Infant sleep: What an incredibly emotive, and at times, sensitive subject. I Googled “Infant Sleep” and it returned over sixty-six million hits. No wonder there is a lot of confusion and discussion about the best way to deal with this issue.
Conflicting information and advice are the enemies of all new parents. The topics most complained about would have to be Breastfeeding and Infant Sleep.
Every baby and family is unique, which is why I don’t believe we should impose presumptive programmes or regimens on anyone. I believe it is best to wait and see how it naturally pans out in your household.
Having said that, there are still certain things we can do to try and foster good sleeping behaviour in our babies and children, which I outline below.
I recently read a great article on sleep, which had a big impact on me. It looked at the importance of how we view sleep. For example, if children are naughty, they are often sent to bed as punishment. However, sleep is a time when we rest, relax and recharge, so we should therefore view and frame it in a positive light, and begin doing so for our babies from beginning. Perhaps we should be saying to our babies “Aren’t you lucky you are going to have a lovely nap and wake up all refreshed?”.
Adult and baby sleep is very different. Much more Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep occurs during baby and infant sleep cycles compared to adults. This is because it is required for the extraordinary brain development that occurs during the early years. This also means that babies will be woken very easily, as REM sleep is ‘lighter’ compared to ‘deep sleep’.
We also need to remember that breast milk is super-digestible, so most babies will need to feed approximately every three hours for the first couple of months. At around two months of age, your baby will tend to have a longer sleep at night. Prior to this, most babies don’t know the difference between day and night. It is therefore important that more “action” occurs during the day, and ideally none at night, just feed and back to bed. This will assist your baby in knowing the difference.
Some things that may help:
Consistency is extremely important for a new baby. Try and do the same things at the same time each day, where possible. In my opinion, most new mothers try to do too much. For example, bath the baby at the same time, take the baby for a walk in the pram, at the same time.
HAVE A SLEEP SEQUENCE
This doesn’t need to be a complicated regimen, but more like a system of A, B, C and D. Think about how you go to bed each night. Most of us have a night time ritual, be it something like check the doors, clean your teeth, set the alarm clock, put some moisturiser on. Each one of those steps assists in turning your brain off a little and preparing for sleep, so that by the time you get into bed you are (hopefully) ready to go to sleep. If you did none of these ritual type activities I would be confident that you would be wide awake when you got into bed and would have more difficulty dropping off to sleep.
With babies the sleep routine should be done each time you are putting the baby down for a sleep, however the nighttime one should be slightly longer.
I refer to swaddling as part of a sleep sequence (babies should not be swaddled to feed, only for their main sleeps of the day). I believe that all babies like being swaddled at bedtime, especially in the first few months of life. A lot of new mothers tell me that their babies like having their hands out, I would argue that just because they can get their hands out doesn’t mean that they like having them out. For the first few months of a baby’s life, the brain and body are not really in sync. It is estimated that at about three months of age babies will start realising that those arms are their own. This is why in the early days, babies often scratch themselves or hit themselves in the face.
Swaddling will also diminish the effect of the “startle” reflex that all babies have in the first months of life. They will still startle, however, it won’t be as “ violent” as it would if they were unwrapped.
There are several excellent commercial wraps on the market that make it easier to swaddle your baby for sleep. The ones I recommend are the ‘Ergo Baby Swaddler’ and the ‘Miracle Blanket’. Both are 100% cotton and easy to use.
All babies love the water, they have been virtually floating around in it for the past forty weeks. What babies don’t like is the dressing and undressing that goes with bath time. The solution to that is to get faster at undressing and then when the bath is finished don’t just put baby onto the change table where they will feel cold and exposed but have a warm towel over your shoulder and cuddle them to you and dry them up there. They will enjoy their bath much more when you do that.
As you get more confident with bathing, let the bath become deeper and deeper so that your baby will be having a kind of float tank experience – this done in the evening really increases the chance of your baby having a nice long sleep.
Baby massage can also contribute to your baby having a good sleep. This is something that I recommend you think about starting when your baby is 6 – 8 weeks old.
As you may know, we conduct Baby Massage classes here at Dr Morris | Sydney Mother and Baby and they are also available in the community. Please note that Baby Massage and bathing shouldn’t be done together, at least not until baby is around 5 months old – it is simply too much stimulation.
Recommended websites and books
Isisonline.org.uk – Infant Sleep Infomation Source
“Sweet Sleep” – By Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, Linda Smith and Teresa Pitman
By Angela Smith
Midwife & Lactation Consultant