We all know how a good night sleep can make us feel refreshed and boost our mood and morale. Babies/kids, in particular, need a good sleep, both day-time and night-time for their optimum growth and development. Insufficient sleep not only has an incidence on your child’s mood and behaviour (and on yours too!) but also on his development. All babies are different; some sleep through the night as early as one month old, others take 12 months to do it and some, even longer.
From what I have been through I have come to realise how a bed time routine is important and to be consistent with it is the key to a baby’s good night sleep. I learnt about its importance and about sleep associations the hard way. During one month I woke up each night every hour with my 5 months old baby until I was totally sleep deprived and had to go to Ngala for help. I lost a lot of weight and was a very sad person.
When my baby was born I assumed it was normal for her to wake up constantly at night until she would start on solids and then she would start to sleep through the night. I believe I made this assumption, as this was what everybody was telling me. Even during the day, each time my baby would cry, everyone would say ‘she is hungry’ and I would go and feed her. I remember when my daughter was going through a growth spurt (and I had no idea it was one since I had never heard of ‘growth spurt’ at that time) she wanted to be constantly fed. I used to feed her and she would throw up later and then cry again, I’d feed her and she’d throw up later … it was exhausting both for her and for me. I was more than often reminded that being a mum, I had no other choice than accept my situation as this was motherhood! I understood later how I was wrong to believe in all that!
I learnt that being a mum meant that I could have a life too and learning about the following was very helpful:
- ‘Growth spurts’ and what to expect when baby is going through one.
- Sleep associations.
- Overtiredness — the number of hours baby can stay awake for his age, after which over-tiredness kicks in and trust me, this is your worst enemy.
- Bed time routine.
- The bedroom and bassinet/cot set up.
In the first 12 months babies go through several growth spurts and you will notice major ones when you see baby is crankier than usual; he will also require more feed and be more clingy. When a growth spurt happens, babies can suddenly take weight and height and after that you will notice baby has started to do new things and mastered new skills.
I only learnt about growth spurt much after my baby was born, so I had no idea why my baby was so cranky and why she wanted to feed all the time. I was even advised to check my ‘milk supply as baby was probably not having enough milk’(!!!). I started to worry until I learnt that my milk supply was fine and it was just baby going through a growth spurt.
Many breastfeeding mums start to introduce formula at this point, thinking they are not producing enough milk, that’s why their baby is behaving like that. With breastfeeding, the more you breastfeed the more milk you will produce. Once you decrease the feed the breast will start to produce less and less milk. Hence even during a growth spurt, it is best to feed baby as usual. Give baby lots of cuddle and reassurance. Baby will need extra comfort and trust me, it will pass. If you are still worried, consult your baby’s nurse or pediatrician.
Although I did read a fair bit about the Eat-Play-Sleep pattern, when my baby was born, I simply couldn’t understand how this would work. I could not understand how a baby could sleep on her own, without you feeding or rocking her. Eventhough I was given the advice not to let my baby sleep on the breast, this was exactly what was happening after each feed. Then I would take the upmost care not to wake her up before putting her (already asleep) in her bassinet. What I didn’t know at that time was that I was the one who was preventing my baby to have the optimum sleep.
I created a sleep association for her; she quickly learnt that she needed to be fed to sleep and when she woke up after a sleep cycle, she was not able to go back to sleep until she was fed again. This peaked when she was 5 months old and she was waking up after each sleep cycle. I became very quickly sleep deprived.
We can also create such sleep associations with soothers and rocking baby to sleep. Feeding, rocking and giving a pacifier are fine until it becomes a problem. Then your baby will need you to recreate the exact environment in which he fell asleep.
During the first three months, babies require regular feeding during both day and night and night waking is normal. Also, they haven’t developed their ‘clock’ yet so they do not know exactly when it is day or night. However around 3 months old a baby can fall asleep on his own and it is then that it’s very important not to rock baby or to feed baby to sleep or to give him a pacifier; this way baby learns to self-settle and do not have a sleep association which involves you!
It is important to play with your baby during the day, when he is awake; at night, keep lights dim, and do not talk to baby if he wakes up. If you need to change baby’s nappy, be quick and avoid eye contact. It is important for baby to understand that it is night time, he has to sleep and you are very boring at night indeed!
Consciously or unconsciously, we all need a bedtime routine to have a good night’s sleep. Do you have a shower then brush your teeth and get into your PJ’s? Or do you just need to read a book? Most people go through some kind of routine before going to bed. It is the same for babies/kids. With my baby, it was hard at first to establish a bed time routine but I stayed consistent and, with time, it became easier for both baby and myself.
When baby is growing up and getting to know his environment, it is best to provide him with a relaxing bed time routine. Depending on what baby’s age is and at what time baby gets up, you can plan the day’s schedule. For example, a 6 months old baby will nap two to three times a day and can stay awake around 2 to 3 hours hours. So, when baby wakes up, you will know when is the next nap and then work out when is the bed time. About 20 to 30 minutes before bedtime, you can start the routine. For naps, you can do a shorter 10 minutes routine.
Winding down is important for little ones before they go to bed as this calms them down and they get ready both mentally and physically to sleep.
