How to survive the sleepless nights.
Having a newborn is one of the most magical times of anyone’s life, however, it comes with an overwhelming level of exhaustion that no one can prepare you for (the sleep deprivation club is real!). To help you navigate the sometimes difficult transition of newborn sleep, Certified Child Sleep Consultant and Hong Kong mum of two, Jade Dharmana of The Sleeep Lab shares her top tips to get you through the first four months. All that’s left for you to do is enjoy this special time, whilst implementing a few positive sleep habits along the way.
I am constantly meeting with parents who believe that their baby should be on a schedule from day one and they are worried and anxious as a result. Of course, routines are great and play a huge role in the wellbeing of your child, but if your baby is under the age of four months this expectation is unrealistic. Their sleep is disorganised and unpredictable due to their developmental capacity so, for now, don’t worry too much about the clock and simply enjoy bonding with your baby. By the time they reach five months of age you are likely to see a regular pattern starting to form. I encourage you to put the baby books that focus on schedules aside for now and focus on implementing a few positive habits instead!
A little bit of science first
Young infants sleep in cycles of about 45-minutes, whereby they briefly wake up for a moment to check their surroundings and for hunger. This is their built-in survival mechanism and explains one of the reasons why your baby may be catnapping, or frequently waking at night. Some babies are better than others at connecting these cycles and for those who are having a harder time, try avoiding bad habits by implementing positive ones. Follow these basic steps to set you on the right path:
1. Create an environment that promotes newborn sleep
Newborns sleep around the clock, so a lot of their naps realistically will happen on the go – and this is absolutely fine. If you can, set yourself a target to have one or two of their naps at home in their cot, in a cool environment (18-21 degrees) with white noise on. This will allow them to sleep without motion. Motion naps can later become an association that they come to rely on, and they aren’t as restorative for their physical and mental development.
2. Introduce a bedtime routine from day one
Ok, I know we said to put the schedules aside at first, but this is more a case of setting a familiar environment. Provide a cue for bedtime by offering a simple, yet predictable routine that soothes and calms them for sleep. This might include a relaxing bath, baby massage and a song. Remember to keep the home calm at this time, with dim lighting and no background TV or loud music.
3. Dramatic wake-ups
No tip-toeing around first thing in the morning! Help your baby distinguish night from day by throwing open the blinds, picking them up and excitedly saying good morning. You can also encourage this by getting them outside as much as possible in the day and having them in a dark space when they are supposed to be sleeping.
4. Self-settling opportunities
Set yourself a target and try to place your baby down for a nap in their cot without rocking or swaying. This is easier at the newborn stage as their sleep pressure is so high, so start early! As they get older and more aware this can become harder to achieve. The more you practice this now, the easier it will be.
5. Focus on sleep cues and not the clock
A newborn sleep cue is your baby’s way of telling you that they’re ready for a nap but sadly they aren’t always that obvious. It may be something as slight as a squeak or a touch of the ear and this is the golden moment to settle them for a nap. It’s common for parents to wait until they reach the fussy stage, by which time it’s too late and their ability to fall asleep without a battle is diminished.
Remember that every baby is different! Don’t worry if your friend’s baby is sleeping through the night or if you simply don’t know what to do. There are plenty of resources to help you if you are struggling with newborn sleep, whether that be a sleep consultant, your GP, a lactation consultant or an osteopath. If there are other factors at play, follow your instinct and seek the help that you need.
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