by Jane Barry, Child Health Nurse, Ellen Barron Family Centre
Most parents are very keen to find out what they can do to get their baby to sleep more. Every baby is unique and special, but most share at least one typical characteristic – keeping their parents sleep deprived! This isn’t because they’re trying to be difficult, but is instead due to immaturity.
Small people have a lot of growing to do which isn’t just restricted to their size. Your baby’s first three years will be a time of incredible growth and development. Nothing productive you do will be wasted in these early years when your baby’s brain is like a sponge.
But I tried that!
Very young babies can’t change the way they behave as a result of the way they’re cared for. Much of their behaviour is driven by instincts and reflexes – these are complex systems which they can’t control.
Caring for your baby in a gentle, sensitive way will help them to feel safe and give them the freedom to grow into a confident, trusting person.
Why is sleep important?
When babies sleep they release growth hormones, restore energy and lay down memories. Sleep also gives them an opportunity to feel refreshed so they have the energy to play and develop.
It’s important to have realistic expectations about your baby’s sleep. Some days, your baby will sleep more than other days.
If they are going through a growth spurt or a new developmental stage they might need more sleep. If there are other changes going on in their life, like a house move or change in caregivers, they may sleep less.
Top five settling tips
- Follow your baby’s lead. When they look and sound tired they probably are. Grumpy babies aren’t pleasant company. They don’t feed well, aren’t interested in playing and can’t concentrate on anything for very long. This is your baby’s way of saying “I’m tired”. So when they’re yawning, rubbing their eyes, grizzling and hard to please, take the hint and try settling them for a sleep.
- Make sure the basics are covered before expecting your baby to go off to sleep. They need to be fed, comfortable and warm as well as tired enough to drop off to sleep. If your baby is protesting, go through a mental check list to ensure you haven’t missed something.
- Be consistent and patient when you’re settling your baby. Little people thrive in homes where there is routine and predictability. Emotional security is built on hours of exposure to the same patterns of care. Settle your baby for their day and night sleeps in the same way.
- Look after yourself. Parents who give all their energy to their children can feel completely worn out. Remember, parenting is a marathon and it’s not in a baby’s role description to be selfless. Eat well, sleep when you can and accept all reasonable offers of support.
- Always follow the safe sleeping guidelines when you’re settling your baby for sleeps. Check www.sidsandkids.org for the most up-to-date, evidence-based recommendations.
How best to bond with your baby
- Follow responsive settling guidelines. For very young babies, settling in arms is often effective. For older babies hands on settling is recommended and for those a little older still, comfort settling is an option.
- When your baby has grown out of the newborn stage, place them into their cot after feeds when they’re still awake but showing tired signs.
- Give your baby an opportunity to self-settle without needing your help each and every time they go to sleep.
- Encourage your baby to sleep for at least an hour or so during their daytime naps. Commonly, babies wake as they transition between deep and light sleep phases. Short naps don’t give enough time for deep, restorative sleep.
- Spend some time each day just enjoying your baby. Find those windows of time which aren’t about feeding or sleep and just delight in each other’s company.
Handy points to remember
- You have choices about how you settle your baby. Speak with your Child Health Nurse about settling options.
- You can’t make your baby go to sleep. The only person you can control is yourself. There will be days when, despite all that you do your baby doesn’t want to go to sleep or wakes up before you’d like them to.
- Babies need to feed overnight until they’re at least six months old. Don’t expect your baby to sleep though the night without waking for at least one feed.
- It is normal for very young babies to go to sleep when they’re feeding and being cuddled. If you’re happy to settle your baby this way then don’t feel you need to change anything.
- Don’t compare your baby to others of the same age. Every baby is an individual and a unique blend of genetics and their own make-up.
- When your baby calms when you hold them, cries for you in the night and becomes anxious when you’re not close, remind yourself these are all healthy, positive signs that they’re developing trust.
- Keep your emotions in check when you’re settling your baby – try to stay calm and nurturing. If you’re becoming stressed, gently place your baby in their cot and take a short break.
For more information, visit your local Child Health Service, phone 13Health on 13 432 584 and visit https:/chq/our-services/community-health-services/ellen-barron-family-centre/