Sleep can be a sore topic for new parents. While some babies sleep well soon after birth, it’s perfectly normal for infants to wake throughout the night. This can take some getting used to, even if you've prepared for your new arrival.
Babies are biologically wired to wake regularly in order to help them stay safe. So if your little one wakes every few hours, please remember that it’s normal. That’s not to say there aren’t some things you can do to help you both get a little more sleep! Here are a few tips to help you get into the swing of things.
Introducing day and night to babies
While in the womb, babies might recognise that Mummy has times when she is quieter and doesn’t move around as much. However, babies aren't born knowing the difference between night and day. To help them learn that night-time is when we do most of our sleeping, you can make things darker from early evening. You’ll want to keep their sleeping space dark too. The use of a dimmer switch or nightlight can be useful to help you with feeding.
Once you feel up to getting out and about it can also help you set a loose routine. Taking baby for a walk in the early afternoon has been shown to help set their circadian rhythm. This makes them naturally more active during the day. Many parents also subscribe to the view that sleep begets sleep. By taking baby out for a walk in a pram or sling to encourage them to take a nap, they are less likely to get overtired and find it difficult to sleep at night.
Keeping baby close
To reduce the risk of SIDS, NHS guidelines recommend that your baby sleeps in the same room as you for at least six months. After growing inside the womb, newborns have no awareness that they and their mother are in fact separate people. This can make it hard to get them to settle. Their teeny-tiny tummies also need feeding frequently, so keeping them close means you’re on hand when they wake.
The safest place for baby to sleep is on their back in their own cot or Moses basket. The mattress should be firm, free of clutter and have no loose bedding.
'Co-sleeping' is a term that’s used to describe parents sharing a room with baby, but it can also mean bringing baby into your bed. If you choose to co-sleep it’s really important that you follow safe bed-sharing guidelines. You’ll find some great information here from the Lullaby Trust.
Starting sleep cues for your baby
Once you and baby have gotten to know each other and are starting to feel a little more settled, you may want to introduce some evening sleeping cues. This might include a nice bath followed by a massage and change into sleeping clothes. Next you could read some books, followed by feeding or nursing.
Try to keep TVs and other screens out of sight for a few hours before bed. Even if infants are not watching them directly they can confuse their sleep patterns. Introducing particular songs at bedtime may also prove useful as lullabies can build a sleep association. You could also use any white noise functions on your baby monitor to help your little one drift off to sleep.
Recognising that every baby is different can help you get better sleep. All babies find their own sleeping groove eventually. Though be warned, just when you think you’re all settled into a happy night time routine, something like a growth spurt can come along and upset the apple cart!