Mother holding baby outside in autumn

15 Tips for Helping Your Baby with Sleep

(Based on the newest international research)

If you have a baby, it’s pretty much guaranteed that people will ask how your baby is sleeping!

For some bizarre reason, if your baby sleeps all night, in their own cot, never fusses, has long daytime sleeps too, then you are seen to be ‘rocking’ the whole parenting thing and have the perfect baby.

Guess what…parents lie!! Fact!

How your baby sleeps doesn’t reflect anything about your parenting, they are babies and have primeval instincts to wake up.

Wouldn’t life be easier if the pressure and obsession of baby sleep was lifted slightly and became more realistic and based on normal baby behaviour?

I have recently completed a course with ‘Sleep, Baby & You’ and it has been fascinating. This was run by Professor Helen Ball (Durham Infancy & Sleep Centre) and Dr Pamela Douglas (Possums & Co).

Did you know that in the first few months babies sleep needs vary beyond belief; from only 8 hours a day to a whopping 20 … and this is all normal and with normal developmental outcomes. Haaaapy Days!

Babies are just like us and all different, everyone has a friend who could sleep for 12 hours a night and another who skips along on 6.

The tips I would like to share are all part of an intervention package for parents that is implemented with coaching, support, and educational materials when sought. I have picked my favourite ‘take-aways’ from the course which I hope will give you another outlook on your baby’s sleep … a gentler and more up to date one.

Father bonding with baby

The key focus in this new research is concentrating on how sleep works and how our natural body clocks respond to both day and night. 

To help night time sleep, our body builds up sleep pressure during the day (babies build up theirs quicker than adults) and so the less we sleep during the day, the higher our sleep pressure is at night.

If babies spend their day having long sleeps, then their sleep pressure levels keep returning to zero, so by the evening, they aren’t as tired as they would be if they had a series of little naps instead.

Sleep pressure is built up in the brain during the day, these chemicals increase while we are awake and are removed when we sleep.

If babies don’t have enough sleep pressure, they can’t fall asleep.

Here are a few things to try if you are wanting to help your baby with sleep, but be patient; it can take 1-2 weeks to reset the circadian clock and so start by making small changes each day.

  1. CONCENTRATE ON MORNINGS: Forget a regular bedtime and think more about a regular wake up time, its far more important. Health sleep regulation relies on setting a regular get up time, even if you open the curtains and cuddle back into bed together it means the morning has started (you don’t need to wake your baby up, you can let them carry on sleeping, but in the daylight). To get your body clock on a normal schedule and help night-time sleep you need to be up at the same time every day for at least 2 weeks, this will regulate your body clock.
  2. WORK WITH EACH OTHER: Never blame yourself if your baby isn’t sleeping like others, it’s all misinformation and shouldn’t stress you. Focus instead on being kind to each other and working out what works best for your family; maybe even letting your baby stay up later and you head to bed the same time means more sleep all round.
  3. CHANGE IT ALL AROUND: Take your sleep lens off and put on a sensory lens instead and let sleep look after itself. By filling your day with rich sensory experiences you are sure to enjoy life more. A baby’s sensory needs are underestimated, they are laying down neural templates in the brain in direct response to what they are seeing, feeling and learning. A walk outside, watching leaves blowing in the wind, the clouds moving, basically anything you have around you that will interest your baby and give you a change of scene.
  4. SNUGGLE UP: Be it outdoors or indoors, you can NEVER spoil a baby, fact (they don’t have their glutamate system up and running, so can’t physically persuade you to do something). Feed them to sleep, cuddle them to sleep, just go for it, it’s all good!
Mother and baby cuddling in bed
  1. YOUR MENTAL HEALTH: Do whatever you feel like doing to make your life the most enjoyable. You are going through a life transition AND living on less sleep than normal, so go easy on yourself. Live in the moment as much as possible and remember that your daytime activities can be as much for you as your baby; it doesn’t need to be baby focused, they will just be happy being with you.
  2. DON’T CLOCK WATCH: Try and put all preconceived ideas on baby sleep to the back of your mind, you are going to be trying some new advice. For the next wee while you are going to go with the flow but with a few little changes!
  3. RELAX: If your baby is happy and alert when they are awake, they are getting enough sleep. It’s as simple as that.
  4. OPEN THE CURTAINS: Try not to put babies to sleep in quiet, dark rooms during the day, this will only confuse their circadian rhythm and they will find it hard to differentiate between day and night.
  5. NAPS ARE GOOD: If a baby is waking lots in the night, often it’s because they have slept too much during the day. Once your baby is past the first few months try to avoid long sleeps during the day despite the old myth ‘sleeps breeds sleep’! Sleeping for 20 minutes is just dandy, don’t waste time trying to get your baby to sleep, you could be having a lovely time doing something else together.
Father asleep with baby son
  1. ENJOY DAYTIMES: Babies should be out enjoying the lovely world around them and getting lots of new experiences and not having the day focused on daytime sleeps and routines. Let sleep fit in with your activities and you can have a more meaningful day.
  2. LOOKING BACK: I loved this one! Try and picture your baby as an 18-year-old and what are your memories of their early days. Was it battling with sleep and trying to follow schedules, advice and out-of-date information or was it doing what worked for your unique family and having walks in the park, cuddles and plenty of happy moments. Remind yourself of the life you want to have and how would like to respond to your baby when they need you.
  3. YOU ARE THE EXPERT: Any advice you are given is by someone offering you their best advice, but as there hasn’t been any recent research done on baby sleep until now, it’s just their view. YOU know your baby and your own family dynamics and life will be so much easier if you are true to yourself. If you know that your favourite time of the day is the evenings when you spend time as a family, then don’t ever feel guilty about the fact your baby might go to bed at 10pm versus a friend’s baby at 6pm. All families have different patterns, jobs, daily schedules … do what fits best for yours. Parents are the experts on their own baby’s needs.
  4. GO OUTSIDE: It’s a fact that your baby will sleep deeper when they have been outside, but it is also good for a parent’s mental health too. Who hasn’t felt better after a walk? It can be harder work staying in the house with a baby, why not let nature and your surroundings entertain your baby and this will build up their sleep pressure while you enjoy lovely times together rather than stressing about sleep. They will nod off if they need to!
  5. MAKE BEDTIME SPECIAL: This can be a tough time of the day if you have been busy, are tired, have other children, etc. but it can be the most wonderful time too. If the pressure is off about battling with sleep (especially if your baby doesn’t seem tired) then try and make it as easy and enjoyable as possible. Maybe that extra 30 minutes playing or cuddling will help their sleep pressure rise and they will be more ready to go to sleep.
  6. REMEMBER: That daytime is for living and night time is for sleeping. Your baby’s sleep patterns will change massively over the first year but over a 3-day period babies get all the sleep they need. If you start being more flexible with sleep and enjoying the freedom it can bring, then hopefully life will be more fulfilling and enjoyable. We all have a mind full of prominent thoughts about how much sleep our baby should be getting but as babies sleep needs are highly variable, estimates should never be given because they would be misleading.

I hope these ideas help, all these tips are aligned with current neural research.

Be proud of yourself, you are doing an amazing job bringing up a little person.

With My Love, Hils xx


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