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
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.
HAVING YOUR BABY WAKE UP AT A SIMILAR TIME EACH MORNING IS PARTICULARLY IMPORTANT TO HELP HER CIRCADIAN RHYTHMS DEVELOP
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.
FED AND CHANGED BUT STILL NOT SLEEPING?
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