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.
1 - Is it okay to use a dummy, or is this a bad habit?
Babies have a calming reflex, which is actually triggered by five things: sucking, side lying, swaddling, shushing and movement. With this in mind it’s not surprising your baby loves their dummy. This calming reflex needs to be triggered in order for your baby to fall asleep if they’re upset, so if you have tried all the other triggers and a dummy is the final key to settling your newborn then don’t beat yourself up! Try to use it less and less as your baby approaches four months old to prevent it from becoming a deep-rooted sleep association. If you continue to use it beyond 4-6 months then you can start to teach your baby to put their own dummy in.
2 - When should I stop swaddling my baby?
Because the calming reflex is triggered by swaddling it is a great newborn settling tool. The only issues with swaddling are around long-term swaddling (past six months), swaddling that is too tight around baby’s hips, and the fact that once your baby can roll over the swaddle is unsafe. Try to keep the swaddle until four months plus (as this is when the startle reflex starts to subside) and aim to have your baby fully un-swaddled by around six months or as soon as they can roll from their back to their tummy.
3 - Why does my baby wake up after 45 minutes?
Your baby’s sleep cycles during the day are approximately 45 minutes long. It takes a baby 10-20 minutes to move from a light sleep to a deep sleep and then the complete cycle is 45 minutes. Every 45 minutes your baby wakes fully; this helps prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) as your baby isn’t staying in a deep sleep for prolonged periods of time. Some babies stir briefly and go back to sleep quickly, while others need help to re-settle. White noise and a dark sleep space can help encourage your baby to go back to sleep after one sleep cycle.
4 - My newborn only wants to sleep on me. Is this a problem?
Your baby has been inside you for nine months (three trimesters), and the first three months outside the womb are often referred to as the 4th trimester. During the first three to four weeks especially, babies can be very hard to settle away from their parents. Your smell, touch, voice – everything about you is calming for your baby so it is very common for newborns to fall asleep easily while feeding or being cuddled. Rest assured, you are not spoiling your baby or doing anything “wrong”. Holding to sleep can become a deep-rooted sleep association if it is the only way you lull your baby to sleep for a good 12 weeks or more. If you mix it up and succeed with sometimes rocking, sometimes using a dummy, sometimes walking or patting, then your baby won’t develop any deep-rooted associations and with time they will begin to self-settle.
5 - When will my baby drop a nap?
For the first three months your baby will probably have three to four naps a day. These might not be very long if they are having four naps a day and if your baby has a late bed time they might even have five naps! Once they are three months their sleep should have matured a little and settled down into three naps a day. Between seven to eight months most babies are ready to drop their third nap and be awake from 2.30/3.30pm until bed time. This two-naps-a-day schedule will stick around until your baby is 15-18 months, when they will be ready to drop to one sleep. We recommend they drop the morning sleep and stick with an afternoon nap. This afternoon nap will be your toddler’s nap until they are two and a half to three years old! If you notice your baby fighting any naps, try to give them two weeks before you drop a nap completely as they might just be having a regression.
6 - When can my baby sleep through the night?
Sleeping through the night by definition is only six to eight hours, so your baby could be sleeping 7pm-7am with a feed overnight and this would be considered sleeping through the night. Similarly, sleeping 7pm-7am with a feed at 10pm is also sleeping through the night. This is physically possible (if your baby is thriving and feeding well) once your baby is around 6.5kg, but lots of babies are not ready neurologically until they are four months or older. Sleeping 12 hours at night is not usually something we would expect until your baby is well established on solids after six months, especially in a baby that
7 - Will formula help my baby sleep through the night?
As previously discussed, sleeping through the night is a physical and neurological milestone and when your baby is ready to do this is not usually influenced by formula. If you don’t have a supply problem and your baby is gaining weight well, then there is no reason to think formula will help your baby to sleep. Trust the breastfeeding process; I see just as many exclusively breastfed babies sleeping through the night as I do formula-fed babies.
8 - When is the best time to move my toddler to a big bed?
Unless your toddler starts to jump out of their cot (a sleeping bag can help prevent this!) try to keep them in their cot until as close to three years old as possible. Parents often think the move to a big bed will help their child who doesn’t sleep well sleep better, but this is rarely the truth. Most two-year-olds lack impulse control and are not very good at delaying their own gratification, which can lead to them quickly learning that they can get out of a big bed and the nightly yo-yo game begins. If you wait until they are a bit older they will understand some simple bedtime rules and are less likely to come out repeatedly, thinking it is hilarious.
9 - My baby stands in the cot and cries and won’t sleep. what do I do?
Learning to stand up is a normal developmental milestone, but it also wreaks havoc on most babies’ sleep. This new skill also creates a new challenge: learning to sit back down! You can help your baby learn to do this during the day when they are not supposed to be sleeping. Practise standing, then hold their hands and help them sit down and lie down. Turn it into a game and help them create muscle memory. If they are standing at sleep time, either stay in the room and lie them down each time they stand up, or come and go periodically, lying them down each time you return. This consistent repetitive sequence of lie down, lie down quickly teaches your baby that it’s time to sleep without overstimulating or confusing them.
10 - How do I teach my toddler to stay in their bed at bed time?
If your toddler is getting out of bed numerous times an evening and delaying their bedtime then you are probably feeling frustrated and desperate for them to stay in bed. Usually we start to growl, or even just beg them to stay in bed. All of this is fuel to the fire for a toddler. I suggest you say nothing at all and simply frogmarch or carry them back to bed. Don’t answer their pleas and random requests. The less interactive you are and the more consistent you are the faster they will learn. Think Toddler Survivor: outwit, outplay, outlast! ′
You might also like
Top tips to newborn sleep
We give you our top tips to no more sleepless nights!
Newborn sleep: How much can you expect? (part one)
Understand the development of your baby's sleep with our newborn sleep timeline.
It can be hard enough mastering sleep routines for one child - what happens when your tribe expands?