Sleep tips for new parents
Mandy Gurney, founder of Millpond Children's Sleep Clinic and The Baby Show's sleep expert, offers her top tips for lulling the baby to the land of nod
Sleep deprivation affects your decision-making, concentration, memory and creativity. You are much more likely to be moody and irritable, are more susceptible to colds and viruses and have a higher chance of accidents when you're tired, highlighting the importance of a good night's rest for the whole family.
Research by The Baby Show found that one in five parents are woken up seven to 10 times a night on average in the first six months of their baby's life, while three quarters of parents said they get as little as four hours of sleep a night. But there are things you can do.
Teach your baby the difference between day and night
Your newborn baby will spend on average 16 hours of every 24 asleep. The first step is to teach your baby the connection between dark and sleep and light and awake.
Within 10 weeks your baby is capable of understanding she should sleep longer at night. During the day, immerse your baby in the hustle and bustle of normal life but during night feeds avoid stimulating them. Keep your voice low and make minimal eye contact. Combined with the effects of darkness and quiet, this will eventually help your baby to learn that night-time is for sleeping.
Overtired babies are very difficult to settle so napping is essential, and it's very important to learn your baby's sleep signals. These could be them going quiet and still, rubbing their eyes, yawning or crying. Respond to these sleep cues right away by putting them in their Moses basket or cot for a nap.
By the end of the first month, a napping pattern typically emerges with babies needing a nap every one and a half hours after their previous waking time. If it helps, keep a diary of your baby's feed and sleep times so you can spot a pattern emerging.
Have a familiar bedtime routine
This is critical to developing healthy sleep habits. A succession of events which every night ends in your baby drifting off teaches her the simple message that it's now time to go to sleep.
Separate milk from sleep
During the early weeks, your baby will most likely need a feed right before bed but, in time, you can bring this feed forward to before bath time so he or she becomes less dependent on sucking to sleep.
Lay your baby down awake
While being pushed in a pram or rocked in your arms calms a baby too agitated to sleep, try not to make it a habit. If your baby is to eventually learn how to sleep through the night, they must be aware that she is in their own basket or cot. Aim to put your baby in their cot slightly awake so they get used to settling themselves.
White noise, such as a detuned radio, or a white noise app can also help a baby to fall asleep. This way if the baby wakes in the night they won't be alarmed by where they are and startle to full wakefulness.
Learn to settle
The night time sleep cycle of a very young baby lasts for around 60 minutes but from three months of age that increases to 90 minutes. If you want to teach your baby to sleep well overnight, it's vital that they learn how to settle themselves back to sleep when they stir at the end of each cycle.
If your baby's night time cries are merely grumbles, briefly check that she is comfortable, not hungry, too hot or cold, and that her nappy is clean. If all is fine, encourage her to resettle in her cot by stroking or patting them, or try rolling her on her side and gently rocking her body to and fro until she resettles.
If you need to, rock her in your arms, but place her back in her cot and comfort her there as soon as she begins to calm and become sleepy.