I don't think that there is a day that one of my clients hasn't asked me when their baby will sleep through the night? So here are some misconceptions we all have about babies sleeping habits and some tips and tricks that may work.
In their first year babies are light sleepers, so they sleep very differently to adults. Their sleep is quite active, breathing is shallow, they may twitch their limbs and their eyes may flutter under their eyelids, the long and short of it is they wake easily. We, on the other hand, often lie still, breathe deeply and have a quiet sleep. However we all have a sleep cycle where our sleep tends to be lighter or deeper, for adults its 90 minutes, for babies it's about 40 mins. I am a fairly light sleeper and I am easily woken up by noises. I move around a lot (according to my husband) and I rarely wake up in the same position I went to sleep in, But unlike a baby, I know how to get back to sleep again. Not quite by counting sheep, but I do use a mind trick. I try and remember my day backwards, before I know it my brain switches off and I am asleep again.
So while it's frustrating for us to get woken, several times through the night by our babies, because we need more sleep. Physiologically their bodies are not yet mature enough to do that. One reason for this is their tummies are so much smaller. A newborn sleeps roughly between 8-9 hours during the day and another 8 hours (not solidly) at night. They need regular feeding 2-3 hours and I am not sure about you? But if I peed or pooped in a nappy, not sure if I could sleep a full 8 hours either. So please don't even think about 'sleep training' or routine before they are 3 months old. This is the period we often refer to as 'The Fourth Trimester' your baby is getting used to being outside of the womb. They are physically helpless at birth and reliant on instincts. Their senses are improving during this stage. They are getting used to new noises, smells, sights around them. They cry at this stage more than any other and this is normal. They will want to be held, a lot! Remember they have been held in your womb. They want to feel safe, loved and for you to respond to their cries as they transition from the womb to this bright, noisy world of ours. So the best you can do during this stage is to go with the flow, which includes not expecting them to sleep through the night!
As they grow everything will start to change and ease up a bit. Their tummies will get bigger, so they will not need to be fed so frequently. They will start to adjust to the world around them and feel safe. From 3 - 6 months, they might start to nap less frequently during the day time, but have longer naps when they do. You might want to try to start a routine at bedtime, of a bath, a massage, a story and a feed at a certain time. They will still wake in the night for the a feed or change, but their sleep will start to get deeper and longer. Sleeping through the night might look like 4 - 5 hours straight, which is great.
From 6 months - 12 months, their sleep will become a bit more like ours. The routines you have in place will get easier to sustain. They will drop some of their day time naps to around 2 - 3 of 1 - 2 hours. They may only wake up for 1 feed and their sleep will start to get deeper and longer. Some might still need a bit more settling back down to sleep, as separation anxiety can start to develop as they worry about being away from you.
The long and short of all this is, it is ALL normal and basically do not expect a lot of sleep for yourself in the first year. I know this is hard to hear, we all want our 8 hours to function at our best. However ALL babies are different and putting too many expectations on them and on ourselves, just makes it very stressful for all concerned. It's amazing how we can and do adjust on functioning during this stage, without normal sleep. But it won't last forever!
Here are some tips and tricks that might help both you and your baby in the sleeping department.
Let's start with you!
For those of you with partners, try to do some tag team sleep. Have a shift pattern where you both get a solid 4 hours. If you are breastfeeding, then your partner can take over the nappy change and putting back to sleep. You don't both need to be awake when your baby wakes up, especially on a weekend. My husband and I chose a day, when we each had a lie in. If you are on your own, sleep when your baby sleeps (easier said than done, with all the other stuff you have to do, I know!).What that actually means in reality, is to have an early night with your baby, if you can. But if you really are struggling, and can afford to hire a night nanny or postnatal Doula for the odd night then do it. If you can't afford to, then ask if a friend or relative is able to offer you some support during the night on occasion. If not, taking them out for a few hours during the day, while you have a solid sleep, can also make a difference.
To help your baby sleep you can try the following.
Start a diary to log your babies sleep patterns. It can really help to watch out for those cues, so you don't have an over tired baby, when you put them down. An over tired baby may start to cry, which means Adrenalin and Cortisol increase, making it harder for them to sleep. Your babies cues will be different, rubbing their face, yawning, jerky movements, being quiet, not wanting to play and engage.
To swaddle or not to swaddle? Years ago it was believed that a swaddled baby felt like they were back in the womb and therefore this soothing method, would help them sleep. These days there are lots of debates for and against swaddling, due to the risk of overheating and SIDS. However there are safe ways to swaddle a baby. The Lullaby Trust recommends the following if you are going to swaddle your baby:
Use thin materials
Do not swaddle above the shoulders
Never put a swaddled baby to sleep on their front
Do not swaddle too tight
Check the baby’s temperature to ensure they do not get too hot
Start a gentle bed time routine. A bath, a massage, dressed in their sleep clothes, maybe a story and a feed. Dimming the lights, putting on some white noise if that helps. Ensuring the room isn't too hot, not only do babies sleep better in a cooler room, but it's safer too. Room temperature should be between 16 - 20 C. In warm weather, make sure they are in light clothing, use a room thermometer and if it's too warm, open a window or use a fan, just don't aim it directly at your baby.
Most importantly do not compare yourselves to others! So what, if your friends baby is sleeping through the night at 5 months and yours isn't? Your baby might not be a good sleeper now, but they might sleep really well from 7 months and your friends baby might not then. Your baby's sleep patterns change as much as they do. Trust me when they become teenagers they will sleep loads, you will then miss these times for 'sleep' and other reasons!