In the early days after having a baby, excitement and joy energises parents. Attending to their baby’s cares and making sure every little want and need is covered is a pleasure. Soon though, continually broken sleep combined with meeting constant demands, can lead to tiredness and feelings of exhaustion. Parents start to long for the chance to have some quality sleep themselves.
It can be really hard for parents to ask for help when it comes to improving their baby’s sleep. It is often assumed that women will know what to do, that somehow being a mom is instinctual. Being able to cope is often seen as a sign of independence and strength and, somehow, asking for help demonstrates a level of weakness. However, seeking help and accepting it can mean the difference between enjoying caring for your baby or feeling as if you have to endure each day. Parenting can be very lonely, and we are not meant to care for our children in isolation from other supports.
General tips on baby’s sleeping
Everyone seems to be an expert when it comes to baby care and people are often keen to share their knowledge. Even if advice is well-intentioned, it can become tedious listening to what has worked for others or their suggestions about what might work for your baby. Books, websites and even “experts” often offer conflicting advice on what can help when it comes to improving a baby’s sleep.
Unless you are one of a lucky few, your baby is not likely to sleep when you’d like them to. Babies aren’t very good at recognising their parent’s exhaustion and giving them a break when they need it. Remember – looking after your baby starts with looking after yourself.
Parents who want to improve their baby’s sleeping often need to improve their own sleep as well. A good diet, drinking plenty of water, exercising a little each day, and spending time with people who care for you – not just the baby – will help to sustain you.
Your baby’s sleep habits are not a sign of the quality of your parenting. Your baby is a separate individual to you. The only factor you can ultimately control is your responses to their sleep and settling.
Be prepared to be flexible. Each day will be different and your baby’s needs for sleep will change continually. Parents that aim for a fairly relaxed attitude to their baby’s sleeping don’t set themselves up to feel disappointment when things don’t go as they expected.
Where you can go for help with your baby’s sleep
There are multiple sources and types of help you can seek out when it comes to improving baby’s sleeping habits. It is important you don’t feel as if you need to cope by yourself all the time.
Find someone whose opinion you trust and who shares your ideas on how to raise your baby. Be patient with yourself and your baby.
Informal support and help comes from partners, family, neighbours and friends. They can provide you with emotional, as well as practical support. Often, the best emotional support comes from mothers with babies of the same age. Common interests unite us and babies have a unique way of bringing people closer.
Formal support for sleep help is available through your clinic sister or nurse, your GP or Paediatrician. Aim to develop a relationship with a professional, who can support you and your baby over the long run.
Internet forums like Huggies are great sources of digital community support, especially for isolated mothers in rural areas. Through the night when you feel alone with your baby not sleeping, there is usually another parent online going through the same experience.
Sleeping help and information can also come from books, leaflets, brochures and tip sheets. Written information means you can try out strategies yourself. You can take your time experimenting with suggestions and modify them to suit you and your baby.
Place a contact sheet of names and contact numbers on your fridge. If you’re stressed and really need help in a hurry, this can help you to feel more in control and not so alone.
Options for improving your baby’s sleep
There are many different options when it comes to baby sleep solutions. Most are based on the theory that changing or improving a baby or toddler’s sleep relies on changing the parent’s responses. It is important to remember that until around 3 months of age, babies need their parent’s help with regulating their emotions.
Little babies need lots of cuddles, rocking and reminders that their parents are close and they are safe.
As babies mature, they are more able to soothe themselves to sleep once all their needs are looked after.
What you can try to improve your baby’s sleep:
Start thinking about what your baby needs to go to sleep. If what you are doing is working for you both there’s no need to change anything. Try not to get anxious that the way you are caring for your baby could make things more difficult later on. Worrying about what may happen saps valuable energy.
You can ask for help or try some strategies on your own. Most parents want to give things a try themselves first before they ask for help.
Start small with changing what you’re doing, if you think it’s not working. Often, changing one way you are doing something can have a ripple effect. One example is putting your baby in their cot when they are almost asleep, but not quite. Another is looking for your baby’s tired signs early on, before they get overtired and harder to settle.
Some parents choose to co-sleep with their babies until they become toddlers. It can be very challenging to work towards developing new sleeping habits for older children who have become used to co-sleeping with their parents.
Most parents have little rituals they follow when they are helping their babies to sleep. Hearing lullabies, being rocked, kissed and receiving affection are some of the ways babies learn to feel safe and how it feels to be valued and loved.
During any process of change, reverting back to old habits is easy. Avoid getting cross with yourself if sometimes you feel you’re not getting anywhere. Babies are unpredictable little people who need to constantly change and adapt. Many times, they can become their parents’ best teachers.
For more information:
Sleep Problems in Children - The Morningside Sleep Centre: