TIPS TO HELP YOUR BABY RELAX AND SLEEP

It’s never too late to look for help to get your baby (and you) to sleep. Filled with sensible, reassuring advice, the new Tresillian Sleep Book aims to help parents understand sleep and help them grapple with that crying baby.

Caitlin’s story (mother of Amelie, 4, and Maia, 1)

One of the things that’s hardest prior to having your first child is the uncertainty about what is going to come. Some babies are sleepy from the very beginning, others just never seem to understand the concept of sleep and scream from the word go. From the moment she was born, my daughter cried. She lay on my chest for the first hour with a startled expression on her face and screamed. She wailed while they weighed her, she howled while her father held her. At one point, I looked at the midwife and asked, ‘Are they always like this?’

‘Sometimes,’ she said with a knowing smile and helped me direct my little one’s mouth onto my breast. Aaah, finally some silence. This was a pattern that continued for many weeks.

Admittedly, night-times could be a struggle. I remember bouncing her in my arms, willing her eyes to droop so I could attempt to lower her into her bassinet and fall exhausted into bed. The worst was when her eyes sprang open just as I’d laid her down and I’d be forced to start the whole dance again. Nothing lasts forever, certainly not the newborn phase”

First things first, let’s look at what sleep is and how it works. Whatever that phrase originally meant doesn’t really matter, because this book is going to explain to you what ‘sleeping like a baby’ really means.

…there is no simple, magical formula that will teach your baby to sleep. Sleep is complex, and it follows a normal developmental course similar to the way your baby develops the ability to walk and talk.

Circadian rhythms and the role of light

Research has found that parents who help their baby synchronise her day–night rhythm to a normal daytime–night-time 24-hour clock soon after birth have a much more enjoyable relationship with their baby.

What does all this mean and how can it help you? Well, you can organise your baby’s routines to help her internal and external rhythms adjust to day and night.

  • Your baby’s sleep develops slowly and in stages.
  • You have ways to help your baby.
  • Any information you have can be modified to suit your family’s needs.

You never know if it will work unless you try…

Being in sync with your baby, especially during the first three months, really helps for the development of long-term sleep patterns.

One mum’s struggle with being told “You just need to…”

I was a perfect parent for the first few hours of my first baby’s life. She literally slept like a baby. “This is easy,” my husband and I naively joked. If only we’d known then that when she woke up the honeymoon would be over.

After a passable attempt at breastfeeding and the mandatory admiration of visitors, it was time to put her back to bed. Easier said than done; she just cried. Was she still hungry? Was something wrong? The friendly midwife gave us a hand and eventually our bundle of joy went off to sleep. It continued like this for the few days I was in hospital.

SHE WOULD CRY AND NOT SETTLE, THEN SHE WOULD GET OVERTIRED AND CRY  MORE. WHICH MADE IT HARDER TO SETTLE HER, THEN I’D CRY…’

She always ended up falling asleep, completely exhausted, but it was such a battle. I struggled to maintain composure with the constant crying, and this was in the hospital, where there were people around to help and a nursery in which we could leave her to get some sleep ourselves. I remember walking past the staff desk late one night and hearing someone say, “Just whose baby is that in Room 32 who keeps crying?” I kept walking, not wanting to admit she was mine. Then we went home.

She always ended up falling asleep, completely exhausted, but it was such a battle. I struggled to maintain composure with the constant crying, and this was in the hospital, where there were people around to help and a nursery in which we could leave her to get some sleep ourselves. I remember walking past the staff desk late one night and hearing someone say, “Just whose baby is that in Room 32 who keeps crying?” I kept walking, not wanting to admit she was mine. Then we went home.

Our first night was memorable. Unable to stand the crying any more, we took our daughter for a 3am drive. It’s such a cliche. We ended up at an all-night supermarket and decided to do the shopping.

Her sleeping didn’t get any better, and my husband and I were in a constant fog of exhaustion. Our confidence was shattered. While parenting books and friends went on about keeping routines, we were struggling to stay sane. I read and re-read everything I could find on the topic, googled for ideas, asked questions relentlessly and drove my husband mad with different strategies and routines. I would then panic that I was over-analysing the situation and not using my instincts.

We found ‘new’ things worked best. The dummy sent her to sleep when we first used it, and I was sure we had found the solution. A huge weight lifted as I looked forward to more peace, then the dummy started to lose its effect. Wrapping had a similar result. We even went to a live-in sleep clinic where we were given lots of tips that helped, but it didn’t last.

THAT SENSE OF FAILURE HIT ME HARD.

As your average, modern, well-educated woman, I’m used to being able to find a solution to most situations I encounter – just not this one.

The most difficult part was the never-ending ‘advice’ we received, including suggestions from people we hardly knew. They were all well-meaning, but so unhelpful. When you’re not coping, being told you should just relax is not what you need. We were constantly told, “Just be consistent and persistent,” and “Just try different things until you find what works”.

SLEEP AND SETTLING ADVICE FOR NEWBORNS

CRYING

Crying is normal and is your baby’s way of communicating. Babies have individual crying patterns which can vary from 20 minutes to 5 hours a day. Babies cry mostly because they are hungry, thirsty, hot or cold, wet or soiled, overtired, excited, frightened or in need of a cuddle.

