Getting baby to sleep can be like winning a footy grand final. It is a lot of hard work, its exhausting and once you have it you don’t want to loose it, or you just might loose it!
There are many tricks, what are called ‘settling techniques‘. But, the trouble is you don’t want to form a habit that you are then stuck in. For example, rocking baby to sleep in your arms may work great, but do you want to be doing it when they are three! Having said that, sometimes you just do what works.
The best advise is to try and let baby fall asleep by themselves during the day and help them if you have to at night. When baby is first born they have a reversed sleep/wake clock. They have just spent nine months sleeping during the day when you were up and about rocking them to sleep with your motion and spent the night mostly awake when you were trying to sleep!
So you have to teach baby the difference between night and day. You also have to learn their cues and between the two of you figure out what works. Just remember if you are having a bad week, with very little sleep it is probably just a phase. They could be teething, could be unsettled by gas or could just be learning and processing everything. (Teething can take months for a tooth to come through, not what you want to hear I know.)
The key is to learn to identify the signs of sleepiness and act on them.
The signs of sleepiness are:
red eyebrows and or ears
droopy eyelids and slow blinking
stiff and jerky movements
crankiness or moodiness
whining and irritability (younger babies)
clinginess (older babies)
Once you see one of these signs its important to put baby to bed right away. Try to always put them in their bassinet or cot for sleeping so the associate it with sleep. Unless you are out or unable to of course.
If you time it just right and put baby down gently when you see the first sign, then they will nod off by themselves. At least thats what the books and health nurse tell you. And it is true, very rarely or if you are very lucky. But, the more you stick at it, the more often it will work.
When baby is new you will likely be demand feeding. That is the technical term for feed baby when they demand it! And this may have no pattern. Once baby is a few weeks old, and are gaining weight well – then you can start a 3 hourly routine of ‘eat, play, sleep’.
At a week old my bub was gaining weight well and developing fine, but demanding milk every hour or two through the night and day. The maternal nurse who visited told me I could start a routine. No more snacking – extend the time between feeds so baby feeds properly and less often. This means more time for sleeps in between.
But at the beginning its up to you to just be aware of what baby is trying to communicate, without them even knowing what it is they want.
If you miss a sign of sleepiness and baby gets overtired, it is harder to get them to sleep and you may have to walk around the house singing waltzing matilda at the top of your voice for an hour or nursing them to sleep for two hours.
Signs of Over-tiredness:
Newborn babies will probably get overtired if they’ve been awake for more than 1½ hours. At 3-6 months, your baby will be overtired after 1½-2½ hours awake.
If your newborn is tired, you might see some of the following tired signs:
pulling at ears
jerky arm and leg movements
a worried look on your child’s face
difficulty focusing (your child might even go cross-eyed)
sucking on fingers (this could be a good sign that baby is trying to self settle)
At 6-12 months, your baby will be overtired after 2-3 hours awake. At 12-18 months, your baby will be overtired if baby misses out on the morning or afternoon sleep.
If your baby or toddler is tired, you might see some of the following tired signs:
demands for constant attention
boredom with toys
fussiness with food
Have a routine, but be flexible
Babies respond really well to a routine and it is never to early or too late to start one. A routine is what you do during the day as well as just before bed time.
For example the three hourly ‘eat, play, sleep routine’ or the very strict four hourly ‘save our sleep’ routine. Having a day routines ensure baby gets day time naps, the more they sleep during the day the better they will sleep at night.
At bed time you might start with a bath, then milk, then a story or lullaby or quiet play time. You might sit them on your lap for the story or walk around rocking them while singing. Its good to use a few different cues each night and keep them roughly the same but have some flexibility. This way baby will still be able to sleep if you have to skip the bath or story.
Its also important to have different people implementing the routine so baby will fall asleep if you are out or sick.
For example my husband usually gives baby her bath then I give her milk and one of us reads a story and we put her to bed. Unless I feel like a relaxing bath so hubby brings baby to me after I have had a bit of a soak and baby and I bath together. He has also fed her a few times. This is obviously easier if you are bottle feeding, but still possible if breastfeeding. Have a few bottles of milk in the freezer so you can go out for a night with the girls every now and again, even if its only for a few hours.
Try to keep a consistent bedtime
Whenever possible, try to put baby to bed at a similar time each evening, even if you are at a friends house for the evening or baby is being babysat for the night. It all helps to establish a routine that baby feels safe and secure with.
The same goes for day time naps, however they will change as baby grow and eats less frequently.
teach your baby to self-settle
Your baby might start doing this early on or by themselves, but most babies only start at around 6 months.
What exactly is self soothing: it may be baby sucking their fingers or thumb, stroking their own face or holding onto their blankets. Its what they do to feel soothed and settled.
The way to teach them is to encourage them to fall asleep from a sleepy but awake state. That is, recognise a sign of sleepiness and put baby in their cot to fall asleep on their own.
Baby may cry out in their sleep or you may hear them wake, give them a minute and see if they go back to sleep on their own before you go in to re-settle them.
We found a dummy worked well, at four months our bub takes it out of her own mouth but puts it back in, after inspecting it. Sometimes we have to pop it back in but it is not too often. She associates the dummy with sleep because we only give it to her when its nap or bed time. Sometimes if she is tired, just popping sends her to sleep within seconds. But, she will re settle without it and I know I can take it away at six months or a year and she wont have found her thumb (hopefully).
avoid artificial sleep aids
Such as taking baby for a drive in the car every time you need to settle them. As you may end up having to take a daily trip and then carefully carrying a sleeping baby from car to cot and have to get back in the car if they wake. Long term it will just get very stressful. However, when stress levels are high and you know it will work then do whatever it takes, just don’t let it become a habit or you will be stuck doing it.
If you really have trouble then I highly recommend going to sleep school. Ask your maternal nurse about it if you think you need it.