Hannah Mott is a Community Nursery Nurse
So you've spent at least the last 3 months or so of your pregnancy struggling to sleep and now you have your very much anticipated bundle of joy.
But guess what….. You’re still not sleeping!!
When will my baby sleep through the night?
Why does my baby sleep all day and is awake all night?
Is it too early to get my baby into a routine?
These are some of the many common questions we get asked. Unfortunately there isn’t any one answer that fits all.
Every baby is different and some babies sleep more than others. Some babies sleep for long periods, some babies sleep little and often.
For the first few weeks – even months – you and your baby are getting used to each other. Your baby is getting used to the world outside of the comfy safe womb they have been used to for the past 9 months.
Think back to when you were pregnant. No doubt whenever you climbed into bed to try and settle for the night, Baby would spring into action, kicking away. Why should this be any different now they are here?
One thing I’d say is don’t panic. Don’t stress yourself out trying to get into a perfect routine. Friends and other new parents will tell you that their baby is sleeping through the night or that a baby must be hungry to wake up…. take this with a huge pinch of salt. It may not be true and it most definitely isn’t your fault if your baby isn’t sleeping the same as others say theirs are.
The most important thing is that you and your baby are safe and happy.
So where to begin??
There are many weird and (so called) wonderful gadgets on the market that apparently have the magic answer to making your baby sleep. This can be quite overwhelming.
The research for safe sleep advice has found that the safest place for your baby to sleep is in your room for at least the first 6 months. Baby should have a separate sleeping place – such as a cot or moses basket. The surface should be entirely flat with no raised areas. The mattress should be flat and firm with a waterproof cover. You should not have bumpers or anything else in the sleeping space with baby as these can risk suffocation.
Your baby should be placed on their back, at the bottom of their bed, or feet to foot position.
With the weather being so warm at the moment it can be worrying about how to keep your baby cool. The ideal room temperature is between 16-20 degrees Celsius.
Any sheets that you use should be lightweight and firmly tucked in (not above shoulder height). You can also use a sleeping bag that’s weather appropriate to keep your baby safe and warm.
Should you co-sleep?
If you choose to co-sleep with your baby, make sure they have a clear sleep space. Keep pillows, sheets and blankets away from them, or any other item that can cause baby to overheat or obstruct their breathing. Make sure they’re safe and that they won’t get trapped between the mattress and the wall or that they won’t fall out.
It is not recommended to co-sleep if:
- Either parents smoke
- Anyone in the bed has drunk alcohol or taken any drugs including medication that can cause drowsiness
- Your baby was born prematurely (before 37 weeks ) or weighed less than 2.5KG (5 1/2lb)
- You are extremely tired.
You can get more information on safe sleeping from the Lullaby Trust website.
How much will they sleep and when?
Now the sleeping environment is sorted, you can start to think about when and how your baby sleeps.
Babies have very small stomachs so need feeding little and often. They’re also processing a lot of new information so need sleep to help them grow and develop their brains.
On average a newborn baby will sleep between 14-18 hours in a 24 hour period. But of course when this happens varies immensely!
There’s no harm in trying to teach your baby the difference between night and day from very early on. At night time, keep the lights low, talk in a quieter voice and don’t interact with them too much. Only change your baby when needed and try putting them down as soon as they’ve been fed.
During the day, open the curtains and continue with your normal day to day routine. There’s no need to keep quiet, your baby needs to get used to a low level background noise. This will also help as they get older.
There’s also no harm in putting a bedtime routine in, such as having a bath, getting changed into fresh night clothes, reading a story or singing a lullaby. Just don’t set your expectations too high!
Don’t expect your baby to sleep all through the night until they’ve been fully introduced to solid foods. This could be around the age of 10 months. We talk a lot about responsive feeding and it’s important to pick up on your baby’s cues as to when they want feeding, whether this is day or night.
Just remember. Babies don’t come with a manual!
Just when you think you’ve got your baby into some kind of routine, they will grow and develop and the hole routine will go out of the window. Stick to what you’re doing, be consistent, and they’ll soon get back to their normal sleep pattern.
The important thing is to try and catch up on your sleep or at least rest when your baby does. Forget about the housework or anything else that needs doing. The most important thing is you and your baby. Sleep deprivation is very difficult and not having enough sleep can make even the smallest thing turn into a major problem. Believe me, when you have a newborn baby, having just 3 hours unbroken sleep makes you feel as though you’ve had a week’s worth of sleep. You’ll be refreshed and ready to tackle the next stint!
As your baby gets older, these sleepless nights will become a blur and things will get easier. It can be quite a shock to the system, but this is reality. You now have an amazing little baby that you will look after forever and no matter what age they are, they will always cause you restless nights at some point!
For further information you can look on the NHS choices website or contact your Health Visitor for further support or information. And there's lots of information about sleep on our website.