Why won’t my baby sleep?

A little one who enjoys 12 peaceful hours in the land of nod is the holy grail of every new parent. Here’s how to get there…

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You’re staring out of the window into the darkness of your street. It’s the middle of the night and your little one is whimpering in your arms. You begin to wonder if anyone’s ever had this much trouble getting their baby off to sleep.

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Perhaps you’re mum to an early riser, an all-day sleeper, a non-napper or even a baby who just won’t sleep at all. But we guarantee you’re not alone and are one of the army of ‘noctomums’, a group of mothers who are awake when the rest of the world seems to be tucked up in their beds and sleeping soundly.

Ann Herreboudt, sleep expert at Viveka, a clinic specialising in women and children’s health, explains, “Babies don’t have a clue what’s day and what’s night. Some are ‘larks’, getting up as early as 5am, and others are ‘owls’, happy to stay up really late into the evening. Their sleep rhythms are completely different to ours. They wake up twice as much, and power nap. In fact, a bit like puppies, they work on a cycle of waking, eating, pooing and sleeping!”

While you do everything you can to get your little one to settle for 12 hours of restful sleep, no baby is perfect and all of them will wake up at odd hours and have strange sleeping patterns at times. Find yours among this collection and start working on a solution – today!

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Asleep all day, awake all night

Your days are relatively silent and peaceful, and any visitors who drop by your house always remark on what a calm baby you have – well, they’d mind change their minds if they were there when she’s screaming the house down all night!

The solution…

Imagine you’ve woken up in the night. You realise you feel hungry. What would you do? Probably get a snack, a drink, go to the loo then return to bed and try to settle back down to sleep again. The trouble is, it’s not so easy for a baby, says Ann. “Many mums who find their baby fits this sleep pattern are using a sling. It’s a great practical solution when you’re a busy mum, but it lets your baby sleep a lot of the day.”

Chireal Shallow, sleep consultant and founder of Naturally Nurturing, adds, “With a baby like this, the sleep rhythms are all back to front. Adjusting daytime naps will help, too. Reduce a nap by a half hour increment each time, giving your baby a chance to adjust.”

“We call Holly ‘Nighthawk’ because she sleeps like an angel all day then starts to stir later on and cries in the night! It’s early days, so we’re seeing how it goes. I sing to her, cuddle her and tickle her feet to try and soothe her. I also take her out for a walk in the buggy if she’s restless during the day – she loves it when I push the buggy fast!” said Jo McGahon, 32, mum to Holly, 2 weeks.

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Up all night, sleeps all morning

There’s three of you on the sofa until 10 or 11pm at night – you, your partner and the baby, who’s wide awake! Then, next morning, she’s dozing away.

The solution…

“This is the ‘owl’ baby,” says Ann. “They’re vibrant and happy late into the night, sleep from 2am onwards then have little naps in the day.” Turning it around is a gentle process, she says. “Try little structure changes. Don’t let her sleep until she wakes up in the morning – instead, gently wake her, and start to adjust her waking time.” You should see the sleeping time start to become earlier in the evening by default.

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Controlled crying can be tough on you

The night-time yo-yo baby

She goes down to sleep fine, and you even manage a top-up feed without her stirring too much. But throughout the night, she wakes up on and off  – sometimes crying loudly and others just unsettled.

The solution…

Some babies are just not very good at self-soothing – getting themselves back to sleep when they’ve woken up. That makes you feel like they just won’t sleep at all.

Practical solutions are key here, says Ann. “Consider if you’re picking her up too much – that can unsettle her more. Perhaps gentle stroking would be better while she’s in the cot. If she goes to suck her thumb, encourage her, or offer a soother to replace the need to suck on your breast or finger. Try a snuggle toy, too, if she’s craving comfort to help her doze.”

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The non-napper

It’s time for a nap according to your schedule, but your baby seems to have missed the memo! Instead of getting on with things during the day, you’re constantly holding and comforting her.

The solution…

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Babies who are like this just don’t need as much sleep as others. Here’s when a sling can really help. “Remember, just because your baby’s awake, you don’t have to be holding her or interacting constantly,” says Ann. “Why not do something together, like going for a walk? Or use a sling so you can still get on with chores and feel like you’re paying her attention.”

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