HOW DO I COMFORT MY CRYING BABY?

  1. try a cuddle or holding your baby close (this may include skin-to-skin contact) using rhythmical movement
  2. walking baby using a pram or sling or
  3. a “top up” breastfeed within 30 minutes of the last feed (up to 3 months)

WHAT ARE TIRED SIGNS?

Babies show ‘tired signs’ when they are getting tired and need sleep such as grimacing, yawning, grizzling, frowning, sucking, staring, snuggling in, jerky movements, becoming over active, clenching fists, rubbing eyes, fussiness or crying. Responding early to these tired signs prevents your baby becoming distressed and makes it easier to get baby to sleep.

Will wrapping help to settle my baby?

Yes often. Use a light material (cotton) making sure that the arms are above waist level and there is room to move the legs. Ensure your baby is not over dressed and your baby’s head is uncovered. Stop wrapping your baby when he/she is able to turn onto their tummy during sleep or play (from 3-6 months).

Settling my baby

In the early weeks try settling baby in your arms:

  1. Hold your baby in your arms until they fall asleep.
  2. Use gentle rhythmic patting, rocking, stroking, talking, or softly singing before putting your baby into the cot asleep.  These repetitions signal relaxation and sleep.
  3. If your baby wakes after a sleep cycle you may need to re-settle.

    Tresillian also recommends Hands-on Settling

    1. Talk quietly and cuddle your baby to make baby calm
    2. Put your baby on their back in the cot awake [calm/drowsy]
    3. Comfort your baby with gentle ‘ssshhh’ sounds, gentle rhythmic patting, rocking, or stroking until baby is calm or asleep
    4. If your baby becomes or stays distressed pick your baby up for a cuddle until calm or asleep before putting baby back in the cot
    5. Stay with your baby until he/she is asleep

Settle your Baby Safely (SIDS Guidelines)

  • Sleep baby on the back from birth, not on the tummy or side
  • Sleep baby with head and face uncovered
  • Keep baby smoke free before birth and after
  • Provide a safe sleeping environment night and day
  • Sleep baby in their own safe sleeping place in the same room as an adult for the first six to twelve months
  • Breastfeed baby

PUTTING NEWBORN TO SLEEP IN THE FIRST FEW WEEKS

When you first bring baby home, it can be stressful if they don’t settle on their own.  Tresillian don’t use controlled crying or recommend it. First, make sure baby has a dry nappy and has been fed. Then try holding your baby in your arms until she falls asleep or becomes drowsy. Use gentle rhythmic patting, rocking and soft singing before putting baby into the cot. It takes time and patience but it’s worth it.

MY BABY WON’T SLEEP UNLESS ITS ON ME:

‘My baby won’t sleep. I can’t put him into the cot/bassinet because he keeps crying. The only way he will go to sleep is on me’

At 4-6 weeks of age, this is normal behaviour. Babies need to be physically close to their parents and some need help going to sleep or re-settling. Comforting with cuddles is the best way to settle your baby when he is crying. Wrapping can also help – use a light material such as cotton making sure that the arms are above waist level and there is room to move the legs. Also check how you are feeding your baby and whether or not there is a link between how the baby is feeding (i.e. fast or gulping or snacking) and his unsettled behaviour.

HOW DO I GET BABY TO HAVE LONGER SLEEPS THROUGH THE DAY?

“My baby will only have 40 minute short day sleeps, but sleeps well overnight. How can I help him have longer day sleeps?” At 4-5 mths, your baby’s sleep-wake cycle is the time spent going through both deep (quiet) and light (active) stages of sleep. A sleep cycle is around 30-50 minutes and then babies can rouse. It’s very common for babies to wake up after 30-40 minutes sleep at this age. There are several ways of re-settling baby. Hands-on settling is one option where you comfort your baby with gentle ‘ssshh’ sounds, gentle rhythmic patting, rocking or stroking until baby is calm or asleep. If your baby becomes or stays distressed pick him up for a cuddle until calm or asleep before putting baby back in the cot. Stay with your baby until he/she is asleep.

OLDER BABIES:

“6-7mths of age. My baby has started waking more overnight and I can’t re-settle him without having to rock him to sleep. What can I do to help him sleep better overnight.” A: Its very common for babies to “start” night waking more often at this age, due to them becoming more aware of when they come into their light sleep cycles. When settling your baby ensure they are wrapped or use a sleeping bag with fitted arm holes and no hood. Try lots of reassurance : 1) Talk quietly and cuddle your baby until calm 2) Put your baby on their back in the cot awake (drowsy) 3) Comfort your baby with gentle ‘ssshh’ sounds, gentle rhythmic patting, rocking or stroking until baby is calm or asleep. As your baby calms, move away from the cot or leave the room but if your baby becomes or stays distressed return and comfort your baby using the steps 1-3.

