Ask any new mum, the one thing they treasure beyond having a healthy, happy child, and most of them will answer: “Sleep!” If you’re struggling with a little one who won’t sleep through the night and you’re tearing your hair out, read on for some proven expert advice.
If your baby isn’t sleeping well at night, it means you aren’t either, which makes everything (and everyone) more difficult to cope with the next day. It’s no wonder that helping your baby to sleep through the night is a high priority for most families, but it’s often easier said than done.
Sleep-deprived parents often turn to a slate of sleep props and aides to help their little ones nod off, from dummies and bottles to humming mobiles and sound machines. Sydney-based baby whisperer and mothercraft nurse of 20 years Elizabeth Sloane, who recently co-authored the book The Gift Of Sleep, says these are the first thing to go when you’re teaching a baby to sleep through the night.
“The most important part of teaching a baby to sleep through the night is teaching them to self-settle,” she says.
“Most families are struggling with babies that are waking for a dummy, bottle, breastfeeding, rocking or patting, so it’s about taking that back from them gently and teaching them the gift of self-settling, which in turn teaches them to sleep through the night.”
To be clear, Sloane, who runs a sleep training program where she stays with weary families for up to three nights, believes it’s unrealistic for parents of those under six months of age to expect their bub to sleep through.
“But if they’re well and healthy and over six months old, they should be sleeping through,” she says.
There will be a few tears (from mum and bub!) on the road to a good night’s sleep, she warns, but it’s all for a good cause.
“It’s important to be honest and say certainly that there is a little bit of grizzling attached to any change, like anything new in a baby’s life,” Sloane says.
“But for those mums who are already struggling and up several times a night, and they’re really fragile and it’s affecting their relationships.”
The Gift of Sleep
Sloane outlines a step-by-step guide to teach your little one to sleep through the night in her new book, The Gift of Sleep, but here she shares these tips for getting your baby (aged over six months) to sleep better:
- Get rid of any sleep aides — dummies, bottles and mobiles have all got to go.
- Stop using sleep props to get baby ready for sleep. “A prop is anything that your baby has become reliant on in order to get to sleep,” Sloane says. “This means rocking, patting, singing, driving a baby around in the car, pushing them in a pram, breastfeeding, playing music… the list goes on!”
- Understand that your baby will be upset at first when you take these things away from them, but it’s part of the learning process. “The baby will have a protest cry, so there will be a little bit of a challenge on that first night,” Sloane says.
- Give your baby one comfort item to sleep with, whether it’s a blankie or a safe, cot-appropriate soft toy.
- Tuck baby firmly into the cot with a sheet.
- Follow the three C’s when teaching them to self-settle without their sleep props: Calm, Committed and Consistent. Don’t be tempted to give in with “just one bottle” or “just one cuddle,” or you’ll undo all of your (and baby’s) good work.