Elizabeth Sloane is a Mothercraft sleep specialist and the author of The Gift of Sleep. She has been helping parents and their babies with sleep for more than 20 years.
From the first day home from hospital with your beautiful new baby, all parents focus on giving their baby the best. In my opinion, the best is gift of sleep.
With three boys of my own, I speak from experience and know the ups and downs of having a baby who doesn’t sleep. It can be challenging for everyone, especially if you’ve got so many different tips coming from well-meaning family and friends (and the internet!).
There are a few important environmental supports that I believe lead to good sleep habits.
Of course from time to time there are other reasons why babies/toddlers don’t sleep and become unsettled such as teething pain or fever. I always lean on the cautious side (particularly if the baby is young, consult your GP).
If it’s temporary pain or fever, I love a gentle dose of Dymadon for pain relief – it provides temporary relief and above all is reassuring to parent and baby. It’s suitable for babies from one month old and has a strawberry flavour that goes down easily.
Remember, when your baby is well again, stay calm, committed and consistent in your care and management of his or her sleep patterns. Here are a couple of rules I have for getting baby’s first big sleep – and maybe some shut-eye yourself!
Consider the baby’s sleeping environment first.
The three most important environmental factors that help a baby to sleep are quiet, dark and warmth.
It’s important to promote these as soon as you come home from hospital – not when baby is four months old and heading for Sleep School! The longer a poor sleep pattern goes on, the more entrenched and sometimes difficult it is to break.
Parents do need to learn to let babies (even newborns) settle themselves sometimes. Try not to run to baby the second you hear him/her squeak. It’s a bit like Helicopter Parenting.
Instead, do a little progressive wait of, say, one to two minutes before you respond to baby. I truly believe this is a major factor as to why more families are struggling with sleep routines from six months of age.
Allowing your baby to continually fall asleep in your arms, while being fed (breast or bottle) or with a dummy in their mouth is making them feel that they need these things to go to sleep.
Practise a calming routine.
Keeping your baby or child up late does not mean a child will sleep later or through the night. Instead what it does is simply rob the child of more crucial sleep that they have missed out on. You, in turn, will have an overstimulated, over-tired grizzly baby on your hands the next day.
A great calming influence in my experience is moving the bath to early evening from about three months old. The bath manages to fill time during that difficult early evening period when most families struggle with suppertime.
For baby, evening can be a bit stressful because so much is happening: older children are coming home, the other parent may be returning from work, there could be a change in environment from daycare/kindy to home. This can all make baby feel fatigued and stressed. So a bath is a great tool to stick with.
A nice warm bath followed by a light massage on the change table. Now is not time for another parent to come home and have a big playtime with baby. We want to keep things quiet and calm.
Try to avoid sleeping crutches.
By the time your baby is six-to-eight weeks old, if you have been using any type of sleep aid (dummy, patting, rocking or driving around the block in the car) now is the time to ask, "Is this a friend or foe?"
If your baby needs these things to sleep or settle, then I say CHUCK IT.
Like sleeping with baby so that he or she will go to sleep? Of course you can still have that beautiful cuddle time with baby, but if she/he falls asleep on you, make sure you wake him/her before placing them back in the cot.
Before baby arrives, I would advise that you make decisions early on with your partner about co-sleeping. You need to remember that you may be making a rod for your own back.
Always remember that what may look like 'the answer' to get baby to sleep in the early days may actually end up turning baby into a very poor sleeper.
From five months onward, give baby a 'sleep friend' - a special sleeping toy. Sleep blankets are also wonderful. Whatever you give your baby, just make sure they are safe and free of ties and buttons and ribbons.
Establish a bedtime routine.
From five months on, establish a set bedtime routine for baby every night. The bedtime routine sends a signal to baby that now it’s time for their big nighttime sleep, which is different to their daytime sleep naps.
Really try to listen to their cries and try to distinguish between a hunger cry and an over-tired cry. Most families fall into the trap of feeding baby when in actual fact he/she has woken in night because she has not learnt to self-settle.
Keep a behavioural chart.
It is extremely useful in those first 12 weeks of baby’s life, which most families will agree is a fairly hit-and-miss time. Once you can rule out hunger and distress, you can teach baby the gift of self-settling.
The chart can include your baby’s awake time, their crying time, their medicine time and their quiet time. You will slowly be able to watch baby learn to self-settle without having to send them to Sleep School.
Sleep is important and if you have this for your baby, everything else will fall into place. Find one or two tricks that work for you and stick with them. If it makes life calmer and more settled for your baby, if your baby is happy and healthy and sleeping in a way that works well for your family then that is all that is important.
In the end only you know what’s best for you and your baby. Trust your gut instinct, and do what works for you. You're all doing a wonderful job.
What are your tips for a baby's full night's sleep?
This content is sponsored by our brand partner Dymadon.
Dymadon is great tasting oral liquid paracetamol for temporary pain and fever relief for babies and kids. It's suitable for babies from 1 month old. Ask for it by name at your local pharmacy.
ALWAYS READ THE LABEL. USE ONLY AS DIRECTED. INCORRECT USE COULD BE HARMFUL, IF SYMPTOMS PERSIST, CONSULT YOUR HEALTH PROFESSIONAL.