Baby Sleep – and why it can be so tough

Baby sleep is a huge topic of conversation – both antenatally and postnatally. It comes up in conversations with expectant parents, who have concerns about how they are going to cope with lack of sleep, and it is a popular postnatal topic among tired parents, whose baby sleep issues are ongoing.

Lack of sleep with a baby is the toughest thing to cope with for many reasons…
*you are really tired
*the days are long
*it can feel like it is all on you
*you may be feeling like you are getting something wrong
*it can all feel very overwhelming and isolating
*it can affect your mental health

Baby sleep is a complicated issue – some babies sleep in longer chunks, and others wake more frequently. If there was a simple solution to this, we would all be doing it and it wouldn’t be an issue but a baby’s needs vary each day and sleep can easily be affected by growth spurts, needing food/comfort/reassurance, colds, teeth, reflux, wind, being uncomfortable, wanting to be near mum and just not being able to go back to sleep on their own.

What’s normal?
Frequent night waking because of small stomachs, baby development and shorter sleep cycles. Babies have more light sleep, which means they wake more easily.
Some babies don’t start to sleep in longer chunks until they can move and put themselves on their stomach, so this can be well past 6 months old.

Some sleep statistics
*Newborns may only sleep for up to 2 hours at time
*By 3 months, some babies will sleep for longer periods. 47% will wake 3-4 times
*By 5 months, 50% babies will be able to sleep for 8 hours on some nights (but not necessarily in one block of sleep)
*At 6 months, 84% of babies will wake atleast once
*By 12 months, 73% babies can sleep for 8 hours on most nights (but not necessarily in one block of sleep) and 50% will need help to help to settle if they wake in the night
*By 3-4 years old, 50% of preschoolers may wake at night

Tweaks and changes…
Once your baby is a few months old it can be a good idea to try to step back and reflect on your baby’s sleep, whether anything else can be tried and to see what support you might need. As an example, from 6 months some babies will settle better in their own space and in their own room – it could be that you are disturbing them.
But you’ll only know if sleep can be improved by making some changes.

Looking after you…
It is really important to take care of yourself as much as possible when you are feeling sleep deprived – and this affects everyone differently because some mums may be awake once or twice a night, while others are up every 2-3 hours.
* If you have a partner, tag team where possible so you can get an early night or the chance to rest up
* You need to take a break from your baby so you can switch off and relax – this could be going out or it could be as simple as napping, reading a book, having a bath, whatever is best for you. But it is important to make this happen.
* Eat as well as possible and stay hydrated, this will help with your energy, as well as your mood.
* You might need to go out as a couple – this isn’t always as possible in the evening but some time together for lunch/during an afternoon can be good for you.
*Ask for and accept help – sometimes the help isn’t offered so work out what you need help with and ask for it.
* Be kind to yourself, ongoing sleep deprivation is really hard work
* Talk about it – friends, family, at appropriate baby groups and with your health visitor if you are concerned about how you are coping.
* It will get better, eventually.

Sleeping all night is a big ask for a baby and sometimes it can be useful to remember that, as adults, we rarely sleep all night either – it is normal for us to wake in the night because we are uncomfortable, to go to the loo, to change position, we are experiencing stress or because we are thinking and processing information.

Sleep deprivation is really not pleasant but it is not always a problem to be fixed, it could just be where your baby is in her development and no amount of tweaks and changes are going to alter how long she sleeps. Keep calm, make the sleep environment calm, keep making gentle changes and sleep will come when she is ready and able to sleep for longer.

The needs and abilities of a new baby can be very different to those of a baby who is 4 months old, 6 months old or a year. It can always be worth trying some small changes again and an older baby may need more independence to be settled/to sleep for longer – but you have to try these things to see if any work.

Managing expectations and getting the support you need…
It s draining to keep expecting and needing your baby to sleep, hoping that each night it is going to be the night they finally sleep for longer. To ease this mental drain, it can be helpful to expect them to be up and to prepare and adjust life for that – it’s still knackering and some days are still going to be really tough but that shift in expectation can make a huge difference to some mums.

Sleep and getting more of it can be something you keep coming back to for years – toddlers and pre-schoolers can be up in the night; getting settled to
sleep can be about meeting different needs for more cuddles and company, they can want more books, a drink and just to know you are there and then there’s the early risers who want to start their day at 5am. It can be a constant readjustment of both expectations and strategies.

Talking through the challenges and some potential strategies can help if you are ever left feeling overwhelmed and a bit lost – just get in touch to focus on your baby’s sleep.