Becoming a new mother and how to deal with getting baby to sleep
There is always one thing that new mothers miss the most; sleep. It seems we're always talking about sleep, but that's because babies seem to escape going to sleep so much. Mother, nurse and sleep consultant, Harriet Gibbs, talks about how having a baby changed her life and how she tries to get her little one sleeping at night.
The early days
Having a baby is a huge life event and can be overwhelming at times; mix this in with minimal sleep and you may find yourself unrecognisable. When I became a mother, I remember frantically searching, bleary eyed, for sleep tips and advice particularly during the wee hours of the morning. I was overwhelmed with questions including ‘why won’t he sleep?’ ‘How do I settle an overtired baby?’ ‘How do I know if he’s even tired!?’ and – most importantly – ‘will I ever get 8 hours solid sleep again?’. I had no idea what a huge issue sleep was until I became a mother. This led me to research all things in relation to sleep and babies/children and complete a Sleep Training course which led me to starting Tiny Tots Sleep Consultancy.
Life of a newborn
A new born baby sleeps on average for 16-18 hours a day, although this is sporadic and spread across the 24 hour period evenly, with them primarily waking for hunger approximately 3-4 hourly (often more). The hot topic during mum meet-ups in the early days was always around sleep and how much, or how little which was more the case, everyone was getting (with a few scowls exchanged at the mum getting the most!). Every mum in the room would be hanging off her every word, wondering if we were missing a trick surrounding the infamous sleep which we had all forgotten and was now a distant memory. The trick? Routine! Routine! Routine! At around 10-12 weeks babies start to recognise the difference between day and night time. However, to do this, a baby relies upon its parents to help to set their circadian cycle, also known as the body clock. Some great tips to help them establish their body clock include ensuring that night time is dark and quiet. During the night feeds, use a dimmer, dim lighting or lamp, whisper if you can and keep stimulation to an all-time low, including eye contact. You’re trying to create the association between nightime and sleep time. Ensure the opposite during the day, keep it bright and noisy and try and get outside for an afternoon stroll as it’s a great way to help regulate your baby’s body clock. This was my saviour during the period of newborn zombie-sleeplessness. What’s even better is going along with some other mum friends and sharing your experiences which can help you recognise that you aren’t going through it alone.
Establishing a bedtime routine will help your baby create positive sleep habits and associations. Ensure to put your baby to bed at the same time every night and stick to the same routine. As a family, we base our routine on 7-7 as this fits in with our work life too. By doing this, your little one will recognise bedtime is looming and find it easier to settle. The bedtime routine could consist of a bath, massage, story, lullaby and feed. It’s important, after the bath, you take your little one into their bedroom which is dimly lit and they are not taken into the bright noisy environment they have been in during the day. Once you’ve completed the bedtime routine, put your little one down to sleep awake but drowsy. This is a good habit to get into as, if a baby is rocked to sleep for example, due to their sleep cycles which are much shorter than an adults for the first 3 months, often they will wake after 45- 50 minutes looking for you to be rocked back to sleep. It is important their environment is the same as when they went to sleep as brief wakings between sleep cycles may cause them to wake if their environment has changed.
From 3 months
At around 3 months, a baby’s sleep cycle extends to around 90 minutes where it will stay for the rest of its life; the same as an adult sleep cycle. You may notice around this time your little one sleeping for extended periods which is welcomed with (huge!) open arms by parents!
It’s completely normal for your little one to continue to wake at night for a feed until around 6 months, therefore any sort of sleep training is not recommended for babies under the age of 6 months although there are many things you can do to help instil good sleeping habits early. These will lay the foundations for great sleep and help your little one when they are ready to sleep through the night.
About Harriet Gibbs
Harriet is a Registered Nurse as well as achieving a Bachelor of Science in Specialist Community Public Health Nursing allowing her to work as a Health Visitor. Harriet has worked both in hospitals and within the community setting where she is currently employed by the NHS as a Health Visitor. Since becoming a mother Harriet, has developed a passion surrounding sleep problems which lead her to furthering her knowledge in the subject and completing a sleep training course allowing her to take on her next venture as a Sleep Consultant for the under 5s. Harriet has now set up her own online company ParentsBook Sleep Consultancy and is currently the Managing Director which she balances alongside her role within the NHS. Having the experience, as a professional and as a mother, enables Harriet to support families in a holistic manner providing them with expert advice and support encompassing the latest evidence-based research. You can find Harriet on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.