cycle Problem
In adults, each sleep cycle can last for two hours or more but in infants, the time between transitions can be much shorter. A baby may stay in deep sleep for an hour or less before she enters light sleep where she is more likely to be woken up.
This stage may only last for ten minutes or so, but it can be a very painful ten minutes if their sleep is disrupted.
This means that once your child has entered a deep sleep it does not mean that she will stay in that stage throughout the night. For newborns, the sleep cycles will come and go with much more frequency and those light sleeping times will be twice as likely to occur.
If a baby wakes up during one of their light sleep cycles it will be much more difficult to get them back to sleep and even longer to get them back into a deep sleep stage.
Understanding the baby’s sleep cycles and their high frequency of light sleep can help parents to know when is the best time to put them down and how to prepare the home for nighttime sleeping. Ideally, during the day, you would expect the baby to have more short periods of sleep (naps) so it will be okay to allow noise and other activities in the baby’s environment.
However, if you want to encourage your baby to sleep for longer periods of time through the night, then make sure that the environment is conducive for a quiet and more peaceful night. The less stimuli in the baby’s environment the easier it will be for them to fall asleep and stay asleep when they need to.
Reasons Why Babies Wake During the Night
Now that you understand the baby’s sleep cycles it should be easier to manage their sleep times. The knowledge of their sleeping patterns, the shorter cycles, and how to identify when they are in a deep sleep can be a lifesaver for many parents.
Still, there is the inevitable time when the baby seems to wake up for no apparent reason, which can lead to irritable and restless nights of frustration for both the baby and the parent.
If raising a small baby was as simple as that there would be no need for this guide. As we’ve said before, no two babies are alike nor are the parents but there are scientifically proven facts about baby behavior that can provide some clue as to why your little one doesn’t appreciate the value of wholesome shut-eye like you do.
Stimulation that Interrupts Your Baby Sleep
In most cases, the baby wakes up because of some need. Of course, the obvious reasons are there. They may want to be fed, they are uncomfortable because they need to be changed, or they just want a little attention. These situations can be easily identified and taken care of. However, there are some less obvious reasons that the baby may not want to go to sleep or wakes up before he or she should.
One of those reasons is stimulation. You might think that this entails noise or excessive activity within their environment and while this may be the case at times there are other forms of stimulation that may be interrupting her slumber.
They may be sick for example. Having a cold or a fever can be extremely unpleasant for an adult imagine how a baby may be feeling.
Developmental Changes: As the baby learns and develops new skills they may wake up earlier than usual to practice what they learn. Babies that have learned to sit up will want to wake up and sit up. Others that have learned to crawl will often be found crawling around in their beds. And those who are old enough to pull up and walk will be anxious to try out their new talents.
Emotional Changes: There may be emotional issues that cause them to wake up in the middle of the night. Separation anxiety is a common cause of distress and can last well into their school years if not addressed.
Emotional challenges can become even more pronounced when siblings are also part of the picture.
The best way to resolve these issues is to start the baby on a sleep routine that will help them to understand and distinguish when it is the right time to sleep. This may include establishing a nighttime ritual that helps the baby to feel close to you and at the same time secure in her crib alone.
It may require you to test a few of the strategies in the following chapters to understand what the problem is but with patience and time you will find the right combination for you and your baby.
Over the years, there have been countless “experts” who have devised a host of strategies, gadgets, and methods for getting a baby to sleep and from these you may glean all sorts of ideas. One thing has been clear from the beginning; few of these strategies focus on the underlying cause for a baby’s restlessness.
Therefore, as a parent, before you attempt any of these strategies, first try to understand what your baby wants from you. Only then can you find the solution that will help your baby get to sleep.
The Attachment Method for Teaching Baby to Sleep
Probably the most tried and tested method of getting a baby to sleep is the Attachment Method. Its practice has probably been around for longer than baby books written by so-called experts.
It doesn’t entail the insensitive approach of ignoring your baby’s cries until they are too exhausted to stay awake nor does it require enduring long arduous tasks that can be more involved than you may have any energy to do. The Attachment Method involves only two basic fundamental elements.
- Managing your baby's interactions during the day.
- Keeping the baby within close proximity at night.
Common sense dictates that managing your baby’s moods during the day can affect how they sleep at night. Consider yourself for a moment. If you spend your days frustrated, irritated, and sad you will inevitably have sleepless nights.
Imagine the amount of input a small baby receives throughout the day, most of it they do not understand. There are lots of people making funny faces at them, strange noises, lots of touching, and words being spoken that they don’t understand.
Babies brains have not yet figured out how to organize all the input they are receiving and do not understand the concept of day or night. When born, the only thing a baby knows with absolute certainty is when they are hungry and need feeding.
