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The gentle and natural way to help your new baby become a contended little sleeper

0 – 6 Weeks

In my opinion, over the last few years there has been far too much emphasis placed on getting little babies established onto very strict feeding and sleeping regimes. Whilst this advice is well meant and in some cases has proven successful, there are many new mothers who feel a sense of failure if their baby doesn’t feed and sleep “by the clock” even in the very early weeks. The fact is, that no outside advice could ever be better than a mother’s natural instinct [with the support of her partner] to love and to nurture her new born baby.

The three most important ways to help your baby to feel contented and settled:

  • To feed on demand.
  • To allow her sleep patterns to develop naturally [no waking her up during a nap - unless she is tiny and (hasn’t fed for a very long time).
  • Through holding, handling and gazing at your baby, to allow the lovely process of BONDING to take place.

In these early, precious but exhausting weeks, sleep is very closely involved with feeding. Your new baby will tend to live life in a milky, dozy state, and believe it or not, few babies really settle and sleep well. It is quite usual to feed your baby every 2-3 hours.

It might not seem like it, but babies of this age sleep for 14-18 hours in a 24-hour period. If you think that your baby isn’t getting this much sleep why not keep a simple sleep diary? This will give you a clearer picture of her sleep habits and will enable you to see if any pattern is beginning to emerge. Remember though that at this age babies’ sleep is very light and even fidgety. Many experts call sleep in these early weeks “active sleep!”

To encourage your baby to settle into a good sleep pattern she needs:

  • Enough milk. If you are breastfeeding this means feeding on demand. For formula fed babies, follow the guidelines on the tin or allow 2 ½ oz in a 24 hour period per pound of her body weight. If you are at all unsure, you should ask advice from your health visitor.
  • A cosy and safe place to sleep. The ideal room temperature should be 18 degrees C. Clothing and cot covers should be made of natural fibres such as cotton.
  • During the night, when she wakes for a feed, keep the lights down low and speak softly. Settle her back into her cot after feeding and winding her.
  • Do not change your baby’s nappy during the night unless it is very wet or soiled. A Thermos with warm water for cleaning her will save you crashing around in the bathroom in the middle of the night. 
  • Introduce a familiar gentle song or spoken ritual that your baby will come to associate with bedtime.
  • Allow her to experience fresh air and light during the daytime, and darkness at night. This will encourage the development and production of Melatonin – one of the most important hormones associated with sleep.

6 – 16 Weeks

By this stage many babies are beginning to sleep for longer periods and to feed less often. It is usual for a baby of about 8 weeks old to sleep for 6 hours at night without waking for a feed, although many babies have managed to do this earlier and some will be a little later.

Your baby is now bigger and stronger, even though she is not yet taking solid food. She is also watching you and rewarding you with her wonderful smiles!

 Her total sleep requirement may have dropped slightly, to between 14 and 15 hours per day but sleep will be becoming deeper and lasting for longer periods.

To encourage good sleeping habits at this age, keep up with the first 6 steps and in addition try to encourage your baby to sleep without sucking. Do this by feeding her but once you think she is falling asleep and has had enough milk, take her off the breast or bottle and hold her upright against your shoulder with her cheek close to yours. Move gently from side to side whilst humming, shushing or singing. When she is calm again, try placing her in her crib and continuing to soothe her by rocking, stroking, singing etc. 

Breast fed babies often find this more difficult than babies who enjoy formula milk – but stick with it and it will get easier. There is no need to prevent your baby falling asleep over every single feed. Try at first, just for the one closest to your baby’s bed time.

4 – 6 Months

At this lovely age, your baby is becoming much more active. By six months she will have started to enjoy solid food and require less milk. She may still, however, need a feed during the night.

By now it is likely that she will be sleeping for between 6- 12 hours at night, with 2-3 daytime naps. This should total about 13-14 hours.

To encourage good habits at this age you need to establish a BEDTIME ROUTINE.

A good bedtime routine incorporates a set of ‘sleep clues’ which tells your baby that sleep time is coming. If repeated consistently, it will help her to feel safe and comfortable around bedtime.

As a guide, try the following steps: 

  1. Tea at around 5 PM [If your baby is taking solids.]
  2. Sit her in her baby chair whilst you tidy up her daytime things and prepare all that you need for the night. 
  3. Turn off the T.V, radio etc. and take your baby’s bottle/blanket/dummy and whatever else she requires to her room.
  4. Bath her at around 6.30 PM. Even if your baby is clean, it is good to bath her, as the experience serves as a very powerful sleep clue. It also allows her to expend reserves of energy. Introduce an ‘action’ song in the bath, you will both enjoy it and it will serve as another [highly portable] sleep clue. 
  5. After her bath, go directly to the room in which your baby sleeps. Don’t be tempted to take her back into the main living area, or you’ll find that rather than making her sleepy, the bath has left her ready to play! 
  6. When she is in her room, keep the atmosphere calm, with soft lighting etc. Introduce another song, which your baby will associate with going off to sleep. If you normally offer her a massage, now is the time to do it.
  7. Give your baby a bottle or breastfeed and then place her in her cot - ideally, whilst she is still awake. If she struggles you may have to stay with her until she is calm enough to sleep. It is better to gently ease her into sleeping in her cot rather than opting for the famous ‘controlled crying’ technique.
  8. If your baby wakes for a feed during the night make sure that you put her back in her cot afterwards [no matter how exhausted you are!]
  9. The sequence of your routine is more important than the time at which it is done. If 7 PM is too early for your child, just follow the routine a little later.

Remember. You are the best person in the world to decide what is right for your child. Use the as a guide only. Be loving, consistent, resolute and above all, confident!

Andrea Grace is a trained health visitor, nurse and mental health nurse. She is also the mother of four children.

She has worked independently as a sleep expert since 1999, and during this time she has helped hundreds of families to overcome their children’s sleep problems. She specializes in gentle, child centred techniques, which respect the values and parenting styles of each individual family.

She can arrange consultations by either home visit, telephone or at her clinic in London’s Harley Street.

As a leading authority in her field, her work is recognized by paediatricians, child health practitioners and health journalists.

She is the sleep expert for Mother & Baby Magazine and the author of “Teach Yourself Baby Sleep” (Hodder 2007). She is also the heath visitor expert for ITV “This Morning.”

She can be contacted on 020 8348 6959/ 020 7467 8441 or via her website.

Page updated 28th Feb 2013, 14:11
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