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Our Favourite Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep at Night

As parents you are the best people to help your baby learn to sleep independently. However, at times you may feel exhausted, stressed and worried about the amount of sleep your child may or may not be getting

 

We asked expert and author of The Gentle Sleep Solution Chireal Shallow for her advice and tips on how to help your baby (and in turn you) sleep at night. 

Here are a few tips to help you achieve sleep for you and your family

First you need to think about your state; are you calm, relaxed and ready to charm your baby to sleep? This first step is crucial; your baby picks up on your mood, your body language and your mental state, therefore, if you are feeling anxious or stressed, then so is your baby. In order to help your child, you first need to examine yourself and change how you feel and in turn, your baby will mirror your state.

Mindfulness is the best way to change your emotional state from tense to relaxed. Focusing on your breathing, or taking one breath at a time, will slow your heart rate down and relax any tension in your body. When you have focussed on your breathing for two minutes and you notice that you are relaxed and calm, pick your baby up, hold them close to your chest and breathe deeply in their ear steadily and rhythmically. By doing this, you are in the best position to charm your little one to sleep.

The power of thought

The second step is to get your mind on your side; I talk about this in great detail in my book The Gentle Sleep Solution. One of the biggest barriers to sleep and helping our babies sleep is our mind, the thoughts we have that are unhelpful. The thought "my baby will never sleep" is usually what most of my parents say crosses their minds and when it does it leads them to do all kinds of undesirable things like driving their baby across town in order to allow sleep to happen, or rocking or feeding to sleep.

These actions will not help your baby to sleep independently. So by simply changing the way you think and having more helpful thoughts, you are more likely to ACT in a way that actually helps your baby to sleep: "my baby can and will sleep" or "I can do this".

At night-time you want to be able to comfort your child in a way that means they are not dependant on you and also gets them back off to sleep. I use the PAUSE method and matching your response to the level of distress your baby is in. 

PAUSE

PREPARE:Plan your next move, have what you need with you and ensure you are in the right state.

ASSESS:Analyse what's happening, what you need to do and what your child's needs are.

UNDERSTAND:What your child is trying to communicate to you.

SOOTH:Comfort your child appropriately.

EXIT:Leave the room and allow your baby to sleep.

We hear a lot about routine and that getting your child into a good routine is essential for good sleep. The interesting thing here is that routines are NOT the Holy Grail to sleep. Routine is just a very small part of your sleep plan at night. Yes, a routine may help and can be the only thing you need to do to help some babies sleep. In my years of experience it is usually more than just the routine that needs to be introduced. One key factor that most people miss is the environment.

To get your baby to sleep you must ensure that their environment is conducive to sleep. Would you sleep here? Help your baby feel safe at night by ensuring their room isn't too dark.. anxious babies don't sleep. If it's too dark then they will wake and call out for us. Make sure they are not too cold or too hot.. and lastly and most importantly make sure you place pictures of you in their room, so that they can see you and feel safe when you are no longer there.

There are a couple of common isses that Chireal comes across in her practice:

1. My baby sleeps all day and not at night?

Babies are supposed to wake during the night, this is a function that means they can wake for food or alert us to illness. It means that our babies are born with an immature body rhythm and so our babies will sleep during the day and they will wake and require feeding at night. This is completely normal, babies who still have immature body rhythms are supposed to wake at night - the issue or problem we have as parents is teaching / soothing our babies so that they can, after a feed or nappy change, go back into the cycle of sleep.

Sleeping like a baby does not mean deep sleep. In fact, babies are naturally light sleepers. They have more periods of light sleep than adults and these periods last a lot longer. To help manage this transition until their body rhythm is mature here are a few simple steps you can introduce to help regulate and set your baby's sleeping pattern so that it fits more in line with your sleeping pattern, which had many years to mature.

  • Dream feeding pre-empts night feeds before your baby naturally may rouse or wake. Usually you can time this for every three to four hours and feed whilst your baby is still asleep.
  • Settle them whilst they are lying down, avoiding picking up and changing their position.
  • Ensure that your babies sleep no more than three hours in the day. Sleep begets sleep but too much day time sleep will rob you of your night time sleeping hours.
  • Give your baby three hours of wake time before putting them down to for night time sleep.
  • Teach your baby to fall asleep independently, without rocking, feeding or holding. Allow at least 10 minutes for your baby to be in their cot awake to be sure they are going to sleep by themselves and not because of something you are doing.
  • Get your baby used to their cot and room environment, so they are not scared or do not feel lonely when you place them there in the night-time. This is what we call habitualisation. Get your baby used to where you want them to sleep so they know what to expect and this is how you reduce anxiety and feelings of uncertainty.

2. My baby won't sleep in a cot

Most babies, especially newborns, are not used to lying down flat as they have a built in reflect called the 'moro reflect', which means that when they feel as though they are falling, they become startled. This reflex is activated when you place your baby in a lying down potion and their head becomes lower than their body and feet. This may cause them to cry, we pick them up and hold them in an upright position and they stop crying.

Learned behaviour shows us that our babies then learn that holding upright and close to our chest is a sign and feeling of safe so that every time we try to put them down they become startled and cry. To avoid this we must avoid activating the moro reflect. Place baby down in the cot feet or bum first in an almost sitting position and then lower their head last but slowly.

Get your child used to the cot both day and night; the more time your baby spends in their cot the more they will accept it. Increase positive associations in their cot and room, if they love being there they will be happy to sleep there.

Below are reasons your baby may not settle in the cot and some practical tips to help them become comfortable:

  • Place your cot on a tilt about 30 degree, you can put books at one end to achieve this.
  • Get them to play in the cot and take them out before they get bored or cry. This will increase positive association. Spend increasing amounts of time in the cot to help your baby accept it.
  • Reduce the space in the cot so your baby has less room to move. Feeling snug with their feet to the base of the cot will help them sleep longer
  • Do not leave your baby to cry unattended in their cot for long period as this will create a negative association with the cot.

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