As a parent, it is important that you help your child to organize their daytime routine. This will lead to a calmer temperament, which will naturally lead to better sleep at night.
During the day, many parents may choose to feed their baby when she cries but babies often give cues long before the tears start to fall. Just like in the last chapter we learned to watch for cues that a baby is sleepy, there are definite signs that your baby wants to be fed.
You may observe your baby making small mouthing movements, sticking their tongue out, or putting their small fists in their mouths. All of these are signs that the baby is hungry. Actually, if the baby is already crying then chances are he’s been hungry for a while now.
Keep in mind that babies have very small stomachs so they cannot hold large amounts of food. This is why they need to be fed much more frequently. Imagine how much calmer your baby will be if he has not spent all of his energy on crying to get you to feed him. A calm baby will naturally sleep better at night.
Many parents have also found success in keeping the baby close to them at all times but when this is done in the daytime, the baby doesn’t get a chance to develop the highly stressed separation anxiety that can have a negative impact on their temperament.
In many ancient civilizations, mothers often wore their babies throughout the day. No matter where they went or what they were doing the baby was always strapped to their body in some way.
This also made it possible for mothers to pick up on the hunger cues so the baby could be fed at the first sign. These two simple strategies can keep the baby’s temperament calm throughout the day so he doesn’t have to spend too much time settling down when it’s time to go to sleep.
It won’t take long before you know exactly how your baby wants to be carried. Past the past, nearly every culture on earth mothers held their babies in a sling but there are lots of other baby-wearing devices you can use.
Whatever you choose, just make sure that it is secure enough to keep the baby snuggly in place and that it allows you close contact with your little one.
The Benefits to Parents
Ideally, these simple strategies not only benefit the baby but have some great advantages for the parents as well. By keeping your baby close, you get to learn about her much more quickly.
This will help you to understand what is causing her anxiety at night. You learn your baby’s cues and the baby also learns your expectations. Intuitively with this type of knowledge, you’ll know exactly what your child needs to get to sleep, her preference for method to put her to sleep, and how best to respond when she cries out for you in the middle of the night.
The more you interact with your baby during the daytime the better equipped you’ll be to understand and manage her nighttime needs.
In these situations, it is best to follow your instincts. For generations parents have kept their baby close to them at night. They did not do this because some book told them to do it but because it felt right, it was instinctual.
All of us have some instinctual idea of how life should be and usually when we stray too far from what our inner voice tells us we get into trouble.
How to Create an Environment Conducive to Sleep
It goes without saying that you can’t force a baby to do anything. At such a tender age, they don’t understand the concept of punishment and raising your voice only teaches them fear. The ideal way to get a baby to sleep is to create an environment that will encourage sleep naturally.
We’ve talked about the cues that the baby gives to tell you when she is sleepy or hungry but there are also cues you can give your baby to help her understand when it is the right time to sleep.
There are several different strategies you can apply to communicate with your baby. Once you truly understand your baby’s temperament, and taken into consideration her needs and regular sleep habits, you’ll be able to apply them to encouraging a healthy sleep routine.
It bears repeating that not all babies are the same and these strategies won’t fit every child so be willing to try different things until you find one that fits you best.
Also, keep in mind that as your child ages your nighttime routine may need to be adjusted to accommodate their growing maturity. Below are some suggestions for strategies that may work with your child.
1 - Your Daytime Routine
For some people, getting the baby to sleep depends largely on what you do just before you put her down. However, since babies at such a tender age are not able to distinguish between night and day, often their temperament during the day flows over into the night.
The calmer she is in the daylight has a direct correlation with her temperament at night. If your baby finds that you’re not spending a lot of time with her she may become anxious and restless at night.
If you’re a working parent and the baby must be left in the care of others make sure it is a good match for you and your baby. Your baby needs to be held, a lot. They need lots of human contact to help them grow emotionally so make sure that whoever you leave your baby with is willing to give her loads of that vital human contact.
Many mothers carry their babies in slings throughout the day so that they can have that direct contact. This allows the mother to bond with the baby in a way that no other person can.
2 - Set Routines
Babies learn quicker when there is consistency in their lives. They may not know how to tell time but they do have an internal clock that tells them when you are going to be there for them.
If you keep a consistent routine every day then your baby will automatically understand when it is nap time. When you lie her down every day at the same time she will quickly learn that this is the time for sleep. This can only be emphasized more if you choose to lie down with her.
3 - Apply relaxing rituals
Simply laying your baby down may not be enough to get them to go to sleep but there are several strategies you can apply to your routine to help your child relax enough that she wants to doze off.
Many parents rock their babies to sleep, others set feeding times just before time to sleep. (It is important to note that while feeding may be a great way to get your baby to sleep, overfeeding them can make them too uncomfortable to relax). Whatever you decide for your baby’s bedtime routine, make sure that it is consistent.
