Are you worried about whether your baby is getting enough sleep and if you should be doing more to help them self-soothe at night?
The pressure on mamas to get their babies sleeping for longer stretches starts pretty much as soon as you’ve given birth.
The focus in the early weeks is always on sleep. How much sleep are you getting? Is the baby sleeping through the night? How many hours did the baby nap? Is he or she a good baby (and by good, we do of course mean are they sleeping a lot)?
All of this, combined with some major sleep deprivation, can make you feel like getting your baby to sleep by any means necessary is what you should be doing.
So, do you have to sleep train your baby?
The answer, in short, is no.
There is absolutely nothing you have to do when it comes to your baby apart from making sure they are fed, get lots of cuddles and are warm.
Sleep is a necessity, of course it is. During sleep babies rest and their brains process new information they have picked up.
However you will find in the early weeks your baby is feeding like crazy and this will mean they are awake every couple of hours or so. If you’re breastfeeding this is something that you need to just ride out for several reasons:
It is good for your milk supply to allow the baby to feed frequently and for as long as they want. Breastmilk is produced on a demand basis. The more your baby suckles, the more your boobs will make.
Babies have tiny tummies. When they are born their tummies are just the size of a walnut. They can only eat little and often.
Your baby needs to grow a lot in the first year.
Suckling is comforting for babies. Being born is quite a shock, but by nursing they feel closer to their mother and safer.
Babies are also born with an instinct to stay close to their mother. It’s to do with how vulnerable they are and it’s a primitive and protective instinct based on self-preservation. To attempt to force them out of this instinct is pretty counter-intuitive, seeing as they are born completely vulnerable and it’s totally normal for babies to want their mother 24/7.
The trouble is that there’s a huge amount of pressure to get your baby into a routine and sleeping a reasonable amount of time as quickly as possible after giving birth.
It’s linked to good intentions. People want to know you as a mama are OK. When they see you’re tired and struggling with sleep deprivation, they want to help. In order to help, you look for a solution to the problem of sleep. People see the only solution as being to make the baby sleep for longer.
They mean well.
If you are at your wit’s end and want to try sleep training, do it (but only if your baby is six months or older). There’s nothing to feel guilty about.
But, if you’re totally against sleep training, hate the idea of cry it out particularly, or your baby is just a few weeks old then do not worry about it. Try to let all of the advice, well-meaning comments and pressure to get the baby sleeping longer wash over you.
Coping with sleep deprivation and a baby
If your baby’s crazy sleep patterns are causing you problems, then the best action to take is adapt to their sleepless nights. You can cope with sleep deprivation by trying the following:
- Keep activities gentle and calm.
- Don’t plan too much.
- Spend the entire day in your PJs if you want to.
- Take gentle walks, but don’t plan too much.
- Ask visitors to give you a few days of peace and quiet.
- Get your partner to take the baby at weekends for a few hours.
- Express breastmilk so your partner can do some night feeds.
- Consider co-sleeping. Follow safer co-sleeping guidelines which include not drinking alcohol and not sleeping with your baby on a sofa.
- Just slow down. Lack of sleep is a killer, so leave the pile of washing to be done another day, don’t bother vacuuming and just try to lie down as much as you can.
The point is that sleep training is not a necessity. Your baby will eventually sleep for longer and longer spells before finally sleeping through the night.
This may take quite a few months or they may not sleep properly until after they turn one.
This can be tough, but if you adapt to their sleeping patterns and accept it’s a natural behaviour then you will feel a lot better about it.
If you’re worried about your baby’s sleeping habits, check out this information from the NCT about newborn sleep patterns.
What can you do to encourage good sleep for your baby?
Even if you decide you do not want to sleep train, there are a few things you can do to encourage good sleep in your baby and set them up to sleep for longer.
One of the key ones is to have a solid bedtime routine. I realise that might sound a bit bland and official, but it’s really just about doing a similar series of fun and relaxing things with your baby so that they know this is bedtime.
A nice bedtime routine can include:
- A bath.
- A bedtime story.
- The final breastfeed or bottle of the day.
- A nursery rhyme.
- A cuddle.
- Being put down in bed and told “night night”.
Follow the routine in a darkened room so your baby gets the idea that this is nighttime.
You can follow a similar routine at nap time to help soothe your baby at this time as well.
Other things you can try to encourage better sleep, without having to sleep train your baby, are:
A dummy. Suckling is soothing to babies, but it can be hell on your nipples. Try a dummy at nap and bedtime to help them nod off.
Feeding to sleep. Many experts say this is a no-no but if you’re really exhausted and just want to get your baby to nod off, then just do it. Your child will not still be doing this at 16.
Rocking to sleep. Again this is something you can stop doing later, but while your baby is tiny don’t think this is a bad habit. Comforting your baby is never a bad habit.
Have similar bed and nap times. We are all creatures of habit. If your baby is being put to bed at similar times every day they will find a rhythm. Look to your baby to find this rhythm and see what suits them. Some babies can cope with an hour of awake time, and some can handle a little more. It depends on their age and just what they’re like.
I hope these tips have been useful. If you have any questions or any tips of your own let me know!
If you are interested in finding out more about baby sleep training you can check out these posts:
Gentle baby sleep training
The truth about baby sleep training
25 tricks to get baby to sleep