Most new mums find that of all the new experiences that come with having a baby, your little one's sleep, or lack of it, is what causes the most anxiety. Getting your baby settled into a good night-time routine is often the key to a peaceful night - and a less exhausted you.
How to tell it's day
- When your baby is awake, make sure you stimulate her with toys, music and lots of brightly coloured things to look at. Don't forget to talk to her and play with her too.
- When she goes for a nap, don't worry about putting her in a special, dark room. Let her nap in natural light
- Keep noise levels normal - babies can often sleep through quite a racket
Making night-time different
- Make sure you follow a bedtime routine - bathe or wash her, change her into her nightclothes and then put her into her bedroom. This will help her realise this sleep is different.
- Keep night feeds quiet, sleepy and as brief as possible. Keep playing and talking to a minimum.
- This is the time for hush in the house so she understands night-time is a quiet time
Most experts agree the 3 months stage is when babies are able to start sleeping through the night. If, by this time, your baby still doesn't have a bedtime routine, this is a good age to start one.
At 3 months your baby can pick up on cues, and if you follow the same pattern, she'll soon learn what's coming next. Try to keep the bedtime routine consistent (e.g bath, massage, pyjamas, bedroom) as well as relaxing - it will help your baby to become sleepy and to settle.
If your baby's still snacking and napping for short periods during the day, she may well mimic the same pattern at night. Help her by introducing more structured daytime naps and feeds. If you can do this and have a successful bedtime routine where your baby can settle herself, then by the time she's 4 to 6 months, she could be sleeping for up to 10 or 11 hours a night.
Restoring the peace
Sometimes a sleep routine can go wrong, and this is when a sleep plan like this one might help. It involves leaving your baby to cry for a certain length of time before going in to her. The golden rule is you mustn't pick her up, however much she's screaming. It takes willpower on your part, but many parents feel it's worth the anguish in the end.
A sleep plan can take as little as three days to take effect or up to a week. But don't use it with young babies - it's only for older babies who are able to settle themselves.
3 steps to slumber
Each night, put your baby in her cot, kiss her, say goodnight and then leave the room.
- On night one, if she cries, wait five minutes before going back into her room. Your being there will reassure her. But don't stay long and don't touch her. Simply say Mummy is here, go to sleep' and leave the room.
- Is she's still crying after 10 minutes go back in, reassure her and then leave
- If she's still crying after 15 minutes, go back in, reassure her and leave. Go back in every 15 minutes until she's asleep. Do this each time she wakes in the night when she's not due a feed. Start at five minutes and build up to 15 minutes, but don't leave her crying for more than 15 minutes.
Start the plan when both you and your partner are at home so you can support one another. You're teaching your baby how to go to sleep on her own, which is new for her. She won't know what's happening at first and may cry longer and harder than before to see if you'll change your mind.
If you can follow the plan, she will realise it's not worth crying just to have you appear briefly and say, Go to sleep', and ultimately she'll drift off by herself.
Don't be surprised, too, if you find yourself crying as much as your baby. But don't sit in silence listening to her screaming. Put on some soothing music instead.
Calm your fears
Every new parent worries about cot death, and the latest advice from the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID) is that babies should sleep in a cot in your room for the first six months. They also recommend that you put your baby down on her back with her feet at the foot of the cot to prevent her wriggling down under the bedclothes.
The ideal temperature for your baby's room is 18oC (64.4oF). When it's cold outside, it can be tempting to pile blankets on, even though the house might be 25oC. But your baby only needs a nappy, vest and sleepsuit in bed, with one sheet and two unfolded, lightweight blankets most of the year. Do not use pillows, quilts or duvets before 12 months.
In summer, she may only need a sheet. If her tummy feels hot or she's sweating, remove some bedding. Babies can't regulate their body temperature, and if they overheat they're at increased risk of cot death. So avoid putting the cot next to a radiator, heater or fire, or in direct sunshine.
There are other things you can do to keep your baby sleeping safely. Don't let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby, and don't share a bed with your baby if you or your partner are smokers, have been drinking alcohol, have been taking medicine or drugs that make you drowsy, or if you're very tired. Comforting as it might feel, you should also never fall asleep while holding your baby on the sofa or chair.
(Further information: FSID helpline: 0870 787 0554)
How to beat those routine busters
Any number of everyday things can upset your routine, but there are ways of coping. The important thing is not to overreact. Continue being consistent and your baby will soon settle down again.
When the clocks change
To make up for the clocks falling back in autumn, make bedtime 15 minutes earlier every night for four nights prior.
Going back to work
When you return to work, you may want to change your baby's bedtime so you're home in time to see her. Eight weeks prior, put her bedtime back by 15 minutes every four to seven nights until you get to the time you want. Then she has a few weeks to get used to the new time before you have to leave her.
A long weekend away
It's wonderful to have some time away, but it may be more hassle than it's worth if it disrupts your routine. Once you're home, go back to your normal routine. Your baby may take longer to settle than usual, but don't go rushing in to her each time. Provided you are consistent, she'll adjust.