This article was written for and first appeared on Herfamily.ie in 2015
I regularly hear people say, “I plan to have a routine once the baby is home from hospital” or “I am never bringing my baby into my bed” or “This baby will not change my life”. Well, as much as I always hope these best laid plans fall into place, the reality is somewhat different.
Please don’t worry about getting too much structure in your life for the first 6-12 weeks. New parents and new babies need at least this amount of time to get to know each other and find out what works for each family. At the three-month mark or thereabouts, you can start putting small patterns in place, so your baby starts to realise the difference between day and the night. My advice is to give yourselves at least 12 weeks before trying to put a real routine in place. Otherwise, you may end up putting yourself under too much pressure. Some babies fall into it naturally, but others need a little bit of guidance. These things take time; we all know Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Once little ones turn a corner and seem to have a sense of what’s happening next, (likely to happen around the 5-6 month mark), you could start making a few changes and have some more structure in their lives. I know routine is not for everyone, but most of us like to know what’s happening next at any given time.
Mini humans are no different.
Note: These are not RULES – they are simply ways to encourage good sleep habits for the future. And remember, I am not talking about newborns here. These tips are mostly related to babies from six months who are established on solid food i.e. three meals a day.
Top tips for getting baby to sleep
1 Always aim to get your child down into the cot when they are still awake and wind them properly to avoid any false starts! Use the time spent winding them to rouse your baby, even just a little, before you place them in the cot. They don’t have to be wide awake but just ‘awake enough to know where they are going’.
2 Ensure tea time and last bottles/feeds are good ones. Tea doesn’t necessarily have to be heavy, just plentiful.
3 Don’t fret if your baby grizzles a little going into cot. Grizzling noises are those “mooching” sounds baby makes just before they fall asleep. They are trying to create the environment for themselves with their familiar sounds, blocking out other noises in order to soothe themselves. It’s a bit like their own personal white noise machine. It’s not exclusive to newborns; older babies do it too, sometimes in the form of real-life crying.
4 The soother. I am not so much anti-soother as you might expect. Used properly, they should be given to a child when settling to sleep. It allows the baby to suck on it until they are calm and their breathing steadies into a nice rhythm. It can become a strong sleep association tool. In between feeding and sleeping a soother should not be used, although I’m well aware there are times when it’s your only saving grace.
5 Once a baby is weaned onto solids (ideally at the latter end of 5-6 months) they should start to be able to make it through the night without feeds; with the exception of little ones still having a dream feed (that late night feed where you simply lift them from slumber and feed them before you go to bed – a top-up of sorts). This should continue with a bottle-fed baby on three solids up to around the 6-7 month mark. Another exception, but not always, would be breastfed babies, who I suspect would still be feeding a couple of times overnight.
6 Check the temperature of the room at night. If it’s a little cold, it’s better than it being a little hot. You can always add layers and extra vests. Ideal room temperature is within a range of 16-20 degrees C.
7 Have a regular bedtime routine, it can be the anchor of your day. Allow up to an hour for a winding-down period. This time can include baths and reading to your child as long as it’s calm and relaxed. But don’t get too caught up in making this over-complicated. If baths are a pain to do daily, skip them. Do them in the morning or every few days. There’s nothing a baby wipe can’t fix. And bedtime, whether with one child or many, should be manageable by one person.
8 Make sure the room provides a peaceful environment for baby. Their bedroom should be exactly that – a BEDROOM. No toys, no fancy mobiles. It should be a place of sanctuary.
Niamh O’Reilly is a sleep coach. She’s also a baby and childcare guru, a ‘parent nanny’ and, the answer to many a weary parent’s woes. When it comes to baby and child issues, Niamh is your woman. Always on hand to offer a no-nonsense solution, in an approachable way. A regular in the Irish media, (most recently as TV3’s Late Lunch Show’s ‘parent nanny’) over the next while at HerFamily.ie, Niamh will share some of her experiences, helping you attain that ‘holy grail’ – nights of uninterrupted sleep for all of the family.