It's all change
If you find your once settled baby is suddenly unhappy or refusing to sleep, it might be time to tweak the routine. Baby whisperer Sharlene Poole explains how.
One of the most challenging things new parents have to face in a baby’s first year of life is the constant change. Just when you feel like you’re getting to understand your baby – you’ve developed daily patterns and can read the signs for hunger and tiredness – they suddenly change!
It never ceases to amaze me how a baby can go from being so vulnerable and helpless to being able to walk and talk in just a year. It is truly one of life’s miracles: the transformation from a foetus to a little person in such a short time. With these constant changes comes the need to adapt. Of course, there are some babies and parents who have less trouble than others, but many express to me that they feel like they are always going one step forward and two steps back, particularly when they have a sensitive and/or spirited baby.
The problem I often see is that while parents may have received wonderful advice that suited mum and baby at birth, it is suddenly not quite right just two or four weeks later. The two main changes that happen are to do with feeding and awake time. Without adjusting these things regularly you can end up with an unsettled baby, which can in turn lead to a lack of confidence in the parent.
In terms of feeding, many mothers are advised to feed only from one breast per feed, which more often than not is right for that moment, but then when the baby goes through their three-, six- or nine-week growth spurt, it often needs to change. When I meet a baby who doesn’t want to sleep I always look at feeding: the frequency and the amount they are having, as well as their weekly weight gain. It might be that in the morning, feeding from one breast is perfect but then as the day goes on baby actually wants more. Without making this adjustment you might find the forming of the classic habit of a short feed, a short sleep and then an over-tired and unsettled baby by the end of the day, which then might be blamed on colic or the ‘witching hour’.
The amount of time that baby is awake also needs to be looked at. When I was training we were taught about the stages of early childhood as being: newborn, baby, big baby and toddler. Over the years I discovered that this is far too broad. Parents are often advised that their newborn should only be awake for one hour and then back to bed for two. This might be okay for some sleepy babies, but for many this is only right for the first three to six weeks and then this time needs to change. The routine needs to be tweaked ever so slightly so that baby is then tired enough to settle well and in turn sleep well!
When I wrote my book, Baby Whispering, the first thing I thought about was how to set it out in these shorter developmental stages, so that it wouldn’t be too overwhelming for a parent to read. That way, when being thrown a curve ball, they could look up their baby’s age and see what the common changes and problems are that can pop up at this time. As I write this article, a mother-of-three has just messagedme to say, “I wondered why all of a sudden my settled baby was suddenly catnapping and feeding more frequently, only to discover that he was nine weeks and going through a developmental change. Thank you!”
These growth spurts are not just about a baby’s hunger, they are changes in their whole being. It means they may cope with a little more stimulation and ‘play time’, they are aware of more in their environment, they want to communicate with you more and want to have a little more milk in their 24-hour day to aid their growth. This is when you need to do what I call ‘fine tuning’ or ‘tweaking’ of your daily routine or habits in order to respect and move with your baby’s rapid growth.
Instead of thinking that your baby is regressing either with sleep, feeding or response to your care, think about it as them progressing in their development and that it is the only way they can communicate that you need to change with them.
You might also like
Settle your petal
Sharlene Poole shares her advice for the best ways to settle baby
The Hows Whens and Whys of Sleep
Baby sleep consultant Emma Purdue answers the most common questions when it comes to getting small people to snooze.
4 questions with Thomas Hamill
Thomas Hamill, Director of Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra APO Connecting Education programme tunes us in to the facts and myths around music and education.