If lie-ins and unbroken sleep are a distant memory, Louisa van den Bergh has advice for encouraging good bedtime habits and getting your baby to sleep well
I don’t know about you, but if I have been working until late, particularly in the harsh light of a class environment, I don’t find it easy to fall asleep, compared to a relaxed evening curled up on the sofa. Babies are essentially the same. If they are overstimulated, they can find it difficult to settle, so my first tip is keep the environment quiet and relaxing, with dim lighting if possible, for at least an hour before you expect your baby to go to sleep.
This period of wind-down should be combined with a routine, which, within a few weeks, your baby will start to recognise as the precursor to lights out. Bath time is good for kicking off this session, try following that with some baby massage and lots of cuddles, then, of course, the crucial feed.
The evening feed
Nobody sleeps well on an empty stomach, so it is important to make sure that your baby is not hungry when you put her down. Some mums find it helpful to do a split feed – half before bath time and then the rest closer to bedtime. Alternatively, if you are breastfeeding and find that your supply isn’t so plentiful in the evening, you may find that a little top up of expressed milk is just the thing to ensure your baby will settle. Don’t forget to wind her thoroughly both during and after the feed.
The night feed
When your baby wakes at night for a feed, have soft lighting in the bedroom. Keep it calm, quiet and quite dark where possible. Try not to play or stimulate your baby too much, but of course, don’t be afraid to give lots of cuddles. You may find your baby doesn’t feed so avidly in the night, so may not even need winding. Also, don’t fret too much about changing your baby’s nappy unless it is clearly really full or dirty. Nappy changing can wake a baby up and you would prefer her to stay drowsy.
The ‘dream feed’
Some mums like the idea of a ‘dream feed’, whereby you wake your baby to feed her at 11pm, the idea being that you avoid a 2- or 3am feed and your baby can push through to morning. For some babies, this works well and can allow you an uninterrupted stretch. For others, they are too sleepy to feed properly and wake in the night anyway. It can also be hard to break the habit as they get older.
The day time
What happens during the day is just as important. Babies sleep better at night if they have had regular naps and feeds. Make sure your baby feeds at least every three hours during the day. This should mean that baby is receiving enough food for her to start to go a little longer at night. If you let your baby have long naps during the day and cannot squeeze enough feeds in, she will be hungrier at night.
The noise levels
Don’t tiptoe around your baby when she is asleep during the day. Get on with your normal tasks – emptying the dishwasher, closing doors, making phone calls. Firstly, they are accustomed to background noise (it is surprisingly noisy in the womb!) and secondly, if you get your baby used to sleeping through noise, you will both reap the rewards.
Babies tend to sleep better in a cooler room. The ideal temperature is somewhere between 16˚C and 20˚C. Keep them away from radiators and draughts, and keep their cot empty – no bright mobiles above their heads – so they are not distracted or at risk from SIDS.
The co-sleeping option
Some mums choose to co-sleep with their baby, and many report both mum and baby sleeping better. They seem to wake up at the same time, nurse easily and go back to sleep quickly. If you do choose to co-sleep, be sure to research it thoroughly and make sure you abide by all the safety guidelines.
The rocking rules
Babies quickly become creatures of habit. If you rock your baby to sleep every night, she will soon expect it every night. It is, of course, completely up to you whether you are happy to do this. If you would prefer your baby to settle herself, try putting her down while she is still awake and relatively content. You are more likely to find your baby nods off quite happily. If you overstimulate her and keep her awake for long periods, then you may have to use rocking and other soothing techniques.
The helping hand
Don’t be afraid to seek help if you are really exhausted. Hiring a maternity nurse for a week, or a night nanny for two or three nights can be the best gift. They usually arrive at 9pm and allow you to go to bed and enjoy some uninterrupted sleep. If you are bottle feeding, they can do the night feeds. If you are breastfeeding, they can bring your baby to you for a feed, then settle her down for you.
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