Tuesday Tip: 6 Ways To Help Your Baby Sleep
Lack of sleep was, for me, was one of the hardest parts of becoming a parent. It is also the topic of conversation that seems to be most talked about amongst parents. We all want to know, 'How do you get them to sleep?', 'How do you get them to stay asleep?', 'Will I ever sleep again?'. So today I'm going to try and give you some practical tips in helping your little one to sleep.
Before I do, I am going to add a few caveats. Firstly, I am by no means an expert, I only have my own experience to go on and an awful lot of hormone fulled pregnancy reading, which I think, actually makes me better than an expert! Secondly, obviously every baby is totally different because, wait for it... they're human, therefore, my tips might work, they might not. Some babies may suffer from reflux or other things that could impact a child's sleep. There is clearly no one size fits all, but it might just give you another tool in your arsenal that you can try. Thirdly, lack of sleep is possibly one of the hardest things to deal with, there's a reason they use it as a torture technique, but no matter how bad things are, you will come out the other side. Promise.
6 Sleep Tips
1. Make sure there is a clear difference between day and night - this sounds obvious but sometimes you just need someone to point it out to you. When I first had my son, we would bath him and then bring him downstairs to get him ready for bed, we then wondered why he wasn't going to sleep. Night and day is a concept that babies learn and so you have to teach them. Make sure that whatever your routine is, when you want them to know it is time to sleep, that they are in a dark, quiet environment away from stimulation. Try to keep talking to a minimum and alter your tone to reflect the fact it is time to sleep. You're not trying to engage with your child, you're trying to help them to switch off.
2. Have a bed time routine - I know some parents don't like routines and that is absolutely fine, however, children need consistency to know how to behave and so in relation to sleep, I would say that having some sort of routine is really important. It gives them a cue to know, 'Ah, now is the time for me to rest.' How you want to do this routine is up to you, you can follow it rigidly or in a more relaxed way to suit your family needs. You should however try to include certain actions or items that let your child know that it is time for sleep. I did this by giving my son a bath, we then would get him ready for bed quietly in his bedroom which was dark with just his nightlight on. We would then sit and read to him whilst he had his bottle and then we would put him down in his cot with a muslin and later also with a pacifier. From very early on he slept when we wanted him to and I feel that this routine was one of the key factors that made this happen.
3. Have a morning routine - lots of you will already have a bed time routine or at least have thought about doing one, however, probably fewer of you will have thought about, or be doing, a morning routine. As I said before, babies need to learn what night and day is, therefore it's really important that not only do they learn when to sleep, they need to learn when to be awake. Having a morning routine gives them clear cues that it is time to start the day, be awake and be active. This will probably include having some milk, spending some time on their play mat or having some face to face time with mummy and daddy.
4. Think carefully about times - as a family you will have your own ways of working and your own timings for things. You may eat breakfast very early, you may work shifts, you may have other work commitments, have other children to work around etc. You obviously need to think about this when planning a routine for your baby's sleep. There is no point reading a baby book that says you must put your child down to bed at 7pm on the dot (and there are some books out there that say this!) if that is when you normally sit down to tea. Think about what will work for you as a family and go with that. There are no right or wrong times, it's about doing what works for you.
5. Help your child to self sooth - now this is a controversial one, and something that I'm not going to spend a lot of time on as I feel like we could be here all day. I'm not suggesting that you allow your child to cry themselves to sleep every night or to expect them to have the emotional capacity of an adult as this clearly is wrong. But you can start to help them to learn how to comfort themselves in simple, easy ways, like giving them a muslin or soft toy, allowing them to have a pacifier or some other way of calming themselves down, and importantly ensuring they feel safe and loved in their environment. I would stress here that although there is a lot of debate about babies crying, research has shown that is can be very damaging, particularly to newborns, to leave them to cry and it is important to go to them to comfort them. What I am suggesting is that you put these self comfort tools in place early on and allow your child to rely more on them as they get a bit older.
6. Be realistic - this is not a science, your child is small human being with an awful lot on, despite the fact that it looks like they do nothing but eat, sleep and poo all day. They are changing, growing and developing every day which is actually really hard work. There will be times your baby won't sleep for apparently no reason, they will be fed and dry and still scream the house down. There will be times when one thing will work and then the following day it won't. Don't expect yourself or your child to be perfect as you are setting yourself and them up for failure (and no-one wants to do that). Take the pressure off. Yes, it is great when they sleep and I certainly felt the positive effects of getting my son into a good sleeping routine but if they don't sleep it is not the end of the world, you are not a bad parent, they are not a bad child, it is just the nature of being human.
Lastly, this is something I will say and you will read but probably ignore. Do ask for help if you need it. If your mother-in-law offers to have baby for a few hours, let her. If your other half says that they will take over the 'bobbing up and down with the baby in your arms' dance, let them. You don't need to run yourself into the ground to be a good parent. You need to be as rested as possible, to make the most of the support around you and accept that no-one is judging you for accepting help. You're a great parent and you're doing a great job.
Image by Casper