Families come in many shapes and sizes but the universal issue that unites them all is sleep, or a lack of it. We need it to function and without it can exist in a haze of groggy sleep deprivation in those early years with little ones.
Sleep problems affect more than a third of infants in Australia, which in turn affects the whole family. Each case is individual but there are some basic principles that parents can put in place to help a baby sleep, and by doing so, get more sleep themselves.
Jo Ryan is an author, baby sleep consultant and founder and director of parenting support service Baby Bliss. She has a master’s in support health, and has been a nanny and registered nurse for 20 years. Her practical tips will have families nodding off and feeling great in no time.
1. Change your attitude
Many people don’t understand how babies work. How would we know? We don’t remember being babies ourselves. As a result, we often set up unnecessary habits that babies rely on when they shouldn’t.
Parents can be afraid of putting down their baby awake, so they’ll try to put them to sleep in their arms or feed them to sleep before setting them down.
In this way, babies are never given the opportunity to put themselves to sleep. Adjusting how you approach your child’s sleep is important for the future and your own sleep schedule.
2. Develop ritual
Humans are creatures of habit, so babies respond to ritual. They develop a sense of expectation from a very young age. In setting up a bedtime ritual, they anticipate the actions they go through before going to sleep. They know what happens routinely and won’t be surprised or confused when they are put to bed.
3. Make the bedroom a place for sleep
It’s best to make a baby’s bedroom as conducive to sleep as possible. Babies are distracted by hanging objects over their cots, so remove mobiles from the ceiling. Brightly coloured images on the walls, particularly images with animals or people also distract them or scare them at night. Keep the décor as bland as possible.
Night lights aren’t necessary either. If you feel they do need some light, keep the door ajar with a hallway light on. Ambient light will flow into the room, keeping them drowsy and sleepy.
4. Make adjustments for toddlers
Toddlers act very differently in the world of sleep. They assert their own independence as dynamic changes are happening for them at this stage of life. It’s common for toddlers to become attached to someone being with them when they fall asleep.
With toddlers, it’s also about ritual. You can establish stronger ritual and have them actively involved, too. When setting up these habits, toddlers will try to stall. They’ll start to negotiate and that’s fine, but be firm so they will eventually stop asking.
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5. Keep toddlers in the cot as long as possible
The longer a toddler stays in the cot, the better. When they’re too young, toddlers lose the sense of security that a contained cot provides.
Little ones will climb out of their bed to find you if they don’t feel secure. By waiting until they are a little older, say if they’re around three years of age, they are ready and excited to make the transition to sleeping in a big bed.
6. Get kids to bed early
Not only is putting your children down early good for their sleep, it also means you can wind down. Don’t waste your time at night by doing things that can wait. Relax on your own or with your partner and do things that you want or absolutely need to do.
The best deep sleep happens pre-midnight so try to get to bed as early as possible for good quality sleep.
7. Help your partner
It’s important for partners to help each other in achieving optimum sleep. Don’t have the ‘I’ve had less sleep than you argument’, because nobody wins. It is a stressful time, but you have to adjust yourselves to that and acknowledge that for the first few years sleep will be disrupted.
One suggestion is to tag-team. Mum can breast or bottle feed then go back to sleep, with their partner settling the baby afterwards. Babies respond really well to fathers settling them, as they don’t smell of milk and babies enjoy a deeper tone of voice which can be very calming.
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