Lauren Peacock, Sleep Specialist, makes her blogging debut for STAG Mumbler.
Easy and gentle strategies for optimising sleep with a newborn
Whenever I talk to expectant parents, sleep is a big topic of conversation! Parents and non-parents alike seem to delight in explaining, often in great detail, how little sleep a family can expect when their newest team member arrives. On the other hand, any number of books will promise to have your baby sleeping through the night and napping on a schedule pretty much by the time you bring them home from hospital. But what is the truth? Here is my impartial, honest guide to what you can expect in the early months and how to optimise sleep during this precious time.
Nothing compares to you
A child’s sleep habits are overwhelmingly behavioural and shaped by their experiences. But there are a number of “nature” factors that influence a little one’s natural rapport with sleep. When a baby is born, how they are born and, perhaps most notable of all, their innate temperament, all contribute to how tricky (or not) they are likely to find sleep. The temptation to compare our baby’s sleep to our friend’s little one can be overwhelming but it’s a comparison that is at best useless and at worst a source of stress – no two babies have the same relationship with sleep.
Breastfeeding does not mean less sleep
This is a particularly pervasive myth with absolutely zero science behind it! In fact, the evidence shows that it is actually mothers who exclusively breastfeed who get the most sleep overall! The difference compared to formula-fed babies is fairly marginal though so feed your baby however you choose in the knowledge that whether you opt for breast or bottle, it won’t fundamentally impact sleep.
You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole
Babies aren’t robots. As such, there is no one “perfect” routine that will suit every little one and transform them into a sleep machine. Some children are fairly adaptable and will take to a strict schedule. Others will fight against it and leave their mummy feeling like a failure – and that’s not just my opinion; in 2017 Swansea and Newcastle Universities found that half of the mothers they surveyed were unable to make a strict routine work for their child.
So if a strict routine isn’t the answer, what is? I’m a fan of all things being baby-led but with some gentle structure to create a nice flow to the day – whilst rigid regimes don’t suit a lot of children, most do well with a level of consistency and predictability.
If parents can get into the habit of feeding on waking rather than habitually feeding-to-sleep they will be off to a flying start. This is because, ultimately, a family may want their little one to be able to fall asleep without having to be on the breast or bottle. Working on an Eat-Activity-Sleep-You-time
(EASY) pattern gives a baby the opportunity of falling asleep in a different way during the day. This pattern becomes a whole lot easier when a baby’s comfortable awake time is understood…
Little and often
Newborn babies have a remarkably short window for being comfortably awake – for many it’s as little as 45 minutes! Unfortunately, a baby doesn’t look at the clock and set themselves down for a nap and if there is environmental stimulus around them, they will continue to engage. In doing so, a little one will quickly become “overtired” and once that happens they are likely to fight sleep – both in terms of actually going to sleep and staying asleep for long enough to be fully rested. In my experience, lots of babies who are classed as “colicky” actually turn out to be overtired. If parents provide a sleep-conducive environment after an age-appropriate amount of awake time, they are giving their little one the best chance to fall asleep calmly and take the rest they need.
Don’t worry, be happy
The early days with your baby are a time to rest, recover and bond. It is not possible to create “bad” habits by responding to your baby quickly. In fact, the younger the baby the more closely aligned are their “wants” and “needs” – it’s really impossible to split the two in the early months and so picking your baby up as soon as they cry is not, in any way, creating the proverbial rod for your back. There are however several gentle strategies you can employ during this time to set your little one on the path to becoming a sleep superstar, whilst still being super-responsive. Head over to the Little Sleep Stars blog or click here to read more.
Lauren will be back in two weeks with her next blog ‘The 4 Month Sleep Regression’ so watch this space!