This strategy works well because even small infants quickly develop a pattern of association and will relate one activity to another. They have a lot to store in their young minds and one of the first things their brains figure out is sequencing.
If your routine starts with feeding then a warm bath followed by a little rocking, they will be programmed to drift off to sleep at the expected time.
4 - Apply Baby Massage
We all know how relaxing a warm bath can be but imagine how good your baby will feel if you also add a little baby massage with it. There are many benefits to giving your baby a massage.
Besides the fact that it is relaxing it also helps the baby to develop faster. Science has long since discovered that there is a direct connection between skin-to-skin contact and growth.
Touch actually helps the body to produce growth hormones and an increase of certain enzymes necessary for the development of the body’s vital organs. For this reason, hospitals put premature infants in what is called a grower nursery. Statistics show that babies that received more human touch grew 47% faster than those that did not.
It also encourages brain development. Studies have also shown that human contact also bolsters neurological development. According to many researchers, touch encourages the growth of myelin, which is the insulating material found around each nerve. Good myelin makes the nerve impulses move much faster.
These are only some of the benefits of massage on a baby. Other benefits include a healthier digestive system, better behavior, and a more positive self-esteem.
How to Making the Sleep Last
The next challenge to getting your baby to sleep is to keep him that way. We’ve already discussed that their sleep cycles are much shorter than older children and adults so their time in deep sleep is often short lived.
It is a fact that as they grow older their time in deep sleep will lengthen but for the tired parents there has to be a way to keep him from responding to any external stimuli in his environment. This chapter will discuss a few simple techniques you can try to keep your baby down for the count.
- Make sure that she is well fed. One of the main reasons babies wake at night is because she needs to be fed. If you make sure that your baby gets fed every two to three hours during the day scheduling her last feeding just before bedtime, then she will be less likely to be hungry during the night.
For very small infants, waking during the night to be fed is perfectly natural. During that first feeding try to get the baby to have a full feeding before putting him back down to sleep. This will discourage him from waking too often for a late nighttime snack.
- For the newborn and up to at least nine months of age. It is best to lay the baby on her back for safe sleeping. While some studies have shown that babies sleep longer on their tummies other research shows that keeping the baby on the back has reduced the risk of SIDS by at least 40%. No one is really clear as to why lying on their back makes a difference but it is enough to know that doing so can also mean that your baby will sleep safely.
- Choose comfortable clothing for the baby to sleep in. Here again what will work for one baby may not be ideal for another. Because there are so many factors that can affect a child's sleep you may need to try several options before finding the one that works best. Some babies are prone to health conditions and allergies so may benefit better from sleeping in all cotton wear while others may feel satisfied with other fibers.
- Matching heartbeats. If your baby has become accustomed to the continuous motion method of falling asleep they may start to wake up when placed in a static bed. These babies will probably need a continuous rocking motion or to be placed near the parents where they can be close enough to sync with the parent’s heartbeat. This is common in newborns as the steady rhythm of the heart closely simulates their time in the womb.
- The hand method. Sometimes when the baby stirs after you've put them to sleep they will give you a cue that they are not ready to let you go yet. Try reassuring her by placing a hand on their back or their bottom. For some babies, just the gentle touch of your hand is enough but for others you may have to take this a step further. Gently tap with your fingertips on their back at a rate of about sixty beats a minute. This will simulate the heartbeat they heard while in the womb. Once the baby is fully in deep sleep do not remove your hands all at once but gradually ease off the tapping a little bit at a time slowly removing one hand and then the other.
- Leave a little comfort behind. Sometimes all the baby needs is a reminder of you to feel secure. Some parents leave a little something of their own that the baby is familiar with.
- Share the ritual. While most of the bonding with the baby falls on the mother it is important for the father to share in these rituals as well. In fact, there are some techniques that the father will be more successful at in getting the baby to sleep. This is largely because the father tends to have larger hands and stronger arms so the baby feels even more secure with him.
- During the day time it is perfectly natural for there to be lots of noises and activity in their environment. You'll have guests coming over, you'll receive phone calls, and there'll be lots of sounds for them to get used to. Some babies adapt quickly and will sleep through the worst of it but if you have a baby that startles easily, then you'll have to take a few pains to provide a quieter and more peaceful environment for them to sleep in. You can gradually introduce normal household sounds as the baby becomes more acclimated to her new environment.
- Know your baby. This is not the first time we've mentioned this in these pages. Because they are all different, a parent needs to know the baby’s personality in order to know how to handle her when she wakes up in the middle of the night. Some babies wake up, wiggle and whine a little and then put themselves back to sleep. These kinds of babies do not need you to run to them at the first sign of stirring. However, if you have a baby that will break out in a full cry when awakened you may be able to quickly settle her down with just a touch and a few pats. Simply use the hand method we discussed earlier to soothe them before they are fully awake. By getting to them quickly, you could prevent them from fully awakening in a fussy and stressful state.
