When Will My Baby Sleep Through?
The number one burning question for all new parents is one that concerns sleep. After the exhaustion and excitement of giving birth, welcoming the new member of the family into the world and returning home, thoughts turn to sleep - or lack of it! The joy of staring in wonder at a newborn, cuddling the baby and caring for them can soon turn to worry when nights are disrupted by crying and the constant feeding required. It doesn't take many nights of interrupted sleep for a parent to start worrying about the loss of sleep and soon tiredness clouds the judgement, making many parents feel that they will never again experience an unbroken night.
Health visitors, doctors and nurses are all used to the weary cries of new mothers and fathers desperate to be given some indication of when they can expect their newborn to sleep through the night, but there is no hard and fast rule. Although they will always try to offer some sort of guidelines, health professionals understand that every child is different and there are no quick fixes. Where one baby may start sleeping through the whole night at just a few weeks old, others may take months before they stop waking during the night.
Establishing a Routine
Babies need to sleep for around 16 hours a day at first, although periods of sleep are unlikely to last more than about four hours to begin with as the baby needs to feed at very frequent intervals. For the tired parents who must wake several times through the night to the new baby's cries, the night can seem like an endless round of crying, feeding and nappy changing. Rest assured that this period really doesn't last too long, even though it may seem endless at the time.
The most practical thing that new parents can do is to try to establish a routine at night. Obviously it will take some time for the baby to get used to this, but the more consistent a parent can be at the beginning, the more they will reap the benefits in later months.
Ensure that the baby's room is at a good temperature and neither too warm nor too cold and keep the room as dark as possible throughout the night. When the baby wakes for a night time feed, keep the lights as dim as possible, keep noise to a minimum and feed and change the baby as calmly and quietly as you can. Refuse to be drawn into any interactive play with the baby, to set the tone that this is nighttime and a time for quiet and sleep.
Once you are satisfied that the baby is comfortable, dry and fed, either sit in the room with the baby until they are asleep again, or return to your own room. Try to ignore any crying so long as you are sure that this is just for attention, although this is harder than it sounds. Parents are programmed to respond to the sound of their child crying, so ignoring the cries can seem like a betrayal, but a little resilience at this time will see you reaping the benefits later on.
If you know that there is no problem with the baby, but they still cry for attention, consider hanging an interactive mobile above the cot. These usually have rotating toys to watch whilst a tune plays and this can captivate a child's attention. Some people have a radio quietly playing classical music, which many babies find soothing and this can secure the weary parent a few extra hours of sleep. Some parents choose to provide the baby with a dummy or pacifier as this can keep a fretful baby quiet and help them to sleep.
Understanding Disruptions to the Sleeping Pattern
By the time the baby is one year old, they should be able to sleep through the night, so if you are still experiencing problems at this stage, it would be worthwhile to contact your health visitor or doctor for advice. Bear in mind that some babies suffer badly with colic and teething, for example and at these times sleep patterns may become disrupted even when the baby had appeared to be settling previously. During teething it can be helpful to give the baby Calpol or other similar pain relieving syrup and perhaps a cool dummy to gnaw on. Be careful when providing something in the cot for the baby to chew or suck on if it is unsupervised, however, as you should be aware of choking hazards.
Other disruptions to the night time routine can be caused by growth spurts, or when the child has slept too much during the day, leaving them wide awake and ready for fun through the night! Never be drawn into playing at these times and if you are absolutely sure that there is no pain or discomfort involved, try very hard to ignore the crying. If you set the baby up to only sleep when you are in the room, you will be making a rod for your own back in later months. It is very important that a baby learns to settle down to sleep on their own; the earlier you can persuade them that this is the case, the sooner you will be able to experience uninterrupted sleep yourself.
Remember that whilst it may seem that you, as parents, are hardly getting any sleep at all some nights, the chances are that you are actually getting more than you think. This can be the most testing time, but rest assured that this period really does pass. Before you know it your baby will be sleeping through the night and the sleepless nights will become just a dim and distant memory.