Are you struggling to get your baby to sleep through the night? Do you pick her up or let her cry? Rock her to sleep or put her in the bed with you and your partner?
We consulted a Psychologist for the do’s and don’ts of sleep routines, as well as some natural tips - so without delay, let’s dive in!
Babies are born with an intrinsic and built in system to wind down at regular intervals. They may have a small body, but they have a big ‘body clock’.
Some babies suffer with colic, teething and other niggles that disturb sleep or make it difficult and uncomfortable.
So what should a parent do to ensure good sleep routines and healthy habits?
Routine is essential to get your baby to sleep through the night!
A baby or small child should have a set sleep routine, that is healthy and most importantly – consistent. As grandma used to say: “start out the way you intend to finish”. Bad habits are hard to break, and even harder with a baby that is learning and absorbing things from birth. Remember, as parents we are “schooling” our infants on life techniques. And this applies to sleep routine too.
To Pick Up or not to Pick Up?
No parent enjoys seeing a baby in distress. There have been great debates on whether or not it is healthy to let a child cry itself to sleep, and opinion is still divided. However, it makes common sense that a baby in distress will cry out. This is observed even in the wild with animals and their young – it’s nature’s way of calling mum if there is danger, or if baby is hurt or hungry! So what would happen in modern day times if a baby in a cradle awoke, started crying and was ignored? We’d hate to witness this as a controlled experiment, but it has been established that through sheer exhaustion a baby will eventually stop crying. Unfortunately this comes with a price, as in the process the foundation for a rather harsh and unnecessary life lesson has been laid: Crying equals, well… nothing. No one is coming. Baby has learnt to give up. And furthermore, on an emotional level, it has learnt that it cannot and should not rely on anyone else for comfort, protection or rescue. In addition, studies have revealed that babies who are left to cry generally cry 50% more than those who are attended to!
However, if baby is picked up, sung to, rocked and pampered, another habit is set in place, with baby then struggling to fall asleep without the ‘pampered’ routine. So in essence, there should be a balance. If baby fusses a little, a little rocking of the cradle, or a soothing word or two is great, but try not to become too involved in the process of getting baby to sleep – letting it know that you are there, and at hand is adequate. If baby cries for longer than a minute, or if it gets distressed it is always better to respond, as this usually indicates that baby is hungry, wet, too hot or too cold, perhaps it is teething or has indigestion or colic. (Remember nature, and a baby animal trying to tell mom something!) A baby will seldom cry for the sake of crying – it does not serve a purpose.
What if baby cries for you all the time?
The best thing to do is to attend to your child without giving-in to his or her every whim. Chances are your little one wants to be picked up, entertained or simply wants your attention. Give them a comforting cuddle to calm them down if need be, or simply pat them back to sleep. The reassurance of your gentle touch or your hushed voice is enough to reassure them without fussing about them too much. They will soon learn that you are not much fun at night, but at least you are still there if needed. It also helps to learn your baby’s cry – and most parents will soon be able to discern between the “something’s wrong cry” and the “hey, where is everybody cry”. You can always expect your baby to fuss when putting the routine into place, and even once the routine has been established. Even though baby is sleepy, being with you and in on the action is much more fun than sleep! Most experts agree that no harm can be done in letting your cherub fuss a little, as long as they are not distressed, after all, they are entitle to voice their little opinions, but you don’t have to agree.
What should I do if my baby cries in the night?
When your baby fusses during the night, it is often a good idea to leave them and see what happens. Babies often make fussing noises in their sleep, and if they do wake up and start niggling, they will very often go back to sleep by themselves if given the opportunity. By not interfering you are teaching your little one the important skill of self-soothing - however if niggling and fussing turn into serious crying, a diaper check and quick comfort are definitely in order.
How about sleeping in mom and dad’s bed?
This is a very personal choice. While this habit may be hard to break in later years, shared time in bed can provide a baby with valuable bonding time (especially if mom or dad work most of the day). Again, it is up to the parents concerned. Also, it is also far easier for mom to breastfeed with baby sleeping in the bed, or close nearby! So long as both parents are OK with it, there is no harm in allowing baby to share the family bed. Most children will voluntarily choose their own beds as they grow older.
Sounds or silence?
While it may seem like a good idea to make the house as quiet as possible, thereby allowing a baby to sleep in peace, this may lead to a baby becoming overly sensitive to noise. It is a good idea to keep normal house routines in place – if the television is on at night, or the dog barks, these are normal sounds of activity, and a baby will get used to it. Also, it’s these comforting sounds that let a baby know on a subconscious level that it is not alone. Interestingly, the sounds they heard while in the womb were about twice as loud as a vacuum cleaner - so babies thrive on strong rhythmic noise! You may want to try a radio tuned to transmit static (but make sure it is not too loud), or nature-sounds on CD or even let her sleep near the dishwasher!