Sleep: It returns one day, right? Said the parents of every new baby, everywhere, every day. Creating the right sleep habits and routines to help your baby sleep well is the holy grail of achievement for new parents. But it turns out that knowing when to put them to sleep is just as important as how you go about it.
If having my second child taught me anything, it’s this: There is no one-size-fits-all sleep solution to suit all babies.
My girls were very different as infants. My eldest, Lila, was a cuddly co-sleeper who liked nothing better than snuggling in to get ready for sleep time. She slept in our room until she was 8 months old and preferred falling asleep in our arms, preferably while drinking milk.
My youngest, Noa, is far more independent. At seven weeks, she was in her own room and, from the get-go, she liked her own space. When she was teeny, I tried to co-sleep during the day so we could nap together, but she wasn’t having a bar of it. She’s not a big cuddler and likes to go to sleep in her cot, on her own terms. Wish me luck in about 13 years.
I had two very different experiences, but being a parent a second time around made me realise how clueless I was with my first baby.
“Oh, how cute; she’s tired, she’s rubbing her eyes,” I’d exclaim… not realising that the ideal time to put her to bed was, you know, 15 minutes before she was so flat-out exhausted, she was pawing at her tired little peepers.
Ready to embark on some structured sleep training? >>
Your baby’s sleep needs
Expectations regarding a baby’s sleep can be the source of great anxiety for parents, explains Lois Wattis, author of New Baby 101 — especially “if they believe their baby is not sleeping ‘well’ or ‘enough'”.
“Understanding how variable baby’s sleep patterns are from baby to baby and from week to week according to individual feeding, growth and developmental stages, can relieve parents’ concerns, and free them to ‘go with the flow’ of their baby’s individual needs,” she says.
“Parents will quickly learn to recognise and respond to their baby’s early ‘tired signs’ to avoid him becoming overtired. An overtired baby may find it very difficult to go to sleep even though rest is what he desperately needs.”
Baby’s first year: A busy mum’s guide to food >>
This was a lesson I’d learnt the hard way with Lila, so by the time my second baby came along, I was determined to teach Noa to sleep for more than 20 minutes each nap time. I also wanted one of those magic babies who sleep through the night at six weeks, but that wasn’t in the cards for me.
But we were successful in creating a champion napper. What did we do? These three things resulted in a happy, well-rested baby:
Use a dummy first
First, we used a dummy this time around (until she was around 5 months old; I turfed it once we stopped wrapping her). It was the bomb. Noa settled in for a nap in about 30 seconds and slept like a slug during the day, napping for 2-3 hours at a time. She also slept for around 12 hours each night, waking up every 4-5 hours for a quick feed before happily nodding off back to sleep.
I created a consistent routine
When Noa goes to sleep, the same routine unfolds: We go to her bedroom, the curtains are closed, I change her nappy if needed, she is wrapped (as a newborn) or popped into a sleeping bag (once she was rolling), we have a quiet cuddle, we kiss her teddy goodnight and pop him in the cot and I place her in the cot, then tuck her in nice and snug, then say goodnight and walk out. Sometimes, there’s a bit of patting and shushing, but other than that, it’s the exact same thing every time.
We follow a sleep guideline to work out how much sleep she needs
This has been a crucial ingredient. Particularly when she was younger, I referred to it religiously. And when the timing was right, I’d take Noa upstairs and get her ready for bed — even if she didn’t seem sleepy. Even if she was wide awake. Even if she seemed super alert and was giggling, and I’d think, “There’s no way this baby is tired and ready for a nap.” Except, she usually was. And by putting her to bed before she was rubbing her eyes and crying in tired frustration, she was able to top up her sleep tank without getting frustrated. Hallelujah!