Parenthood involves many adjustments, but one of the hardest can be sleep deprivation. Here’s an overview of baby sleep issues, tips and available help.There’s a lot of development in a baby’s first year. They learn how to sit, crawl and stand. They start eating solids and learn to hold a spoon. And they will eventually learn how to sleep for longer periods, since that’s also a skill that develops over time.
Babies and sleep
Each baby has its own unique temperament, meaning that some children are much easier to settle than others, even within the same family. Their sleep patterns can also change as they grow.
Newborns have tiny tummies and need feeding every three hours or so. Babies also have shorter sleep cycles than adults and haven’t yet learnt how to go back to sleep. They also take time to work out that they should only nap for short periods during the day and have a much longer sleep at night.
Common sleep issues include:
- Taking a long time to settle to sleep
- Falling asleep in your arms, not in their cot
- Waking frequently
- Inconsistent sleeping patterns.
Sleeping tips and tricks
If you want your baby to sleep well at night, then first start by examining their day. Depending on their age, they might benefit from:
- Being swaddled so they feel cosy and secure and don’t wake themselves up when startled (once they can roll over, it’s time to stop swaddling and get their arms out).
- Getting into a feed-play-change-sleep rhythm
- Having shorter or fewer naps, so they’re more likely to be tired at bedtime
At bedtime and overnight, you can try:
- A regular routine, such as dinner, bath, feed, bed
- Putting them into their cot when they’re drowsy but still awake, as this helps them learn to self-settle
- Providing consistent sleep cues, such as:
- A blankie that they only use at bedtime (once they’re old enough for toys in the cot)
- A lullaby or some white noise that plays when it’s time for bed
- Giving a dream feed (where you feed your sleeping baby before you go to bed) to see if this helps them sleep longer
- Not rushing in when they wake overnight – give them a chance to go back to sleep themselves first
- Staying in their room with dim lighting during night-time feeds and only changing their nappy if it’s necessary.
- Paradoxically, a baby is likely to sleep better if you intervene less.
Talk to your GP or child health nurse if you’re struggling with your baby’s sleep. Help is also available from infant sleep schools across Australia, such as:
- NSW: Karitane, Tresillian
- Victoria: Queen Elizabeth Centre, Tweddle, O’Connell Family Centre, Masada Private Hospital
- Tasmania: Parenting Centre South, Parenting Centre North, Parenting Centre North West
- SA: Torrens House
- WA: Ngala
- NT: Parentline
- Queensland: Ellen Barron Family Centre
- ACT: Queen Elizabeth II Family Centre
You can find private sleep consultants across Australia listed at Sleep School for Babies and Toddlers.
Popular books on babies and sleep include:
Pinky McKay’s Sleeping Like a Baby
Dr Pamela Douglas’s The Discontented Little Baby Book
Elizabeth Pantley’s The No-Cry Sleep Solution and
Tizzie Hall’s Save Our Sleep, which emphasises routines.
Hopefully, some of these techniques will help you get a better pattern of rest soon. In the meantime, perhaps a relative or friend could take the baby for a few hours so you can catch up on some rest.