Kiddopotamus SwaddleMeAll Mums with tiny new babies know that it is an exhausting time.  New babies need feeding every three to four hours, day or night.  There’s no getting around it.  But what happens when the night feeds start to tail off and your baby won’t settle down for the night.  This is a very common problem which can make you want to weep…especially if you’re desperate for sleep yourself! Here’s some help before you go nuts!

1.  Routine Does Help

Years ago, when Mum was at home all day and Dad came home at six o’clock, it was relatively easy to have a routine.  Now, families have more activities especially if there are other children in the family who need driving to after school activities.  Mealtimes are much more flexible and Dad may come home later and wish to spend time with the new offspring.  With all this going on, it’s hard to keep your baby to the same night time ritual.  However, if you really want your baby to settle easily, it’s very important that you organize a routine.

A small baby’s brain develops by making patterns of association.  Capitalize on that by helping your baby to associate familiar events with impending sleep.  If you do have a large family and evening is a busy time, be realistic and flexible about what time you start your baby’s night time ritual.  It doesn’t matter if it’s later than you would like.  This can be compensated for by putting your baby down for a late afternoon nap.  You need a quiet ‘window’ of time.

Next, we’ll check out where your baby sleeps.  It’s no good preparing your baby for a good sleep if the room or sleeping area isn’t right.  It will undo all your hard work…

2.  Is your baby’s room comfortable?

Babies have very tiny nasal passages and sinuses which can easily become irritated, giving rise to congestion in their breathing passages which can prevent them from dropping off to sleep.  The most common examples of irritants are smoke from cigarettes, baby talcum powder, fumes from hair spray, perfume or deodorant, dust from the bedding, blankets and even their lovely new soft toys.  Try to keep all of these as minimal (or non existent) as possible, especially if your baby wakes up with a snuffly nose.

3.  Temperature gauge

To help induce sleep, make sure that your freshly bathed and warm baby goes onto warm sheets.  If the weather is cold, use flannel ones.  If they’re cotton, warm a towel on a radiator and lay it onto the sheets for a few moments before putting the baby to bed.  Don’t leave the warm towel there and never put a hot water bottle anywhere near a baby as that will be too hot.

A constant room temperature of around 70 degrees F is ideal.  The level of humidity in the room is also important.  Dry air may give your baby a stuffy nose that prevents easy sleep, so aim for a relative humidity of around 50%.  You can buy vaporizers that puff out a warm mist and this is especially helpful during the winter months if you have central heating.  The vaporizer also makes a low humming noise which babies seem to find soothing.  Be careful to avoid the humidity going too high as this can increase the likelihood of molds which can trigger allergies.

4.  Quiet or sounds?

Although many mothers worry about noise waking a baby or preventing sleep, the reality is that most babies are able to block out noise.  It’s true that some do startle easily and if your baby does, it’s worth using a little oil or spray on the joints or springs of a squeaky cot.  Once your baby is down for the night, turn the phone ringer down or off and keep the TV quiet.

Babies like ‘white noise’, such as the sound of air conditioning, running water, a clock ticking or a fan whirring.  You could try leaving a CD player next to the crib, with a soundtrack of waves or even quiet lullabies playing.

5.  Light or dark?

When you put your baby down for daytime naps, choose an area that is well-lit or leave the curtains open in the nursery.  Your baby will still sleep but it may encourage the naps to be shorter or the sleep to be lighter.  Both of these will help to promote a deeper, longer sleep at night.

For night time, fit a dimmer switch to the nursery light so that you can peep in on your baby without snapping on a bright light.  Make sure that the drapes don’t let a lot of light in and this will help to encourage sleep on light summer nights and early summer mornings.

If your baby wakes during the night for a feed or for any other reason, keep the light as dim as possible.  The message is that night time is for sleeping.

Now that the room is ready, we’ll take a look at how to prepare your baby for sleeping at night.  It doesn’t just start at bedtime!

6.   Does hunger prevent your baby from sleeping or staying asleep?

Babies have tiny stomachs.  Look at your baby’s fist.  That’s the size of its tummy!  That’s why babies are designed to take small amounts, often.  If you breastfeed, it’s worth letting your baby completely finish the first breast that you offer, rather than swapping over halfway through.  This enables your bay to get the ‘hindmilk’ which is richer and therefore more filling.  It may help to add a little more time between night feeds.  If your baby is still having night feeds, attempt a full feed at the first waking.  This is especially important if you are breastfeeding as it helps to prevent the baby developing the frustrating and exhausting habit of drinking tiny amounts all through the night.