- Choose rhythmic sounds.While it is impossible for most people to create a perfectly quiet environment for their baby there are some sounds that are naturally soothing for them. Consider putting a bubbling fish tank nearby, recording the mother singing or listening to her heartbeat (this mimics the sounds they hear in the womb), a metronome set at, you guessed it, sixty beats a minute, CD's of the waves in the sea or a waterfall. Basically, choose sounds that are soft, soothing, and non-intrusive.
Limit the Chances of Night Waking
Another very effective way of keeping your baby asleep at night is to reduce the chances of disturbing them once they fall asleep.
We’ve already discussed environmental influences; noises, comfort, and necessary feedings but there may be other underlying factors completely out of your control that can arouse your baby. These can be divided up into five different types: Physical, Environmental, Medical, and Emotional.
Physical Discomfort for Your Baby
Physical discomfort for your baby is inevitable. A perfect example of a physical condition that often causes babies to cry relentlessly is teething.
This type of irritation can start long before the baby actually begins to cut teeth and can continue for many months. So, how do you know your baby is teething when there are no physical signs to speak of? One tell-tale sign can be wet bedding around the baby’s head.
This could be an indication of excess drooling as a result of swollen and sensitive gums. They may also develop a rash on their chin or on the cheeks, which is accompanied by a fever.
If you suspect that your baby may be entering the teething phase it is best to speak with your doctor about recommended treatments to ease the irritation. They may prescribe low dose pain relievers to help them deal with the discomfort.
- Wet diapers: Some babies cannot sleep with a soiled diaper. If your baby is irritable at night, check and change the diaper to see if that helps them to settle in and be more comfortable. Unless a soiled diaper is an irritant to your baby or you're battling an unpleasant diaper rash it is best to let the baby sleep through it.
- Uncomfortable clothing: Sometimes the sleepwear is an irritation to the baby's skin. Synthetic fibers like polyester or nylon can be the cause of skin allergies that can keep the baby awake. Often it is not the clothes themselves but the laundry detergent or fabric softener you use in your laundry. If this is the problem, look for organic all-natural products to use when you wash your baby’s clothes.
- Congestion: Especially in newborns, babies are incapable of clearing their nasal passages. When they are stuffed up it is difficult for them to breath. This congestion could be caused by environmental factors like lint in the air, dust, smoke, and different types of sprays used around the house. First, use a nasal suction bulb to remove the excess mucus that has collected in the nose then make sure the environment is cleaned to prevent further clogging. Place the baby on their stomach with their head turned to one side so that any excess mucus will flow out leaving more air for the baby to breathe.
- Temperature: If your baby is too hot or too cold it can disrupt their sleeping. Make sure that you adjust the temperature so that they can sleep comfortably. If they are too hot, it is perfectly okay to remove some clothing. Sometimes moving air on the skin can be a great relief for an irritable baby.
Sometimes we unwittingly put airborne irritants in the air that the baby breathes in. We may want a fresh house with lots of nice smells but they may be the very thing that is keeping your baby awake at night.
Common irritants that have been known to create an uncomfortable environment for a baby are cigarette smoke, animal dander, paint fumes, dust, even pillows, blankets, and stuffed toys.
Test out the items in the room where your baby sleeps one at a time to make sure they are not the cause of her sleepless nights. You might also want to take steps to allergy proof your home to be absolutely sure.
- The bed: No one likes to crawl into a cold bed so check the sheets to make sure that they're not too cold. In the wintertime try using flannel sheets and in the summer time use the lighter cotton ones. And make sure that the room has a good flow of air so that it doesn't become too stuffy.
- Noises: Loud unfamiliar sounds can be alarming and frightening to a sleeping baby. While you shouldn't tiptoe around to create an unnatural womb of quiet, try to avoid large sound bursts that can pierce into the baby's sleeping time.
It’s only natural for a baby to wake up when they are feeling sick so make sure that your baby is not suffering from some underlying medical condition that is causing her irritation. Since she can’t tell you where it hurts you will have to be a detective and follow the clues:
When your baby suddenly changes their sleep patterns after a normal routine it could be a medical issue.
If your baby seems to never sleep well or only has intermittent sleep.
Constant crying when nothing soothes her.
When you’ve tried everything and nothing works.
Medical conditions can sometimes be easily identified like in the case of a cold but there are some conditions that you won’t be able to see so quickly.
- Ear infections: it's painful to any baby. If your baby's sleeping routine suddenly changes and they experience restlessness at the same time she has a cold, it could be an ear infection. Or if your baby's discharge is thick and yellow or there is yellow drainage from the eyes it could mean there is an ear infection.
