We all know the importance of a good night’s sleep and your baby is no exception. In fact, baby sleep is so important that it is something talked about by pretty much all parents. Whether you’re at a baby class or simply bumped into a friend while out and about it is far from unusual to be asked how well your baby sleeps, or to share your own baby sleep tips. Parents tend to have a habit of comparing their baby to others to see what seems ‘normal’ and sleep is one of those subjects that comes up when doing this. We spoke to a sleep consultant who explained that there really is no such thing as normal – all babies are different and develop at different rates, so when it comes to baby sleep it’s just a matter of finding what works for you.
Of course, that is all well and good but there are definitely recurring themes that come up when it comes to talking about newborns and their sleep. A lot of this is surrounding baby sleep routines, how to make that work and what to do when the routine gets changed. We spoke to a toddler sleep consultant about the questions they’re asked most frequently – and here is what they shared.
If my baby is asleep, should I wake them?
Newborns need to be fed regularly which means that if they are asleep for more than 3-4 hours it is perfectly acceptable to wake them for a feed. When a baby first enters the world they tend to have their night and days in reverse. In the womb, they tend to sleep more during the day, because mum moving about getting their daily tasks done effectively rocks them to sleep – which means that they tend to be awake more during the night. When they are here it is okay to rouse your baby slightly during the day to ensure that you have a regular feeding and awake pattern during daytime hours.
You will get to know your baby and their sleep patterns, but if they are likely to sleep longer which means they’re too close to bedtime to sleep or do not have enough time to fit in a suitable nap in between then waking them can be beneficial. For example, if your baby is around 6 months old and generally on a 7am to 7pm schedule then it would be recommended that you wake them up around 2:45pm if they are sleeping. This gives you a long enough period that they can have a short nap before dinner but doesn’t wreck their chances of having a decent night's sleep at 7pm.
As your little one gets older, you want to ensure that any naps they take don’t impact on bedtime at all. This gets a little easier as they need less sleep as they get older. Rather than drop their nap completely, many parents find it beneficial to reduce the length of time they are napping in the afternoon instead. For example, if they usually sleep for more than 2 hours, try to wake them after 2 hours and see how you get on. This is all a bit of trial and error but with a few tweaks, you should soon find a pattern that works for you and your toddler.
Will weaning help my baby to sleep?
It is easy to assume that weaning would help a baby to sleep – after all, a full tummy means a sleepy baby right? However, in many cases starting to wean your baby can actually disrupt their sleep to start with.
As a general rule, weaning starts at around 6 months old. This means that they are past the 4-month sleep regression stage and can also hold more milk in their tummies; which means they are already sleeping longer stretches. At this stage, you might find that your baby sleeps through the night or only wakes up for the occasional feed.
However, it is worth keeping in mind that when you start to wean and introduce solid food, it can disrupt this a little. For starters, it’s a big change to your baby’s digestive system so this can take a while to settle down. When you start weaning it is important that your baby keeps up with their milk intake too. This is because we generally start on things like fruit and vegetables, which are low in calories – so your baby will still need the nutrition they get from milk.
The best thing you can do is follow a weaning journey when you and your baby are ready. Don’t worry about whether it will help sleep because the chances are it won’t, but it is still a massively important part of your baby’s development.
How do I know what my baby is feeding for during the night?
Many people wonder whether their baby is feeding during the night because they need to or because they’re simply in the habit. However, our toddler sleep consultant believes in simply feeding your baby at night if they are showing signs of being hungry. There are no signs that cutting this down will be of any benefit. In fact, if you don’t feed your baby when they are hungry then the chances are they won’t settle or will wake up soon - instead feed them and get them back to sleep with a full tummy so you can both get some much-needed rest.
Of course, this changes a little as your baby gets older and if your toddler needs feeding every couple of hours to get back to sleep this might be something that you want to solve. Things to look out for:
If your toddler is taking a very short feed before they fall back to sleep then it is likely the comfort of the sucking motion that is settling them rather than the need for milk because they are hungry
Are they feeding throughout the night but then not in the mood for breakfast when you all get up in the morning?
Are they having more milk throughout the night than they are during the day?
If you are experiencing these then it is worth having a look at how to change things. For example, you could look at only feeding them every other time they wake up and see if they will settle the odd time without a feed. The more you do this the more they will be in the habit of not waking up to be fed.
Our baby and toddler sleep consultant has developed a gentle sleeping program for both toddlers and babies. They have a number of online courses that you can follow but also works with clients on a one to one basis where needed and possible.