If your baby is more than six months old, you could try giving them a couple tablespoons of baby cereal a short while (around half an hour) before bedtime.  This small amount could mean the difference between sleeping contentedly and waking up hungry.  Don’t do this just before you put your baby to bed as it could encourage regurgitation.

Make sure that your baby is getting feeds at least every three hours during the day.  This has two effects.  It brings the daytime feeds closer together so that night time is for sleeping.  It also means that you can be sure your baby’s nutritional needs have been met, so that the night time feed isn’t so vital.

7.  Make sure your baby is comfortable

You’ve bathed and fed the baby and put on a fresh diaper – so why doesn’t the fussing stop?  It could be possible that your baby is beginning to teethe.  Teething pain can start as early as three months, even if there is no sign at all of any teeth coming through yet.  If the sheet underneath the baby’s head is wet, or there is a slight reddening of the cheeks or chin, this could indicate excessive drooling which is the first sign that teething pain is the culprit.  Later on, the more obvious signs are swollen, red gums, a slight fever and often, nappy rash.

If you suspect that this might be an issue for your baby, buy some teething gel and rub it in just before bedtime.  It won’t harm your baby and it may help to promote sleep.

8.  How does your baby sleep?

Most tiny babies like to sleep swaddled securely in a cotton blanket as it makes them feel safe.  Dressing them in loose clothes during the day will help them to make that association that ‘loose’ is daytime and ‘tighter and secure’ is night time – and sleep!

As they get older, babies start to prefer sleeping with looser coverings which allow them to move about more.  Has your baby reached this stage?  Try loosening the bedding to see if it helps.

Many mothers try everything to get their babies to sleep; only to discover through trial and error that 100% cotton sleepwear does the trick.  Babies have incredibly sensitive skin and although synthetic clothing is tolerated during the day, at night it’s a different story.  It’s worth a try!

9.  Relax…

The time leading up to bedtime should be as calm and relaxed as possible.  This even applies to bathing your baby.  It makes some babies dopey, warm and ready for sleep.  However, it energizes and stimulates others.  If your baby reacts in this way, just settle for a ‘top and tail’ and diaper change at night – and a morning bath.

Rocking your baby gently can be helpful which is why it is the archetypal image of a Mother in the nursery.  However, make sure that you do rock your baby in the nursery.  The nearer you are to the crib, the easier it will be to place your baby into it once sleep comes.  Enhance your chances of success by closing the nursery door and dimming the light right down.  If you’re dead on your feet by this time of night, consider investing in a rocking chair.  You need to be relaxed too or your baby will pick up on it and remain fretful.

Many parents find that rocking isn’t enough and resort to driving their baby around in the car until sleep comes.  One common problem with this is that the baby wakes up as soon as you try to put him to bed.  There is a way around this.  Lift the entire car seat, containing the baby, out of the car and place the seat either in the crib or in your bedroom.  When your baby wakes for the first night feed, you can then make the transfer to the crib.

10.  What about ‘sleep trainers’?

Technology now offers many ways of helping your baby go to sleep.  These include cribs that vibrate to mimic that all-successful car journey and even teddy bears that ‘breathe’ – which is frankly rather eerie.  If you’re desperate, these methods may seem tempting but there is a basic problem with them.  If your baby gets used to sleeping in a vibrating crib, what happens when it’s time for them to go into a toddler bed…  And what happens if the ‘breathing’ teddy bear gets lost or broken…  We’ll let you make up your own mind on those scenarios!

It’s not working!

If you’ve tried all of the suggestions and your baby still won’t settle or still wakes up, there may be a medical problem that needs addressing.  The most common medical cause is gastro esophageal reflux, called GER for short.  This is heartburn for babies and is caused by a weakness in a circular muscle around the base of the esophagus, where it goes into the stomach.  This weakness allows irritating acids to come back up from the stomach into the baby’s esophagus, which can be very uncomfortable.  The symptoms of GER are being fussy at night, regular spitting up, colicky pain, wheezing with no apparent reason and throaty gurgling noises after feeds.

Another possible medical cause is an allergy to formula or dairy.  This can come from formula that is milk-based or if Mom is breastfeeding and eating a lot of dairy.  Symptoms of a milk allergy are a bloated tummy, diarrhea and a red rash around the anus.

If you suspect either of these, take your baby to see a Doctor as they are both easy to treat.

And look after yourself too…

If you’re low on sleep, make a point of sleeping when your baby does.  If you’re both exhausted, it can get on top of you and if you’re irritable, your baby will be too.

One last tip – take your baby out for a daily walk in the fresh air.  This is not only a great stress reliever; it can also help your baby to sleep better.  Good luck!

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