- Fevers are easily diagnosed. Some babies may be ill during the day but for some reason their fever spikes at night disrupting their sleep. If your child has a fever make sure you give her a doctor approved medication to lower the temperature in a safe way. Even if your child is ill during the day but shows no sign of fever it may be a good idea to give her medication before you put her down to sleep.
- Allergies: Often little ones can develop hidden food allergies. Not only do these things disrupt their sleep but they can also be hard to find. You should suspect food allergies if your baby tends to be irritable throughout the night, they wake up with a tense, gas filled stomach, or they develop a rash or nasal congestion.
- Urinary tract infections: If the nighttime irritation is accompanied by a slow growth pattern, fever, and vomiting it is possible that they have a urinary tract infection.
Surprisingly enough, babies can have a difficult time dealing with emotional stress in the home. This is why keeping the routine stable helps with the nighttime sleeping routine.
If parents are away at work, plan to spend more time with the baby when they get home. Just because you come home late don’t expect to just come home and put them to bed. Babies can also have separation anxiety and will miss you throughout the day.
Another facet of emotional problems is that they can sense your own moods so if you are sad or depressed it will inevitably transfer to the baby and they will mimic your own emotions.
The key to helping your baby to sleep through the night is to become a master detective. By understanding many of the problems that may be affecting your little one you can circumvent the discomfort bringing a welcome relief to both of you.
To Sleep or Not to Sleep with Your Baby
First, if you’re a parent you’re probably confused by all the experts who have repeatedly warned that sleeping with your baby is a dangerous habit to get into. You have the naysayers that say that sleeping with your babies make them master manipulators and in essence you’ll be raising a dysfunctional child.
But here is where modern thinking and cultural success diverge. For thousands of years mothers and babies have slept together for a number of reasons. Not only does it make nighttime feeding easier it provides a safe and secure environment for the child.
Co-Sleeping with Your Baby
Parent and child sleeping together is about much more than getting your child to sleep. It is a parent’s way of managing an environment that the baby feels comfortable and safe in. Co-sleeping is not the answer for every family and within a single family it is not the answer for every child.
Some children will naturally find comfort in sleeping on their own while others will long for the close attachment to their parents for longer. If co-sleeping is working for your child then it is important that you let it run its course. It shows that your child trusts you and feels safe and relaxed when you are near.
The benefits of co-sleeping are many.
- It helps them to relax faster. Falling asleep to something familiar calms them. Babies know that when they wake up they will still be in the arms of someone they know and trust. When they enter their non-REM sleep phase they can simply reach out and touch, smell, and hear you. You don't have to do anything except be there and they are comforted and will drift back to deep sleep easier.
- Mother gets better sleep. Mothers are no longer awakened in the night and do not need to go and check on the baby. Mother and child are in perfect harmony and their internal clocks will naturally fall in sync. If the baby begins to fidget the mother can simply place a loving hand on the baby to reassure her that she is near, she is comforted and they both can fall back to sleep. Babies that sleep alone on the other hand have to wake up, reach for comfort and when not finding it call out loud enough to get the parent's attention. The parent then has to get up out of bed, make their way to the crying infant, offer them comfort and then stay with them until they fall back into a deep sleep. Where one child can be comforted in a matter of seconds the other child's comfort could take much longer.
- Enhances the bonding between mother and child. This is especially beneficial for the mother/child that has not yet bonded. This slow bonding period could be the result of premature births or other medical conditions that kept mother and baby separated for a time. In these cases, mothering hormones are slow to develop. There are three ways a mother can increase her hormones that instinctively encourage bonding: sleeping together, touching, and breastfeeding. By co-sleeping the mother can take advantage of all three conditions.
- Urinary tract infections: If the nighttime irritation is accompanied by a slow growth pattern, fever, and vomiting it is possible that they have a urinary tract infection.
How to Co-sleep Safely
While co-sleeping can offer a lot of benefits there are also some risks involved. To make sure that you practice safe sleeping habits use these general precautions:
- Always place the baby on their back or side. This can reduce the risk of SIDS and other life-threatening health conditions.
- Never put a baby under nine months old on its tummy.
- Don't put a baby in a moveable or soft surface (waterbed, or beanbags for example).
- Never leave the baby alone.
- Clean the bedding as often as possible to avoid exposing them to allergens.
- Don't use anything more than 1¼ inch thick. Avoid using things like lambskin, sleeping mats, or anything that can interfere with the baby's breathing.
- Keep the baby's head uncovered. The head is where heat can escape. When a baby sleeps alone she may need the extra heat but when he sleeps with you she will absorb some of your body heat.
- If you are a smoker do not co-sleep with your baby.
- Use a guardrail to keep a separation between you and the baby. This will keep you from accidentally rolling over and suffocating the baby in your sleep.
