Babies are such a blessing, but many parents struggle with the difficulties of sleep deprivation and wonder when their baby should be sleeping through the night. Mums can get desperate when they have to cope with other children during the day, and feel tired and miserable.
Most mothers can cope much better with my baby if they have a good nights’ sleep. They can respond more positively and have more energy and enthusiasm. A happy mum means a happy baby, so getting the baby to sleep through the night is worth the one to two weeks of training the baby to settle themselves.
Babies can sleep through the night at 3 months, but not all babies do. Here are a range of things that you may find help:
- Give your baby a good feed in the evening (some babies, who are breast-fed want to be fed from about 5 till 7!). In the hope of a good nights’ sleep maybe let them stock up! Eventually, when about six months a final feed of solids about an hour before bedtime may help them settle.
- Think about letting your baby have a play and a bath after the feed. Although they may be drowsy after the feed it may be best if they learn to settle themselves in their cot, not rely on a feed to make them sleepy.
- Consider a comfort blanket, long-haired soft baby sheepskin or a silky sheet. Babies are sensory beings and love the soft feel against their skin it helps to settle them quickly. Find out what your baby loves. Eventually a favourite blanket or soft toy will emerge that will help the baby to feel secure and reassured when they go to sleep.
- Encourage your husband or partner to spend time with each baby near bedtime and gradually go from play to cuddling, swaying and rhythmic patting. Some partners are very good at being patient in the evening, whereas if you have looked after the baby all day you may need some space. If you are a single parent you will need to stay calm and patient a little longer to settle the baby yourself.
- You may find soothing music near bedtime sets the mood. You can try classical music, relaxing melodies or just soothing sounds such as waves breaking or natural womb sounds
- If you can, put the baby in the cot when they were awake but sleepy. Some babies cry a little, but the hope is that the baby will learn to go to sleep by themselves.
- If your baby is less than three months old, consider waking them just before you go to sleep and offer a final feed. If you are tired and your husband or partner is willing it may be an idea to let them settle the baby whilst you go to bed. This way you will manage to get the longest stretch of sleep possible.
- If the baby wakes for a feed in the middle of the night, speak very little, keep the lights dim, change the baby’s nappy (diaper), and then feed the baby and leave.
- Consider putting the baby down for a nap after lunch. If your baby sleeps well you may like to try not to do any activities that interferes with this. This may be your best chance of catching up with some sleep if you need it or getting on with things.
- You may consider using a dummy or pacifier if your baby likes to suck to get off to sleep however a word of warning, if your baby associates sleep with sucking you may need to get up in the night to put the dummy back in their mouth! It might be best if your baby can learn to settle themselves.
- In the early weeks you may prefer to let the baby sleep in a cot or Moses basket next to your bed, but after a few months you may prefer to move them to their own room to avoid them waking you when they make little noises or just whimper in the night.
- If your baby is six weeks or less, the baby needs regular feeds and will need to wake during the night for milk.
- When your baby is between 6 weeks and 3 months, if they have had a feed in the last 2 hours and their nappy is dry, try not to give them much attention between the hours of 9pm and 6am. At this age if they wake again within 2 hours of feeding you may like to allow them to cry for between 10 and 20 minutes, and give them minimal attention when you go in to them for 2 minutes. This will help the baby learn to start settling themselves.
- If your baby is three months or more and a healthy weight try to drop the night time feed by offering water at night. When you start doing this you may need to offer the minimal feed to get your baby to sleep until 7am, and gradually change to just water.
When your baby has been sleeping through the night and unexpectedly wakes up
- Go to their room, keep the light subdued and talk to them gently to let them know you are there. If they keep crying they may benefit from some gentle rhythmic patting
- If the baby is crying loudly, you may need to check their nappy and offer them a bottle of water. (If you offer a feed the baby may start to expect a feed if it cried in the night now and start to wake regularly)
- If the baby has a raised temperature or you think they may be in pain, and they are older than 3 months, you may consider giving them Paracetamol or Nurofen for babies, or an elixir of paracetamol and anti-histamine (such as Medised) if they have a cold or cough. (My babies often settled and stopped crying the moment they tasted the medicine! Possibly a placebo effect, but in the middle of the night I was happy that it worked for me!)
In this blog I have included a few general tips about helping babies sleep through the night, In my next blog I will describe the technique of ‘controlled crying’ to get babies over 6 months old to sleep through the night within two weeks.