An ironic topic to be writing about, seeing as it’s 02h00 and I’m awake. Because you can only be woken-up so many times in a row before sleep eludes you completely, for the next few hours at least. At which time you will start growing drowsy again, right in time for the next ‘mama…’ to break through.
The eternal quest of getting your baby to sleep
Yip, that is me, mother of the two worst sleepers in the southern hemisphere. And I’m not joking if I say this. I work in a well-baby clinic and deal with hundreds of mothers. In the last two years, I can probably count on one hand those with children whose sleeping habits matches mine. Terrible for someone who is supposed to advise mothers on sleep issues. Obviously somewhere I missed a lecture. Or maybe not. I’ve learned a lot about putting your baby to sleep (and about coping without sleep) and can offer the following insights (and lots of empathy!).
How to get your baby to sleep
Making a mind-shift
Firstly, you have to realise it’s possible to survive without much sleep, contrary to popular belief. It’s not nice, nor is it good for your mental health. But it can be done. Stop telling yourself you can’t, as that becomes a trigger that creates anxiety around the topic and actually leads to baby waking up even more often.
Sometimes the first step in better sleep is just taking the pressure of the pedal and relaxing about the whole getting your baby to sleep thing. Which is easier said than done, but still worth pursuing.
You are not alone
It really is all about perspective. Some parents complain when their children wake 2-3 times a night, and I have to fight the urge to roll my eyes (in my life that would be a fantastic night).
But then I realise that for them this is bad, and they are tired and feeling that they are doing something wrong. At that point, the empathy usually kicks in and I’m able to offer more support, as well as some facts and stats.
These show that half of all children still wake by two years of age and that there are health benefits to little ones not sleeping through the night, including a reduced risk of cot death.
There are many factors that lead to babies waking, and I have listed some of them later in this blog to hopefully help you find a few answers and solutions. But in the end, it’s also just part of parenting, and it won’t last forever. Your baby not sleeping through does not mean you are doing something wrong.
All roads do not lead to dreamland
There are different opinions and approaches to sleep issues, and not one of them will work for all families. You have to decide for yourself how you want to cope with this topic in your house.
And you do not owe anyone any explanations. Unless they are willing to come take the night-shift, which they never are.
I realise that some of my troubles are caused by my approach to parenting. I’m still breastfeeding my toddler, and he does wake up for feeds. But I also had reasons for making my choices, and believe that in the long run, my children will reap the rewards of this.
Will I do it differently if I could go back? I often wonder. It’s really tough as the advice you receive will range from 100% baby-friendly without any consideration for the mom, to very harsh and emotionally damaging to baby. And no parent wants to do harm to their child.
Your child as an individual
Some people just are better sleepers than others. Often bad night-time habits are hereditary. The truth is, I often spent hours awake at night, even before I had kids. Your child doesn’t choose to wake up and make your life difficult. Some of it is habit, but most of it he has no control over.
Payback will come, when they are older and you can wake them every morning for school! Oh, and that is a battle in its own right. You may not realise this yet, but you can look forward to years of morning misery. I’ll save this cheery topic for another day.
Adapt or die!
It’s OK to change your plans as you go along. How you deal with sleep in a 2-month-old can be completely different from a 2-year-old. As with many other aspects of parenting, we set expectations for sleep before we actually know what it’s going to be like. Now that you are there, perhaps you should put back your thinking cap and see if there is anything else you can do to make it easier to put your baby to sleep. This may require looking for less-than-obvious solutions.
Trying to identify problems
Before you set out, you should make sure that there are no medical reasons for your baby’s nighttime antics. See your doctor to make sure that baby is healthy and not experiencing any pain or discomfort. Things like ear infections or reflux and lead to baby waking frequently.
Creating a better sleep environment
Set the environment, says Good Night Sleep Consultant Jolandi Becker, co-owner of Good Night. Simple environmental factors are considered to be fundamental to good sleep. Read more of Jolandi’s tips on creating an environment to build good sleep habits.
Setting a routine
I don’t believe in rigid routines for babies, which stand central to many sleep-training approaches. You cannot force a child to be hungry or tired at certain times. But setting patterns with their eating habits and evening activities will help them know what to expect, and most little ones will thrive with these healthy boundaries.
Make sure that your baby eat healthily and that his nutritional needs are met in the day. This will lessen his need for night-time feeds as he grows older. Smaller babies still need milk at night and it should not be discouraged.
Implement a winding-down routine that can double-serve as some quality time with baby. Start with some play and enjoyment, and gradually taper down with a warm bath and some baby massage to get baby calm and relaxed for bed-time.
Try these tips for yourself when putting your baby to sleep
- Use a homoeopathic rescue remedy to help you relax, as babies wake up more if mom is anxious.
- Go to bed earlier, as the first stretch of the night is usually where you get the best quality sleep. That way you will already have logged a few hours by the time waking-up starts.
- Avoid TV and cellphone screens for the hour before bedtime, as this stimulates brain activity in ways unhealthy for sleep.
- Try to get some rest when your baby is sleeping in the day – easier said than done, but still worth pursuing.
- Be careful of overstimulating baby during the day. Remember that different children and different ages can handle different levels of stimulation
- Consider co-sleeping, as many babies sleep better with mom or dad. Co-sleeping also supports breastfeeding. It’s unrealistic to expect that after being away from baby the whole day, he/she should not miss you at all during the night. No other mammal sleeps separately from her babies! Consider the BabyWombWorld Camp Cot and Co-sleeper for easier and safe co-sleeping.