- Always position the baby between the mother and the wall, not between mother and father.
- Do not co-sleep if you are taking medication or are under the influence of any drugs or alcohol.
- Avoid the tendency to over bundle the baby. Parents own body heat will help to keep the baby warm so baby will not need as many bedclothes as if he were sleeping alone.
- Make sure the bed is large enough for all of you. A bed that is too small is also a very unsafe environment.
- Place a small mattress on the floor next to the bed in case the baby rolls over and falls out of the bed.
- Use a guardrail.
‘Hiccup’ Guide to Disruptions along the Way
Babies have trouble sleeping for several different reasons. The point is, however, that there are reasons for their waking; we just don’t always know exactly what those reasons are.
If your baby is not waking due to hunger or out of habit, or because of any other causes discussed in previous chapters, there is a strong possibility that she is waking due to a problem, such as illness, colic or teething pain.
A wonderful advantage to having a baby, who sleeps well, is that when she doesn’t, there is a good chance there is a specific reason for the disruption that needs attending. It is useful to be able to differentiate these times, so that you can comfort your baby and give her the care that she needs.
Listed below are a few ‘hiccups’ that can occur during infancy and possible ways to deal with them. Equipping yourself with the knowledge about the types of problems that your baby might experience will help you deal with these problems more confidently, when and if they arise.
1 – Growth Spurts
Growth spurts commonly occur at around 10 days to 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, and again at 6 months, however, they can occur at any other time. During growth spurts babies can become slightly unsettled throughout the day and may be more likely to wake during the night.
During these times your baby will need extra nourishment. To ensure that she receives this extra nutrition and does not wake up hungry in the night, you should make sure that she is taking more milk in the daytime.
If you are bottle feeding, then you could increase your baby’s daytime feeds slightly. Start by increasing one feed by about 30ml and then increase another feed, by this amount, a day or two later if necessary.
The morning and the evening feeds should be the first to increase. You do not want to increase your baby’s feed size too much, too fast though, and never force her to have extra milk that she does not want.
If you are breastfeeding, there are several different options for increasing the amount of milk your baby is receiving. You could let your baby spend longer on the breast than usual during the daytime feeds.
If you have been expressing, you could cut down on the amount you are expressing and therefore that extra milk will go to your baby, or you could express more often and feed her the expressed milk, after her morning and evening feeds.
You could also add in an extra couple of feeds during the day, boosting your milk supply and therefore better sustaining your baby’s needs. Use whichever methods feel right for you and your baby.
2 – Reflux
Gastro-oesophageal reflux (GOR) can be common in young infants and occurs when the valve connecting the stomach and oesophagus is not strong enough to stay closed to keep milk down, during and after feeding. This will result in the contents of the stomach being regurgitated back up to the throat and mouth.
It may show up in your baby as mild posseting (spit up) or severe projectile vomiting. Silent reflux can also occur, where the baby doesn’t actually vomit, but the acid from the stomach makes its way back up into her throat, causing an uncomfortable burning sensation.
This can cause your baby much distress (and you for that matter). My second daughter suffered with silent reflux and it was a very stressful time. Every meal became a long tiresome, stressful ordeal, at the end of which we would both be in tears. So I do have the deepest sympathy for anyone experiencing severe reflux problems with their little one.
Reflux can become very severe or chronic if the valve is damaged by the high levels of gastric acid which it comes into contact with. This condition is referred to as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).
Typical symptoms of GOR or GORD are frequent posseting (spit up), vomiting large amounts regularly, back arching, during and sometimes in between feeds, refusal to feed, irritability, unexplained crying, coughing, chest and nasal congestion and failure to thrive (not putting on enough weight).
If your baby has any of these symptoms, it is important to take her to see a doctor immediately. Doctors can prescribe babies medication such as Infant Gaviscon or ranitidine to help with these symptoms. The doctor can also rule out anything else that may be to blame, or refer you to a paediatric gastroenterologist, for further testing and analysis.
Some General Practitioners (GP’s) can still be quite clueless about the real role reflux plays in infants and can tend to dampen down the importance and severity of reflux, telling parents that it’s all normal and their baby will simply outgrow it.
Of course a small amount of reflux is normal in babies, but if it is causing your baby severe pain and anguish and affecting her feeding habits, this is not normal and should be taken seriously.
Research has shown that there is a strong link between cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) and severe reflux in infancy. Statistically it has been found that at least 5% of all babies have a cow’s milk protein intolerance and about 60% of babies with continuing reflux or colicky problems are found to have CMPA.
They improve after being treated with a hypoallergenic formula or the breast feeding mother going dairy-free. If your GP starts to talk to you about lactose intolerance or trying your baby on a lactose free formula, please ask to be referred to a paediatrician, as these two are not linked at all and medically, it is thought, that lactose intolerance in infancy does not even exist.
