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July 15, 2016

Baby Sleep Consultant Emma Purdue answers three important sleep questions

My baby wakes from her naps after 45 minutes, is there a way I can help her to sleep longer?

Forty-five minutes is the length of one sleep cycle for all babies once they reach 8-12 weeks, this is neurologically very normal. Coming out of a sleep cycle every 45 minutes is actually a good thing as it lowers their risk of SIDS.

Going back to sleep after 45 minutes is a learned skill, from the moment your baby starts to wake up after one sleep cycle you can begin to teach him to go back to sleep. For a baby under four months old this might be with shushing and patting, or rocking, or feeding or popping a dummy back in to get him back to sleep.

Once your baby is over four months you can begin to expect him to re-settle more and more on his own. At this age I encourage you to ease off with the rocking, patting and shushing. Instead give him some space to try to re-settle on his own: This might be with you out of the room for 10 minutes and then checking on him and reassuring him and leaving him for a further 10 minutes; or you could sit by his cot and give him less and less patting, and just use your proximity and touch to reassure him for 20-40 minutes.

He won’t go back to sleep initially, but you will keep teaching him for a few days and then he will start to go back to sleep. This is a teaching and learning process.

A few things will help him go back to sleep:

  • If he is under 4 or 5 months a firm swaddle
  • At all ages some nice loud white noise
  • A dark room to ensure he is producing lots of melatonin
  • A good nap routine which ensures he is awake long enough to be tired enough to go back to sleep after 45 minutes.

Is it okay to feed my eight-week-old baby to sleep in the evening? Will this create a feed-to-sleep association?

Over the day your baby might be able to tolerate one to two hours awake before he is tired enough to nap, but in the evening you may find it is just an hour since his last nap and he is already tired again and falling asleep being fed. This is normal as, over the course of the day, sleep debt has accrued and even three perfect naps would still result in a large increase in sleep debt from 7am to 7pm.

Combine this with a relaxing bath and massage, and then dim the lights. You baby’s circadian rhythm will kick in as well as an increase in melatonin and you will struggle some days not to feed your baby to sleep in the evening. As long as you are not intentionally feeding to sleep and keeping him on the breast to ensure he falls asleep, generally an association won’t develop.

If you are working on positive sleep associations and this is the only time your baby falls asleep on the breast, no feed to sleep association will take root, especially if you are focusing on going to bed drowsy but awake for naps during the day.

Focus on keeping your little one awake enough that they take a full feed at this time and don’t wake up hungry in two hours.

If you think an association is developing and he is looking to feed back to sleep frequently overnight, move your bedtime feed 15 minutes earlier so he is not so tired, and ensure he goes down awake and settles in the cot at the start of the night.

Is there a difference between co-sleeping and bed-sharing? Which is safer?

People often use the terms ‘co-sleeping’ and ‘bed-sharing’ incorrectly, assuming they mean the same thing, but they are not synonymous. Co-sleeping is either room-sharing or bed-sharing and the AAP (American Academy of Paediatrics) recommends room-sharing but not bed-sharing. World renowned infant sleep expert Dr James McKenna notes that most of the biological and physiological benefits of bed-sharing can be achieved with room-sharing. Room-sharing lowers the rick of SUDI (by up to 50 percent), while bed-sharing is linked with an increase in the risk of SUDI, especially in the first three months of baby’s life. AAP and the Infant Sleep Information Source agree on this fact and both note that electro physiological and behavioural studies have offered a strong case demonstrating that bed-sharing facilitates breastfeeding. But they both also recognise the high risk in the first three months, and the risks associated with bed-sharing and alcohol, cigarette smoke, drug-use, pillows, blankets, prone sleeping position, airway obstruction and soft mattresses.

Most literature that promotes bed-sharing suggests a mattress on the floor against the wall, as this reduces the risk of baby falling from the bed. The baby should sleep between Mum and the wall, not between Mum and Dad. Neither parent should be a smoker nor take any drugs (prescription or illegal) which could cause drowsiness. Baby should be clear of any pillows and loose duvets or blankets, and should sleep face up (supine).

Remove these major risk factors and minimise the risk if you choose to bed-share. Never bed-share on a couch or arm chair.

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