One thing that new motherhood is guaranteed to change is your concept of ‘lack of sleep’. If you counted losing a couple of hours of shut-eye because of a late dinner as tiring, wait until your baby arrives and you’re faced with their round-the-clock needs and upside-down sleep.
While this sleep disturbance may seem daunting, the post-baby surge of oxytocin, the ‘love’ hormone that helps you bond with your baby, will carry you through. And if you accept your sleeping habits won’t be the same for some time, you will find it easier to deal with the disruption.
It might also help to lower your expectations of bub’s sleeping habits. It takes a couple of months for a baby’s circadian rhythms, which help regulate sleep, to kick in. Until then, it’s impossible for your baby to tell the difference between night and day, so sleep routines based on times of day are unrealistic.
However, babies respond to structure and predictability, and implementing a feed, play, sleep cycle from early on can help. From three months of age, your little one starts to become more switched on. If you haven’t already, now is the time to introduce sleep associations – such as bath, book and bed, or perhaps a baby massage – to set them on the right path.
Remember, sleep is actually a skill that needs to be learned. If you do the hard yards early on, you will reap the rewards into toddlerhood and beyond.
Do you pat your baby, walk away or follow a strict routine? Here are five sleeping techniques to consider as one or more may work for you both…
• KEY PRINCIPLES Babies shouldn’t be left to cry for more than a few minutes because crying creates a negative sleep association, which may be detrimental.
• HOW TO DO IT Use whatever method works best for them, whether it’s nursing, rocking, responding to crying or altering feeding and sleeping schedules to improve sleep patterns.
• BENEFITS This baby-centric approach minimises upset to parents, baby and family.
• PITFALLS Having to respond to your baby the second they cry can be exhausting.
• KEY PRINCIPLES Works on the basis that you can gradually distance yourself and still let your bubs learn to fall asleep on their own. The aim is to have a baby who’s happy being alone at bedtime and so is happy when they wakes alone at night and can then self-settle.
• HOW TO DO IT Make sure your baby is awake when you put them in the cot, but maintain contact, such as a hand on their chest, until they fall asleep. Over time, you sit further away from the cot until they nods off when you’re outside the room.
• BENEFITS This isn’t a quick fix, but your baby will learn that their cot is a safe place to be.
• PITFALLS Parents often get stuck and never make it out of the room.
• KEY PRINCIPLES By creating routines that match a baby’s natural sleep and feeding needs, Gina Ford, author of The New Contented Little Baby Book (Random House), claims to prevent the hunger and overtiredness that can upset young babies. Setting up good feeding and sleeping patterns will enable you to meet your baby’s needs, and parenthood will be satisfying for all.
• HOW TO DO IT Follow the 10 different routines, as outlined in the book, from birth to 12 months. The routines include hour-by-hour and week-by-week guidance on sleep times, feeds and bedtime rituals.
• BENEFITS According to Ford, you should have a baby who sleeps through the night by eight to 12 weeks. Your baby will be happy, feed regularly and well and be less likely to suffer colic. You’ll be a calm and contented parent, too. For many modern mums who like routine and organisation, this method can work a treat.
• PITFALLS Ford runs a tight ship – every hour of the day is accounted for, down to when you eat, drink and visit friends. The routines are strict and your ability to leave the house limited at first. Do you fancy letting bub fall asleep on your chest and simply marvelling at their breathing for the next two hours? Not on Ford’s time, you won’t.
• KEY PRINCIPLES We’ve included this method so you have it up your sleeve for when your bubs is a little older, as it’s not recommended babies under six months of age. Dr Richard Ferber proposed ‘controlled crying’ in 1985 to teach a baby to fall asleep on their own.
• HOW TO DO IT Put your baby in their cot awake and leave the room. Return after a few minutes to comfort them with words or touch, without looking at them or picking them up. Leave the room and wait increasingly longer times between visits to comfort baby.
• BENEFITS It can be effective and you can see improvements within less than a week.
• PITFALLS Some research suggests crying for long periods causes emotional distress; other studies have disproved this. It can be hard for you and, of course, can't be done with newborns.
• KEY PRINCIPLES Devised by Tracy Hogg, maternity nurse and author of Secrets of The Baby Whisperer (Random House), EASY is an acronym for Eat, Activity, Sleep, You. As in, eat food, have some activity, get sleep and have time for you.
• HOW TO DO IT It’s a recurring routine (the duration of which changes as your baby grows) that involves food, play, then a nap. While they sleep, you rest or get jobs done. You don’t focus on the clock, you focus on your baby, and by learning their body language and cues for hunger, tiredness and interaction, you know what they need. Just as important, you also know what they need (for example, you don’t feed them when all they really want is a sleep). Hogg helps you identify what type of baby you have and how best to interact with that type.
• BENEFITS This technique emphasises the importance of a routine to create a safe and structured environment for your bub, which is something nearly every sleep expert swears by. But this is not a strict, time-based schedule, and it is flexible and easy to implement. Following this routine will give you confidence to understand your baby, resulting in a good eater, an independent player and a sound sleeper. Amen!
• PITFALLS If your baby refuses to sleep when you want them to and won't naturally fall into a routine, this technique can be tricky to follow.