Sleep and Your Baby.

Babies need to learn a night and daytime routine.  They learn it from their carers – you – as their needs vary with their stage of development.

This article looks at sleep and the baby aged 1 month – 11 months old: how much is normal, how to get a good routine going and why babies sleep the way they do.  We’ve used information from the Sleep Foundation, kidshealth.org and the American Association of Pediatricians.

Sleep and food.

As baby grows, his tummy gets bigger it can hold more milk at each feed which will sustain him for longer.  By the age of about 6 months, night time feeds may be no longer be necessary.

You may still need to change him during the night if a dirty/wet bottom wakes him, but do this quietly, in low lighting and don’t talk too much or play.  Night time changes are a functional visit only and not for play time.  As he learns this you will both sleep better and for longer.

How much sleep?

Infants typically need 10-14 hours of sleep in 24 but there are no rules – some naturally sleep less and some sleep for longer.  Most of this sleep should be happening at night with naps during the day and there is an article on babies and naps here. 

If your baby is healthy but doesn’t sleep a lot, this can be very stressful for you and your household.  Teaching your little one that he can settle himself and doesn’t need you during every waking minute can be hard but the only way forward.  Babies who are picked up whenever they cry, fuss, or appear to be awake often become ‘signallers’ and find it hard to be left alone.  Tips for dealing with this and for establishing a better day/night routine are as follows:

  • Be aware that babies often make noises (even crying) as they sleep and should be left unless they are distressed or crying and don’t settle themselves.
  • When baby is sleepy, rather than asleep, put him to bed.  This teaches him that he can fall asleep quite safely and happily on his own, so that if he wakes in the night he can settle himself again.  This is called ‘self-soothing’.
  • Begin a night time routine as soon as possible.  Bath time, soft music, an evening feed and low lighting tell him that it’s nearly time to go to sleep.
  • Make daytime fun and stimulating between naps.
  • If he wakes in the night and starts to cry, leave him to see if he will settle alone.  This can be hard but otherwise you risk your baby becoming a ‘signaller’ (see above).  If he doesn’t settle then go to the crib side, soothe him without picking him up – gentle stroking and soft words may be all you need, which should also tell you if he’s soiled or too hot – and keep the lights low or off.  When he’s settled but not asleep, leave the crib so that he falls asleep alone.
  • If he continues to cry then investigate a little further to see if he’s sick or hungry, especially if he’s less than 6 months old.
  • As he gets towards his first birthday, separation anxiety can become an issue.  His mental development means that he is beginning to understand his separateness from you and he worries when you’re not there.  The answer is to go through the steps described above – gentle reassurance at the crib side at night but without picking him up and making too much fuss.
  • Leave the bedroom door open and a night light on so that he is reassured.
  • Observe his behaviour for over-tiredness.  Each baby is different but this will become apparent as you get to know him.  Add an extra day time nap or make bed time earlier.  Take time to work out what’s right for your little one.  Over-tiredness can make it harder for him to go to sleep at night.

Where should baby sleep?

There’s more detail on where it’s recommended that baby should sleep in this article.

Paediatricians agree that baby should sleep on his back – since this was first universally recommended in 1992 the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has dropped by 50%.

The same is true for co-sleeping which is not recommended.  It’s recognised that many cultures encourage it but experts want to highlight the risk that a parent could roll onto the baby or that he could become smothered by adult bed clothes.

As he gets older you will probably want to move him to have his own room so that you and your partner have couple time and your own space.  Ideally his room should be able to be made very dark but also have soft/low lighting for evening or night time visits should he need them.

Elspeth Raisbeck

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