Can’t get no sleep? We spoke to Lisa Clegg, maternity nurse and author of The Blissful Baby Expert, to get her essential tips for delivering your baby to the land of Nod.
You’re officially a parent when the phrase ‘sleep like a baby’ makes you burst into laughter – hysterical, sleep-deprived laughter. Because you know all too well that babies and sleep aren’t the best of bedfellows. But sleep is essential for both you and them.
“Babies need a lot of rest if they're to grow and develop,” says Lisa Clegg, maternity nurse and author of The Blissful Baby Expert. “And newborns can sleep for up to 18 hours a day.
“Sleep is the secret ingredient that helps babies become calm and content. As well as regulating your little one’s moods, sleep boosts their immune system, helps them feed well and even cry far less.” And – crucially – once your baby sleeps through the night, you will too.
Which is all very well, but how do you get them to catch those Zzzzzs in the first place?
1. Try feeding while they sleep
“If your baby’s on a good routine, there’s every chance they’ll sleep through the night at 12 weeks old,” says Lisa. Twelve weeks is the magic threshold when their tummy can hold enough milk to allow them to sleep for eight hours – or even longer!
She advises feeding your baby every three or four hours from 7am to 7pm to ensure they get plenty of milk. Then, around 10 or 11pm, before you go to bed, try a ‘dream feed’. “Scoop your baby out of their cot for milk without even waking them up,” she says. “They feed instinctively even when they’re not fully conscious.” Fingers crossed, this will allow you plenty of shut-eye before they’re hungry again.
2. Ensure your baby knows that sleep is coming
Knowing what to expect at certain times helps us feel confident and in control, so get your baby into a familiar pre-sleep rhythm.
“Bedtime can be calm and cuddly; it needn’t be ‘the witching hour’,” says Lisa. It’s a good idea to introduce a simple, soothing wind-down. A nice warm bath, a fresh nappy, PJs on, lights dimmed, a belly full of milk, bedtime story and goodnight cuddles. Mmm, don’t you feel sleepy just thinking about it?
Also, ensure your baby’s sleeping environment is safe and relaxing. The NHS recommends your child sleep in the same room as you for their first six months. Many parents swear by a side cot, where your baby can sleep safely next to your bed. Try to keep your bedroom between 16-20˚C, as this is the most comfortable temperature for slumber.
3. Break the ‘overtired’ cycle
“In 99 out of 100 cases, if your baby won’t go to sleep or stay asleep in their cot, it’s because they’re overtired,” explains Lisa.
So how do you break the overtired cycle? “It pays to start soothing your baby at the tiniest sign of tiredness,” she says. An eye-rub, a yawn or a small random burst of tears are your tip-offs. Bringing baby to a loud café or having Phil and Holly chatting away in the background isn’t going to help calm things down.
“Move to a relaxed, quiet environment and cuddle your baby while you talk to them gently,” says Lisa. “Lower the lights, put on some white noise and wrap them in their swaddle or sleeping bag. Keep cuddling for a little longer and use a dummy if you need to.”
The next stage feels a lot like handling explosives. Be calm. Breathe. Here goes… Lay your baby down on their back in the cot. Exhale. Risk a smile. This is the magic window where they’re dozy and peaceful and ready for sleep. “It’s extraordinary how a baby just six weeks old learns those cues and settles down,” assures Lisa.
4. Treat night time differently from day time – and only change emergency nappies!
If your baby wakes at night – OK, let’s be honest, when your baby wakes at night – how do you break them out of the habit? Lisa says it helps to treat night time differently from the day time, then your baby will gradually learn that nights are for sleeping.
“Keep lights and voices low,” says Lisa. “Don’t play with your baby, and don’t change their nappy unless absolutely necessary.” We’re talking a Code Brown here.
If your baby’s hungry, feed them. Often babies soothe themselves by the act of sucking rather than actually taking down milk, so you could offer them a dummy. If your tiny baby is making a big noise, try burping them to give them some relief.
And if your baby wakes, try and stay calm – yes, even if it’s the third time in an hour. “As a parent, you’re so tuned in to your baby that they feed off your emotions – they get more agitated when you’re upset,” explains Lisa. It’s totally natural to stress out during those moments when you don’t know how to calm your child, but when you’re really frustrated you can always ask another adult to hold them. If there’s no-one around to help, it’s OK to take five minutes out for a few deep breaths/a chocolate biscuit. That may be all you need to return more relaxed.
“In 99 out of 100 cases, if your baby won’t go to sleep or stay asleep in their cot, it’s because they’re overtired,”Lisa Clegg, Sleep Expert
5. Things will get better naturally. Promise
Gradually, your baby will stop sleeping like a baby. As they get older, their sleeping patterns become more adult-friendly. Honest.
The NHS suggests moving your baby into their own room at six months. Your little one will call out if they need you and you won’t react to every grunt and snuffle, so you’ll sleep better, too.
By the time your bundle of fun is a year old, they’re likely to pack in between 12 and 15 hours of sleep a day, even if they’ve never been on any kind of regular routine. That’s a great long stretch at night, plus a two- or three-hour afternoon nap. Wow. #sleepgoals.
Hang on in there. Because it won’t be long before your tiny human starts trying to lie in until midday, and all this will seem like a distant dream.
We hope you're now feeling a little more informed on all things sleep, don't forget to check out our Mattress Guide to make sure your little one's first bed is as comfy as can be - it might make bedtimes that little bit easier!