Colds. Snif­fles. Chills… Get­ting your baby to sleep at night is even tougher in win­ter. Me­lany Bendix asked the ex­perts for tips on how to get them down when the mer­cury drops

Your Baby & Toddler - - Features -

BE­FORE YOU CAN be­gin to find so­lu­tions to your baby’s sleep “prob­lem”, you need to find out whether there re­ally is one, ac­cord­ing to Dr Jeremy Dys­sell, a pae­di­a­tri­cian at Vergele­gen Medi­clinic in Som­er­set West. He points out that in­fant sleep pat­terns are dif­fer­ent to those of adults, so what seems like a prob­lem may ac­tu­ally be nor­mal be­hav­iour.

A good start­ing point is to have re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions and to know what’s con­sid­ered nor­mal. In other words, take your aunt’s tales of how her ba­bies slept through the night at six weeks with a big pinch of salt.

“When you look at sleep cy­cling – when ba­bies start to sleep more at night and less in the day­time – it’s all based on mela­tonin, which is a hor­mone that reg­u­lates sleep,” Dr Dys­sell ex­plains. “Mela­tonin only re­ally starts cy­cling in a baby’s body be­tween six and 12 weeks of age, so a parent who thinks their baby is not sleep­ing well at the age of a month has an un­re­al­is­tic idea of how his or her child should be sleep­ing.”

In fact, most in­fants don’t de­velop strong, hor­mon­ally driven cir­ca­dian rhythms (the body’s nat­u­ral awake-asleep cy­cle) un­til they are 12 weeks old, and some ba­bies take con­sid­er­ably longer, ac­cord­ing to sleep re­searchers Dr Os­kar Jenni and Dr Mary Carskadon.

Ev­ery baby is dif­fer­ent, but in gen­eral ba­bies won’t sleep for more than four to five hours at a stretch un­til they are at least three months old – mostly be­cause they need to feed.


Par­ents can help the process of set­ting baby’s in­ter­nal clock by de­vel­op­ing a con­sis­tent rou­tine, says Dr Dys­sell. Hav­ing your baby wake up at a sim­i­lar time each morn­ing is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to help her cir­ca­dian rhythms de­velop. It also helps to ex­pose your baby to day­light in the morn­ing and af­ter­noon, and in­clude her in your daily ac­tiv­i­ties when­ever pos­si­ble. Then slow things down in the evening and avoid bright lights a few hours be­fore bed.


Baby’s clean and her tummy is full, but she still won’t sleep. What now? Be­cause there can be a range of rea­sons she’s re­sist­ing bed­time – or a com­bi­na­tion of a few – this is where you play de­tec­tive and fig­ure it out by process of elim­i­na­tion.

“I would first check the tem­per­a­ture and I would look for signs of ill­ness. Bar­ring this… you have to look at ev­ery­thing that im­pacts sleep: sen­sory in­te­gra­tion, nu­tri­tion, if your baby’s feed­ing enough, if your baby is com­fort­able, if the en­vi­ron­ment is con­ducive to sleep,” says Petro Thamm, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Good Night Child Sleep Con­sul­tancy, who ad­vo­cates tak­ing a holis­tic ap­proach to sleep.

“Don’t freak out if your baby has trou­ble sleep­ing af­ter one, two or three nights – it’s nor­mal. It could be a re­gres­sion or be­havioural in terms of their cog­ni­tive brain de­vel­op­ment,” she adds. “But if a baby is not sleep­ing well for a month to two months and you’re not able to fix things, then it’s time to get the ex­perts in­volved.”

And if you’re feel­ing de­spon­dent and frus­trated, re­mem­ber Dr Dys­sell’s wise words: we all learn to sleep even­tu­ally. “Ev­ery cul­ture does it dif­fer­ently in the world. To say there’s one right way or a wrong way isn’t the best way to think about it. You just have to find a plan that works well for you as par­ents.” YB

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