‘MY BABY HAS STARTED WAKING AND SCREAMING AT NIGHT:

This is also very common, when babies start to move around more or standing up in their cot, this can disturb their sleep, so they wake up more often. At this age babies understand your tone of voice, and you can guide them by gently saying things like “It’s time to lay down to go to sleep” and then showing or guiding them how to do that.

MY BABY TAKES HOURS TO SETTLE IN THE EVENING WHAT CAN I DO TO SOOTHE HIM AND MAKE HIM SLEEP SOONER?

Check if your baby is content and chatting etc. or screaming and restless. If chatting, leave him. If screaming, check how he is used to settling…. is he needing some help with learning new ways to settle? A predictable bedtime routine (sequence of activities) including a wind-down period (for example, meal, bath, cleaning teeth, story time, brief cuddle and kiss, and into bed) is important to help your child recognise and establish good sleep patterns. In preparation for sleep, a bedtime routine (depending on day or night) encourages a wind-down period and ensures that your child’s physical needs are met.

MY TODDLER WAKES AT 5 AM:

The early riser is a common concern and it can be challenging to change this. It often improves with age and as the day naps lessen. It helps to consider how your child settles to sleep and support them to learn self settling skills. Also this is a time of the morning when the basal body temperature is at its lowest so ensure they are warm enough. It can take time for children to sleep longer in the morning so set realistic goals and be consistent with self settling methods.

MY NEWBORN CRIES ON AND OFF ALL DAY:

This is a common concern for many new parents. Being unsettled and crying are very normal behaviours for newborn babies and part of their development during this time. Things usually improve after baby is around three months. We suggest you offer lots of hands on support like patting, body rocking and a soothing voice. Going out for a walk in the pram or drive in a car can be helpful. This is a time to get support from partner, family and friends as these methods take up a lot of energy and can be very exhausting.

I RECENTLY HAD MY SECOND BABY BUT NOW FINDING MY 3 YEAR OLD IS HAVING SLEEP PROBLEMS:

A new baby in the family can cause lots of change in the household especially for an older sibling. It can take up to 6 months for older children to adjust to a new baby. Being mindful of the adjustments your older child needs to make to a new baby in the household and demands on your time, is helpful. If possible involve your older child with caring for the new baby and there are lots of ways you can do this (i.e. at nappy change time, bathing time etc.). Set limits and be clear about boundaries with the older child.

MY BABY LIKES TO SLEEP IN MY ARMS: IS THIS SPOILING HER?

Newborn babies love being held close against their parents. This position promotes bonding. Developmentally babies are not capable to learn routines at this time. Hands-on support is very appropriate at this age, especially if baby is distressed and you definitely won’t spoil baby. A feed, play and sleep routine can help to support younger babies to develop better sleeping behaviours.

MY BABY IS DIFFICULT TO GET TO SLEEP: SHOULD I USE A BOTTLE?

Firstly, most babies have an unsettled period each day which can vary from one to three hours. Giving your baby a bottle is usually not the answer. In fact, it may even make your baby more unsettled. Firstly, start by visiting your child and family health nurse and asking her to assess one of your feeds. The nurse will observe a breastfeed and possibly also weigh your baby. She may suggest strategies to increase your milk supply if your baby is not gaining adequate weight. These might include increasing the number of times you breastfeed, expressing a small amount of milk before the feed, resting more and drinking more water. However the issue may be the way you are currently settling your baby to sleep. So, it would also be worthwhile explaining to the Nurse how you put baby to sleep (for example do you wrap baby, and are you consistent in the way you put baby to sleep every time. Again, your Child and Family Health Nurse can advise you on some new strategies to try at home. The nurse may ask you to visit your doctor to check there is not a medical reason behind your baby’s crying. However, once any medical cause is ruled out, parents can be reassured that normal crying peaks at this age and will decrease naturally from about 5 months of age.

I FEEL LIKE A FAILURE BECAUSE MY BABY DOES NOT SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT LIKE OTHER BABIES IN MY MOTHER’S GROUP:

There are lots of variations in the sleep patterns of infants. No two babies are alike. For many babies waking once or twice during the night is normal. It does not mean you are a failure in anyway. Perhaps you could ask the mothers what they mean by ‘sleeping through the night’. You might find that they feed before midnight and again at around 4.00am to 5.00am.

DOES TRESILLIAN BELIEVE IN CONTROLLED CRYING?

No, Tresillian does not recommend or use controlled crying. Parents are encouraged to learn to identify their baby’s cues and state of wakefulness and recognise the intensity of the baby’s cry; this may include picking the baby up and cuddling and soothing baby, repositioning and patting baby or offering a feed or trying to settle at a later time.

IS CRYING IT OUT A GOOD METHOD TO GET MY BABY TO SLEEP?

Crying it out seems to be the new name to describe ‘controlled crying’ which was a popular teaching to sleep method used in the 1980’s. But since then new research about infant mental health has shown that there are more gentler and effective ways to support good sleep behaviours. Tresillian uses an evidenced based method called responsive settling where we encourage parents to gently practice the skills for independent sleep with their baby by soothing baby if they get distressed. Many parents find this approach much easier to use and less stressful as baby does not have to cry for prolonged periods.