How can I get my baby to sleep through the night?

Tried and tested solutions for a good night’s sleep for you and your baby.

Legend has it that there are a handful of mothers whose babies go to sleep by themselves and sleep right through till morning. Everyone else is trying to get their babies to sleep better and not wake up at night. Here are a few no-fail sleep tips.

Bedtime rituals
Studies have shown that the foundation for good sleeping patterns lies in soothing bedtime rituals. All the small actions you perform every night to prepare your baby’s mind and body for sleep time form part of this ritual. By the time you put them in their cot, they are satisfied, soothed and ready for sleep. The most important thing to remember is to tone things down in the few hours before bedtime: no excitement, no bright lights, no stimulation. As much as possible, keep everything happening at roughly the same time and in the same fashion to give your baby cues that bedtime is approaching. You can choose any rituals that suit you as long as they make your baby feel secure, loved and relaxed so they are cosy and comfortable for the night.

Promote self-soothing
If your baby wakes up during the night, it’s a good idea to teach them to go back to sleep with minimum help from you. The key is to encourage self-soothing. It is normal for babies to wake during the night and go back to sleep after a few moments, they just need to learn how to do it. Try giving them a few moments before you rush in to pick them up. 

In the first three months, you can try to start good sleep habits during the day  – not so easy if you have a fussy baby! Try putting your baby to sleep awake but drowsy and swaddled. Give them a short cuddle and then put them down, with minimal patting, and leave them to put themselves to sleep. If you can master this during the day, it gives both you and your baby a growing sense of confidence in their ability to fall asleep independently. For fussy babies, you will need to do a lot more rocking and holding. Don’t panic about getting into bad habits, but be aware of when your baby becomes more comfortable (usually around three months) and implement these practises at the right time.

Peaceful sleep
Research shows that there are certain elements that keep babies awake. Try to rule out any possible reasons that cause your baby to wake up. Consider the temperature of the room, the noise levels and the darkness. You might need to change their nappy or treat any kind of illness or discomfort caused by teething. Try to take care of all their physical needs while still keeping a serene, soothing environment – don’t switch on bright lights or get them excited.

Sleeping guidelines
Curious about what the guidelines on normal sleep are? Nursing sister Heather Wood recommends the following:
  • In the first six weeks, babies sleep between most feeds, and are awake for up to one and a half hours at a time, including feeds.
  • After six weeks, aim for 2 hours of awake time between day naps, which means, on average, 3 naps a day. By four months of age, the last nap should finish by 4.15pm, or they may not be tired by bedtime (6 to 7pm).
In terms of realistic sleep expectations, she suggests the following:
  • When your baby is a newborn (up to six weeks), expect 2 to 3 feeds at night (7pm to 7am). By six weeks, the feeds should take half an hour from beginning to end, with very little settling required. If you’re breastfeeding, six weeks is when you are usually able to express enough for Dads to give one of the night feeds (of expressed breast milk) in a bottle, so that you can have a longer stretch of undisturbed sleep.
  • From six weeks to four months, expect 1 to 2 night feeds – usually with one stretch of 6 hours or more (if you’re lucky!) though this is often from the early evening, so if you get to bed later you miss the benefits.
  • From four to six months, often the good sleepers start to wake up more often or start resisting sleep. This is partly developmental – for some the teething is a factor, or the adjustment to solid food. This is when a lot of Moms have sleeping problems.
  • Once your baby is on three meals a day, as well as three to four milk feeds, they don’t need a night feed anymore.
No matter how much your baby wakes up, sleep-deprived nights will pass eventually. Paediatricians say that babies only develop regular sleep cycles after the first six months, so if your baby is sleeping fairly well before then, you’re in luck. Do you have any sleep secrets to share with other Moms?
BabyGroup says…
This article has been checked by Heather Wood, Nursing sister, Midwife and Lactation Consultant. A member of the BabyGroup Medical Council.

Moms's Top Tips for Better Sleep

We asked a selection of BabyGroup Moms what they had purchased in order to help them develop good sleeping habits and this is what they said...

1. Use Natural Linen
Using natural fiber linen ensures breathability and warmth whilst your baby sleeps. Some good examples are from Nocturnal Affair and Tom & Bella who both manufacture from 100% cotton. If you see polyester on the label, the chances are your baby is going to have a sweaty night!

2. Swaddlers and Cuddlers
A newborn baby will often wake up if their arms are not wrapped tightly against their body. Using a swaddler or cuddler helps to reduce a baby's sense of vulnerability leading to a calmer night. BabySense make a great heart shaped swaddle wrap that provides a really good tight fit and also leaves space for their little chin. Other options are the  the Piep (0-3m) or  Mini (3-6m) from Puckababy which use internal wraps to hold your baby's arms close to their chest and incorporate a sleeping bag too. 

3. Sleeping bags
For an older baby who has grown out of a swaddler, a zip-in sleeping bag is ideal. It will keep your baby warm and can not be kicked off like sheets and blankets can. Make sure the zip is away from your baby's face and that the sleeping bag is made from 100% natural fibers (cotton or other). The Puckababy sleeping bag is a good option. The weighted sleepysac from BabySense uses another approach (4kg+, 52-70cm). It provides gentle pressure on your baby's chest to keep them calm and relaxed. Moms who use them swear by them. They are great for unsettled babies who usually do not sleep well. 

4. Sleepwear
Your baby should sleep in sleepwear that is made from 100% cotton or other breathable fibers. Again, if you are seeing Polyester on the label your baby is likely to have a sweaty night!

5. Nappies
It's a simple fact that a baby will often wake up in the night because they are wet. Our suggestion is simple, use the best nappies to keep them drier for longer. As parents ourselves we have found that Pampers are the best for soaking up the most moisture and keeping that moisture away from your baby's soft bottom.

6. Temperature
One thing about being a parent in South Africa is that the temperature can vary a lot during the night. Check that your room is at the right temperature with a room thermometer like the Gro Egg. Also useful as a night light which has it's own calming benefits.

7. Wind or Colic
How many times have you tried to put down your baby to sleep and they are just not interested - even though they are obviously exhausted! This can often be caused by wind, gas or colic. A good winding session after the final feed is a must, but if that is not working Colic Calm may help to soothe your unsettled baby and allow you both to get some sleep. It's a natural remedy that has helped many babies the world over (and their Moms).

8. Luck and Patience
Unfortunately you can't buy this! Many babies just need time and patience before they get the idea. So what to do? Print this out, stick it on the wall in your nursery and tell yourself it will all get better soon because it will!

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