If your baby is a textbook baby, then, during those first few weeks, you may wonder if your baby will ever wake. However, not all infants are good sleepers and infants do not know how to sooth themselves to sleep, they must learn.
The following are top tips, I wish I had know before I had my first child.
Sleep begets sleep.
By this, the more an infant sleeps, the more they sleep. Keep an infant awake for prolonged periods and they will become over stimulated and sleep less. Putting a baby to bed later does not make them sleep longer in the morning. It only serves to sleep deprive them. If you have reached this stage of over-stimulation then going into a completely dark room and following the four “S’s; sushing, sucking swaying and swaddling will work to calm your infant. Be patient and persevere as it may take a while for your overstimulated baby to quiet. And don’t feel guilty if this happens, I think all moms have been there before.
All infants need to be back to sleep within 1-2 hours of awakening.
Think about this. If a baby sleeps every 1-2 hours, this equates to a lot of sleep and can serve to frustrate you when trying to stick to routines as well as keep up with your daily errands. So try to stick to a routine and then periodically, have times where you will miss your baby’s normal routine. Baby’s will sleep anywhere for the first 4 months of life. Have your lunches out, shop and visit with friends to your hearts content during these first 4 months.
After your baby has been awake for 1 hour watch for signs of drowsiness: decreased movement, rubbing their eyes, and staring. Once these signs are present, start the routine of putting your baby back to sleep.
Start a bedtime routine from birth.
1-2 hours before bed, lessen the stimulating activity. Here is a sample routine: bath, massage, story, feed, cuddle with a song or some rocking. The goal is to put your baby down drowsy but still awake. This takes some time to get to this point.
Start by doing less and less of the activity that gets your child to sleep i.e. if you rock or cuddle decrease the time you spend doing so. Start with the first nap of the day when your baby is the most tired and then work your way up to bedtime. I recall that for our daughter, we had to put her to sleep in her bouncer for a short while during her newborn days and then transfer her to her cot a short while later. With patience we were able to get her down in her cot to begin with.
During those first few weeks and months, I wish I had “stopped, listened and waited a short time (10-15 seconds even) before I went in to soothe. I am not talking about letting your baby cry in these early days. A little fussing is all it sometimes takes for your infant to start learning to self soothe. The younger the infant, the easier it is to learn.
Just remember that a babies sleep patterns will be irregular for the first 6-8 weeks. Be patient in establishing a routine.
Try one method of sleep training that is appropriate for your lifestyle and beliefs and stick to it.
A common mistake parent’s make is changing what they are doing so often that the infant doesn’t have time to “learn” the sleep method. There are essentially 3 methods: No cry (you do what it takes to get your child to sleep and don’t let your child cry at all), Controlled cry (you let your child cry for increasing lengths of time until they learn to put themselves to sleep) and the Let Cry (you simply let your baby cry it out). The later may sound cruel but it is effective if done properly.
I will say this at the risk of having some mother’s gasp: Letting a child cry it out when all else has failed is not cruel. For this simple reason: an infant who does not learn to soothe itself to sleep will have trouble falling asleep as an adult. As the result of being rocked, I had extreme difficulty falling asleep as a child and into adulthood. Only after 7 years of sleep deprivation during medical training and 150,000 USD in loans did I learn to fall asleep anywhere!
As we get into the school year, it is even more important that our children sleep properly. A sleep-deprived child can act as if they have ADHD, have decreased concentration and be irritable.
1. How much sleep does my baby/child need.
This depends on what your individual child’s basal need is plus any sleep debt that they need to make up. On average 0-2 mos of age it is 12-18 hours, 3-11 months 14-15 hours, 1-3 years 12-14 hours, 3-5 years 11-13, 5-10 years 10-11 and 10-17 8.5-9.25 hours.
2. What sleep resources do you recommend?
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth and 5. The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night by Elizabeth Pantley. You can find my reviews for these books under resources.
As there no formal sleep training programs in Doha, some of the moms have used a doula out of Canada who has taught classes virtually over skype with great success. You can find her information here:
3. What are some signs that my child is not getting enough sleep?
No matter the time of day, your child falls asleep in the car or while watching television. This pertains to children who no longer nap.
Your child is still napping after the age of 7.
Your child is irritable during the day most days.
You have to wake your child up every morning.
What have been your top tips for getting your infant or child to sleep better?This article first appeared in the September 2011 issue of Woman Today. Photo taken by Expat Doctor Mom of her son age 2 weeks.