Well, at first I wasn’t sure what to do nor how this would work out. I thought it would be good for my husband to be part of the routine just in case I wasn’t there some day. The bed time routine I used till my baby was around 18 months old:
- Quick bath
- Wear sleep suit and nappy
- Get in sleeping bag
- Feed and make sure she didn’t fall asleep (I omitted this step once I stopped breastfeeding and gave her a milk bottle – one with a straw – before she had her bath, when we were still in the living room)
- Brush teeth (once she had a few teeth)
- Read a book (big images, no bright colours, few words)
- Say good night to some objects in the room
- Say bye to her dad (if he’s there)
- Switch the lights off (I keep a very dim night lamp on)
- Say good night
- Put her in her cot (which has a small blanket and a little doll)
- Leave the room quickly
Most days, she would go to sleep quietly or just talk and sing till she’d fall asleep. Other days she would fall asleep almost straightaway and on odd days she could even take 20 to 30 minutes to sleep.
Some babies still wake up at night for one or two feeds until they are around one year old. In fact, 90 % of 6-month-olds can sleep through the night without snacking, says clinical social worker Kim West, author of 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. So if you start night weaning around that time, you don’t have to feel guilty.
You don’t have to do all the above steps for a good bed time routine. Whichever steps you choose, make sure your baby has enough time to wind down and you are consistent: do the same things in the same order. After doing the same things over and over again, baby will know bed time is approaching and he will get ready for it; he may even start feeling sleepy once the routine starts. Do not give in – stick to your routine and be consistent.
So, let’s say, your 6 months old baby will go to bed at 7 p.m., you can start the routine around 30 minutes before and before that make sure she is not over excited by screens or by some sweet foods/chocolate.
A Note on Overtiredness
Many parents do not follow a routine with their babies. It is fine if both baby and parents are happy. Many parents say the baby is not tired so he will nap later or maybe in the car or maybe not at all and at night he will only sleep when they will sleep, even if it means 9 or 10 p.m.
Babies can stay awake only for a certain number of hours depending on their age. If they go beyond that, then overtiredness sets it and YES they will not sleep, get over excited and will even sleep later at night or have a very rough night and wake up early. If you watch out for the number of hours baby is meant to stay awake and then no matter what, follow baby’s routine and then put him in his cot, I bet you baby will sleep. (Moreover, for baby’s development he requires a certain hours of sleep; make sure you are giving him all the opportunities to have that.)
Even now, at 2 years old, if I don’t tell my toddler to pack her toys away and insist on her having a shower, she will continue to play and will insist she doesn’t want to go to bed. She even starts crying at times saying she will play and not sleep. At this age, specially, she tries different tricks to delay her bedtime but she knows we won’t give in. She gives in after trying a few minutes and some pretend crying (with real tears!) She’s got some good acting skills! Toddlers do!
Do not wait for your baby to get overtired to put him down for his nap or bedtime. Watch out for the signs of tiredness: yawning, rubbing eyes, avoiding eye contact, clenched fists, crying or shouting for no reason, etc.
Bedroom/Bassinet/Cot set up
When asked, most people will hate to have to sleep anywhere, with lights on and lots of noise and people talking to them all the time. Babies/Kids are the same. Therefore it is essential to create the right environment for baby to have a peaceful uninterrupted sleep.
If possible, it is best to avoid putting baby’s toys in his bedroom. It is important for him to understand that his bedroom is for sleeping and not for playing. Decorating baby’s room is nice but make sure it doesn’t become a distraction to your baby.
I remember during my baby’s first 6 months, she was in her bassinet and there was a mobile with three sheep which were rotating most of the time above her head. I didn’t know at that time that it was a BAD idea to have a mobile in there! I was sending baby the wrong message: when waking up from a sleep cycle, I wanted her to sleep but then I showed her some toys! Confusing!
As mentioned previously, it took me around 6 months to learn about the above points. After 6 months, each time I put baby down for a nap or bedtime I made sure the room was dark and there were no distractions in the room. She definitely slept better.
To Sum Up:
- Get informed about when your baby is making growth spurts so that you are ready for his behaviour and know how to deal with it.
- Do not get baby to have a sleep association involving you.
- When your baby is around 3 months old, start to give your baby a bed time routine and stick to it. Be consistent.
- Watch out for signs of tiredness and make sure you put your baby down to sleep before your baby is overtired.
- Create the right environment for baby to sleep.
Some babies sleep through the night as early as one month old and parents do not have any of the above-mentioned problems. That’s great both for the parents and the babies. Other parents are happy with their babies sleeping throughout the day, or at whatever time suits them and also in the car and in the pram, then that’s great too as it’s their choice. If parents are happy to rock baby to sleep for however long it requires then there is no problem in that.
However, for those parents who are finding themselves sleep deprived and want their babies/kids to have a routine, if they believe both baby and themselves require a restful night and not a fragmented sleep and some good daytime naps, then it will be really helpful to work on the above listed points. Having a bed time routine and being consistent will enable you to give your babies/kids the opportunity to have a good sleep. It will not be easy but I believe it is worth the effort for both you and your baby. Does your baby still wake up at night after 12 months?