This is not to say that all babies with reflux have a cow’s milk protein allergy or intolerance, but it is worth investigating, especially if your baby also suffers from eczema or develops a rash.
I would recommend reading, Colic Solved– the essential guide to infant reflux and the care of your crying difficult-to-soothe baby, by Bryan Vartabedian, if your baby is suffering severely from reflux. The author is a paediatric gastroenterologist who experienced reflux first hand with one of his children and seems to be very knowledgably on the subject.
To help a baby who is experiencing reflux problems, it is important to always feed her in an upright position, thus preventing the milk from coming back up, as it may do when the baby is in a horizontal position. Keep her upright for at least half an hour after feeding to aid the digestion of the milk.
If your baby is experiencing severe reflux, you might have to keep her upright longer, to help prevent pain and discomfort. Making sure that your baby is well burped is important. Burp her regularly during the feed, but not too often, as this could cause her more distress.
Putting a small blanket UNDERNEATH your baby’s mattress to prop up her head while she sleeps, can be beneficial in dealing with reflux problems. Feeding, little and often, usually helps too.
So perhaps double the amount of feeds you give your baby, but halve the amount of milk in the bottle or the amount of time on the breast. Following a feeding structure, such as outlined in the first two routines under the ‘routine’ section, may be useful.
Some mothers recommend paediatric cranial osteopathy to help with reflux problems. If you are interested in this option, please consult a qualified practitioner for help.
Personally, I think it would depend on the cause of your baby’s reflux, whether this would work or not. We took our little one to several sessions of cranial osteopathy, and although the osteopath was very knowledgeable and useful to talk to about our daughter’s problems, unfortunately I did not see much of an improvement with her reflux. However, depending on the cause of the reflux, it could be very successful for others.
Baby reflexology could, possibly, be of help for babies with reflux, focusing on the trachea, oesophagus, diaphragm and stomach reflex points. Also focus on your baby’s spinal area, as this will soothe her nervous system. Please refer to the ‘Tender Loving Care’ section for more information.
Baby yoga might also be beneficial. Make sure you keep your baby’s head elevated at all times when doing baby yoga, so that her head is higher than her tummy and will not increase the risk of reflux.
3 – Colic
Colic can be described as the incessant unexplained crying of a baby, lasting over three hours a day, usually in the evenings and appearing in babies under three months old.
No one really knows what causes colic, but it is thought to have something to do with trapped wind or stomach discomfort. It is important to take your baby to see a doctor to make sure there are not any medical causes for his crying.
Gina Ford advises in, The New Contented Little Baby Book, that colic may appear due to parents feeding their baby on demand. This may mean that a baby is given another feed, because he is ‘demanding’ it, too soon after the last feed, for it to have been digested properly.
This could cause digestive discomfort, which may be a cause of colic. She suggests that colicky problems could be resolved if the baby is on a feeding schedule and the feeds are spaced sufficiently far enough apart, thus giving time for the last feed to be fully digested.
A possible reason for colic appearing in the evenings is that this is naturally when a woman’s milk supply is at its lowest.
If a woman is experiencing a severely low milk supply, especially in the early days, before breastfeeding has been properly established, this could be a possible contributing factor towards colic. Increasing your milk supply, by methods suggested in the ‘Feeding and Sleeping’ section, might be beneficial.
It is also possible that colic may be due to ‘foremilk’ and ‘hindmilk’ during breastfeeding. Foremilk collects towards the front of the breasts and is lower in fat and higher in lactose than hindmilk, which collects towards the back of the breasts, in the alveoli.
This is because the fat in the milk tends to stick to the walls of the alveoli. This means that during a feed, your baby will receive foremilk before hindmilk and if the breast is not emptied adequately, or you switch breasts too soon, it could result in the baby receiving far too much foremilk and not enough hindmilk.
As the foremilk contains high levels of lactose, it could, possibly, upset your baby’s digestive system and make him seem discontent. He may then need another feed soon afterwards, as the foremilk is not as substantially satisfying as hindmilk.
Ensuring your baby feeds long enough, to empty your breast completely, will help rectify this. A very full, engorged breast will have far more foremilk to reach the baby before the hindmilk, than an emptier breast.
This means that feeding more often, before your breasts get too full, could help your baby receive higher levels of hindmilk and therefore feel more satisfied. This may help to prevent colicky symptoms and digestive upset.
If your breasts become engorged, you could express some milk before putting your baby to the breast. This will get the milk flowing and lessen the amount of foremilk your baby is receiving. If you have an oversupply of milk, feeding less often, from only one breast at a time could help ensure the breast is ‘emptied’ each time.
