The Secrets to Solving Baby Sleep Problems
Baby not sleeping? Guest blogger and baby sleep expert Natalie from Sleep and Settle explains that there are two main mistakes parents make when solving sleeping problems in babies. The first is they usually focus only on fixing the sleep issue and the second is that they only apply bits of a routine not all of it.
In my experience there are five areas that need addressing in solving sleeping and settling problems and they are the baby’s daily routine, eating well, playing well, the bedroom environment and the sleep strategy. There is no point putting your baby to bed if they haven’t earned their sleep, are not ready for bed and if their sleeping environment doesn’t encourage sleep. Then, in order for baby to have the most efficient sleep they need to know how to put themselves to sleep so they can self-settle back to sleep mid sleep without any assistance from someone else.
A daily routine for babies of newborns to six months should be flexible in order to respect how long the baby is comfortable being awake and asleep for as they cycle through their day. I suggest a flexible routine called sleep, feed. play. This is the order of the baby’s activities each day from your awake time in the morning until their bedtime in the evening. Following sleep, feed then play encourages parents to feed their baby at the beginning of the uptime to allow as much time as necessary to complete the feed and keep it away from bedtime, followed by some ‘earn my sleep’ play. If feed time is around bedtime baby may fall asleep on the feed, not fed well and associate feeding with sleeping. If the baby develops a feed association at sleep time they will always expect a feed when going to sleep or back to sleep all day and all night. This baby will not be able to sleep through the night for years because they will be feeding overnight when they wake and need to go back to sleep. There are suggested periods of awake time for different ages starting from 1 hour for newborns to six week olds. Babies of six months and older enjoy a fixed routine where they are feeding sleeping and playing around the same time each day. This creates a predictable plan for the parents and encourages an efficient day that helps to create great day and night sleeps.
Eating well encourages demand feeds for breast and bottle fed babies according to their appetite. I do not encourage a feeding schedule. A feeding schedule makes baby wait for a certain period of time for their feed for example 4th hourly. This would only work if baby had the same amount of awake and sleep time all day everyday. If the baby has a shorter sleep than expected and they have to wait for a feed this feed could be due at the next sleep time and result in baby falling asleep during the feed and not feeding well. This in turn may result in a short sleep and the snacking and snoozing cycles begins. By encouraging an efficient uptime and efficient sleeping the baby would still potentially be feeding every 3-4 hours but we are respecting when they are hungry and want to feed. Once baby reaches six months they will be feeding around the same time each day and may also be starting solids. Efficient milk feeds and appropriate amounts of solids in the day prevents unnecessary night feeds.
How baby plays is vital in order for them to earn their sleep. Babies need to earn their sleep as much as adults do. If baby spends too much time in a bouncer, playpen, in someone’s arms or under a play gym, they will not have enough time for floor play to earn their sleep. Floor play is playing on the floor on an appropriate mat or surface, unrestricted by furniture and encouraging rolling, crawling and cruising on the furniture. An essential part of floor play is tummy time! Tummy time is baby spending as much time as they can tolerate lying on their tummy. Tummy time develops baby’s neck muscles for head control, their eye sight and stimulates their brain. It encourages rolling and crawling before walking and therefore helps baby meet their developmental milestones in order. Once the feed is over playtime is whatever time is left over in baby’s uptime.
Baby’s bedroom environment also contributes to their ability to sleep well. I suggest wrapping firmly or using a sleeping bag. Babies usually respond well to wrapping until at least four and a half months when they drop their startle reflex and like to be tucked in tightly. Consider the amount of light in the baby’s room and what noise they sleep well with. If not at home for the sleep, consider replicating the baby’s preferred environment in the stroller, capsule or other bedroom to help them achieve a sound sleep.
Once the baby is ready for bed and has earned their sleep we need to show them how to self-settle to sleep so they can put themselves back to sleep. Self-settling is exactly that, ‘self-settling’, no dummies, rocking, patting, bouncing, stroller rides, car trips or feeding to sleep. The baby’s ability to self-settle will enable them to sleep through the night roughly 7pm-7am as soon as they are developmentally ready to do so. I encourage parents to stay with their baby during the settling while they are crying, but not put them to sleep. It is essential to recognize that when parents decide to change their baby’s sleeping and settling habits, that baby may not like the changes and may protest loudly. Parents create the sleeping habits not the baby. Baby will require confidence, consistency and persistency from all their carer’s in order to respond to the new routine and believe it. The average time it takes for baby to self settle to sleep is 3-7 days.