It’s a pleasure to welcome Stephanie Modell, trained nursery nurse, mother of triplets and author of 100 Tips to Help Your Baby Sleep and the bestselling, The Baby Sleep Guide, to share her wisdom here. Over to Stephanie.
Establishing positive sleep habits early on is the perfect start for any new family but what happens if you’ve not done this? Maybe your baby developed poor sleep habits due to reflux or feeding issues or maybe you just got too exhausted to think about it. What can you do further down the line?
The term ‘sleep training’ has negative connotations and is a widely misunderstood expression. Sleep is an automatic behaviour triggered by the build-up of sleep pressure. Foetuses sleep in utero with no learning involved. However, falling asleep in response to external cues rather than internal biological cues is a learned behaviour, which you can influence. Below, I share my tips to help you.
1. Have Realistic Expectations
When it comes to baby sleep, it’s important to remember that waking at night is perfectly normal. A newborn baby’s circadian rhythm or body clock is not yet developed so the best thing you can do from the start, is to help your baby differentiate between night and day. Give your baby plenty of exposure to natural light during the day, with lots of interaction and normal noise levels and keep everything dark and quiet at night, keeping interaction to a minimum.
2. Work out why?
Before you can address any issue with sleep, you need to analyse why it’s happening. Often it’s a combination of things. Work out what they are, make a plan, write it down and give yourself small, realistic goals. Remember that two teachers are better than one so ensure that you, your partner and anyone else caring for your baby are following the same actions.
Some reasons for sleep problems are:
A sleep association or dependence
The timing and lengths of naps – a very common reason for sleep problems
Inadvertently rewarding the waking
Too hot or cold
Being uncomfortable – use soft, cotton nightwear with no buttons at the back and no logos which may be irritating to sensitive skin
A milk allergy or intolerance
Obstructive sleep apnoea (enlarged tonsils)
3. Look at Your 24-hour Routine
Daytime naps are so important. Do not let anyone tell you that if your baby sleeps in the day that he/she won’t sleep at night – the opposite is true! Naps are a good teaching time and sleep encourages sleep. If your baby is well-rested, she/he will find it easier to go to sleep at night, be more content and have a healthier appetite. If you restrict naps, your baby will be overtired and her cortisol levels will increase. The timing of naps will affect your whole 24-hour cycle. If you’re trying to put your baby down to sleep when s/he’s overtired or under-tired, it will be a battle. It’s a balance which needs fine-tuning in order to achieve a good night’s sleep.
4. Help Your Baby to Self-Settle
When you put your baby to bed whether it’s for naps or night-time sleep, they need to feel safe, secure, loved and nurtured. Newborn babies may need lots of help to settle to sleep. As your baby gets older, teaching them to self-settle will give them some sleep independence and will mean that they are more likely to resettle themselves at night in between sleep cycles. The earlier you start to encourage your baby to self-settle, the easier it is – however, it’s never too late. There are many well-documented methods, but my favourite is a gradual retreat which is a gentle technique whereby you gradually give less and less intervention over a period of time to help your baby to settle to sleep. For example, if your baby is breastfeeding-to-sleep, you may start with cuddling –to- sleep, move on to shushing and patting in the cot, and over a period of days or weeks you give less and less input to help your baby get to sleep. All babies are different so you adapt the interventions and the speed at
which you progress to suit your baby, always making your baby feel safe and reassured whilst s/he is learning a little sleep independence.
5. Be consistent
If you’ve been trying multiple methods to get your baby to sleep but with no success, it could be the very fact that you’ve used too many methods that are causing your baby confusion. Make a plan and stick with it. Even though sleep teaching can be time consuming but persevere and see it through. It’s not always plain sailing as some babies can be quite determined but if you’re consistent you will be amazed how quickly you will see results. Be positive! If you dread putting your baby down to sleep s/he will sense your anxiety. Put her/him down confidently and expect her/him to sleep. Once you have a routine in place and your baby learns to self-settle, they should love going to sleep.
6. Gain Sleep Knowledge
Understanding ‘how’ babies sleep is half the battle.
Both of my books are written in a concise straightforward way and are based on over 30 years of professional experience as well as from my own experience as a mother of triplets. The Baby Sleep Guide and my newly published book, 100 Tips To Help Your Baby Sleep are both available on Amazon, Waterstones and other good booksellers and make the perfect gift for any expectant family.