Bryan Vartabedian discusses in, Colic Solved – the essential guide to infant reflux and the care of your crying difficult-to-soothe baby, that ‘colic’ is a label that doctors have given to unsettled, irritable babies where there is no clear answer for their crying.
‘Colic’ is not a condition or disease; it is merely a description of a baby’s behaviour; crying constantly and being very unsettled. Doctors seem to describe babies with colic, as crying unexplainably for no apparent reason, but this is not to say that there isn’t a reason, only that the cause of the crying has not yet been detected.
He goes on to suggest that infant acid reflux could be one of the main undiagnosed causes of colic and therefore can and should be treated, instead of being ignored and put under the category of ‘colic’.
There are remedies such as Infacol or Colief that you can get for your baby that can help to ease gas pains associated with colic. They help to loosen and break up the gas in your baby’s stomach, helping him bring the gas up more easily, relieving digestive discomfort.
If you are breastfeeding, you could try to eliminate foods from your diet that could potentially upset your baby’s digestive system, such as dairy products, spicy foods or caffeine, and try drinking chamomile tea, which will help to calm him as well as being beneficial for the digestive system.
Reflexology may be helpful if you focus on the areas relating to the colon and the stomach. Giving your baby a warm bath may help to relax him and therefore offer some relief from colic.
Swaddling your baby may be beneficial too. Massage your baby’s tummy, in a clockwise direction, with essential oils such as chamomile, dill or mandarin, diluted in a carrier oil. Seeing a paediatric cranial osteopath is also thought to be beneficial.
4 – Teething
Teething can go almost unnoticed in some infants and in others it can cause severe upset during the day and disrupt sleeping patterns during the night.
You can usually notice if your baby is starting to teethe because he will want to chew on everything, he may dribble more frequently, get fussy between feeds and his cheeks may appear redder than usual. If you notice these signs, you could take some simple measures to help ease him through this time.
If your baby seems to be in pain and distress, you could give him infant paracetamol or ibuprofen. You can buy homeopathic teething granules, which can be very soothing for your baby.
Rubbing teething gel onto your baby’s gums or dipping your finger into lemon juice and massaging his gums with it, may be another option. Light facial massage around his jaw area could help to soothe the discomfort. Doing reflexology on your baby, focusing on the mouth reflex, is also an idea.
Always offer him teething toys to chew on; cold teething rings especially will help to relieve discomfort. Let him chew on cool fruit or vegetables if he is weaned, but ensure that he is supervised at all times.
Many mums use an amber teething necklace to relieve their baby’s teething pain. If you do choose to get one for your baby, remember to never leave the necklace on him while unsupervised and never let him sleep with the necklace on.
Clove oil has also been known to ease babies teething pain. Use, by diluting one drop in olive oil and rubbing a small amount onto your baby’s gums. It helps to numb the area and ease your baby’s pain.
5 – Illness
All babies get minor sniffs and snuffles from time to time and usually, it is not a cause for concern. Receiving most of these minor infections, early on in life, can help to build up the little one’s immune system.
If your baby experiences mild, cold like symptoms, such as a blocked or runny nose, a slightly raised temperature, a cough, irritability and a slight loss of appetite, you could take him to your GP to check that it is nothing to worry about.
Always take your baby to the doctor immediately if he is running a temperature higher than 38.5° C, is having difficulty breathing, has a persistent cough, seems to have sore ears or is coughing up green or yellow mucus.
During periods of illness always try to ensure that your baby is kept well hydrated and well rested. The use of infant paracetamol can be given to babies over the age of 2 months for relief of pain.
It also lowers body temperature and therefore will be advantageous if your baby has a fever. You could use a vapour rub, humidifier or Infant Olbas oil to unblock a congested nose and chest.
You could prop your baby’s mattress up, to some extent, by placing a small blanket UNDERNEATH the mattress, to raise his head slightly while sleeping. This can help ease your baby’s breathing.
Be sure not to overheat your baby if he is running a temperature, therefore let him wear fewer clothes or use fewer blankets than usual, while sleeping, to ensure his body temperature is kept well regulated.
Baby sleep can be a difficult matter to face. When you are as exhausted as new parents tend to be, sleep can become even more difficult.
Your baby’s inability to fall asleep and frequent waking can take a toll on everyone, and it can really stress new parents out even further. There are many things you can do to increase the success you have around sleep training, as you have learned in this guide.
Some babies are more prone to sleeping problems than others. You may find that your baby sleeps almost perfectly; they just needed more structure or minor adjustments in their sleeping routine.
Alternatively, you may have a tricky child or one who has ailments, and the process of getting their sleep routine in place can be much harder. The most important thing is that you stay consistent and focused and that you stay confident in your new routine.
If you need to, get support from your partner, family, or friends in order to help you throughout the process. Soon enough, your baby will be sleeping without any problems.