A baby who won’t sleep can turn family life upside down. Mums feel exhausted and overwhelmed; dads feel helpless and confused.
Understandably, you soon find yourself in a cycle of doing whatever it takes just to get a few hours’ sleep – in my experience, every parent does this, so don’t feel you’re the only ones!
But it can lead to your baby getting into bad habits, and only being able to fall asleep with rocking, feeding, or using a dummy.
While it’s all very well to help your baby fall asleep initially with these kind of sleep aids, she won’t be able to resettle without them when she wakes in the night – cue broken nights all round. Believe it or not, your baby really does want to sleep for 12 hours at night. Here’s how to help her…
Start each night with a bedtime routine. Babies and toddlers love routine, as they feel safe and secure when they know what happens next. It doesn’t matter what the routine is, but it must be the same every night – consistency is the key!
Always put on her nightclothes and feed her in her bedroom, as this will create happy associations with her room. You can start this from day one if you wish – put her down to sleep in her room, and move her in with you when you go to bed if she’s under 6 months.
Night and day
Treat every hour between 7pm and 7am as night time and never deviate from that. Your baby will soon understand the difference in day and night – daytime is light, busy, with lots of cuddles and things to see. Night time is dark, quiet and relaxing – there’s no talking and everything is calm.
Unless she is under 6 months, your baby should spend all night-time hours in her bedroom – even if she is unsettled, try not to take her out of the room as it will stimulate and unsettle her even more.
This rule is really important in the early morning – 6am is still night time! If you start getting her up before 7am, you’re effectively teaching her it’s fine to start the day at the crack of dawn.
Let her self-settle
Never let your baby fall asleep in your arms or while she is feeding – always put her down awake. One of the most important things your baby needs to learn is to fall asleep on her own so she can resettle herself without a cuddle, bottle or breastfeed when she wakes in the night.
Use my Spaced Soothing technique to help calm her. When she first cries, go in and soothe her, stroking her nose gently and saying ‘shhhhh’ for one minute. Then leave the room. If she cries again, increase the time you wait before going in by one minute, so wait two minutes, then repeat the first step.
The next time she cries, wait three minutes, then four and finally wait five minutes. If your baby is getting upset at any time during the long five-minute interval, decrease the wait to three minutes, for example.
Continue doing this and the number of times you have to go in and soothe her will decrease every night. The first night may be 15 times, but then the next 10, and so on, until after a week or so, your baby should cry and then settle herself.
Leave her be
Don’t rush in at every sound; only go to her when she needs you. Babies are noisy sleepers – they grunt, grizzle, snore and cry out. Let your baby ‘grumble’ as she unwinds – remember that your baby is trying to fall asleep and allow her to do it on her own.
The dream feed
Give your baby a ‘dream feed’ every night at the same time – until you don’t need to because she is sleeping through. A ‘dream feed’ is a calm, quiet feed around 10.30/11pm, when your baby is usually asleep and will probably take the feed with her eyes closed.
Your baby is only capable of sleeping one long sleep in 24 hours. And it makes sense that she has it when you are having your long sleep, between 11pm and 7am. The dream feed ensures she won’t be hungry for hours and, after a few nights, she will reset her body clock and have a long sleep after 11pm.
Sleep at last!
When your baby is around 3 months old (and weighs around 12-13lb) and has been sleeping from 7pm to the dream feed and then until 7am for a week, you can start to drop the dream feed. The easiest way is to feed at 10.30pm for one week, giving three-quarters of the usual feed.
Then do it at 10pm for one week with half the usual feed. Your baby will usually be able to sleep through from 7pm to 7am at around 4 months old, weighing around 15-16lb, and you can drop the feed altogether. Bliss!