Facts about sleep
Baby Sleep Consultant Emma Purdue explains how to help your baby (and you!) to get a good night’s sleep.
Having a good bedtime routine will help ensure your baby is easy to settle at night. A consistent sequence of events happening at around the same time each evening leaves your baby feeling content and secure in the knowledge that they will be fed and put to bed.
Start with a quick breast or bottle feed before their bath so they don’t get hungry mid-bath and start to cry. If your baby is having solids, then they would have dinner before their bath. Make sure the bathroom is nice and warm, so the experience is a pleasant one for you and your baby. The bath also helps by raising baby’s body temperature and then dropping it afterwards, which helps to relax them. After a bath get your baby dressed and ready for bed. Swaddle or put them in their sleeping bag to help them recognise that it’s time for bed, and that they will soon be having their last feed before bed time.
If they’re old enough for stories this is a good time to read to them, if not, sing a gentle song or lullaby in their room. It’s best that their last breast or bottle feed occurs in their sleep space with only dim light and enough heating that neither of you is cold. Feeling cosy in the semi-dark will help your baby produce the hormone melatonin, which helps them fall asleep. The act of sucking as they feed triggers the calming reflex too; while cuddling and holding your baby also helps relax them.
What to do when your baby...
Wakes 45 minutes after you've settled them: A sign they’re overtired. Try bedtime 30 minutes earlier tomorrow.
Wakes every two hours overnight: Has a sleep association. Try teaching your baby to self-settle, or pull back on how much you’re physically settling them.
Wakes around 9pm each night: A sign they’re overtired. Try an earlier bedtime.
Wakes 10 minutes after you have left the room: Likely wind. Try a quick burp and cuddle and then back to bed.
Wakes between 3-5a, and is restless but not hungry: They may be cold. Add another layer and settle them back to sleep. Try more layers tomorrow night.
Won't settle at bedtime: They may be hungry. Try not to remove them from the breast until they’re finished. Or they may be overtired, in which case try an earlier bedtime tomorrow night.
TIP - Between 1am-5am is the most common time for your baby to wake up cold, as their body temperature hits its lowest point and this coincides with what is often the coldest part of the night. If you have a heater on a thermostat you can set the temperature to 18-20˚C and keep the room at a stable temperature. If your heater doesn’t have a thermostat, you can buy inexpensive timers from hardware stores and set your heater to come on between 1am-3am, and this will help take the chill off the air and keep your baby nice and warm.
Baby sleep facts
- The ideal environment for baby to sleep is a room that is dark, cool (18-20°C) and quiet.
- For babies up to four to five months old, swaddling their arms and tummy greatly reduces the startle reflex and makes it a lot easier to settle them.
- As a general rule, don't expect your baby to sleep for more than four hours at a stretch in the first three months. They only have tiny tummies, so need to feed often.
- At around six months old, and providing babies are eating well in the daytime and gaining weight, they should no longer need to feed at night for nutritional reasons. A good way to determine whether your baby still needs to feed at night is to check how hungry he is in the morning.
Baby nap facts
- Having a good daytime routine that allows baby to have regular naps will help with night sleeping too.
- A general guide to baby’s day sleep needs: - In the first few weeks don’t expect baby to stay awake for much more than an hour at a time. That means he’ll sleep 16-18 hours a day.
- - From three to six months, babies need around three naps a day. - From six to 12 months they drop to two naps. - Between one to two years old they usually only need one sleep of about two hours.
- Plunket recommends a ‘feed-change-play-cuddle-sleep’ routine, particularly from around two months old. The time your baby spends doing each activity will depend on their age and stage, but watching out for tired signs during their play phase will help you know when it’s time to nap.
- Tired signs include grizzling, rubbing their eyes, a fixed glazed stare, clenched fists and jerky tense movements.
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