Good night, sweetheart
Bedtime can be one of the more challenging aspects of parenting. The key to good sleeping routines is that your child feels relaxed and secure, writes Sorcha Corcoran
SLEEP is one of new parents' main topics of conversation, particularly in the early days. Parent mentor Sheila O'Malley describes the first three months as being similar to " going through a dark tunnel" because you're trying to get to grips with your baby's sleeping pattern while also feeling tired yourself. " The first three months are the most difficult in terms of sleep because you're feeding a lot, but, as a general rule of thumb, babies get into a bit of a pattern and rhythm between four and 12 months," she says.
" I think taking the old advice of sleeping when the baby sleeps in those early months is the only way around coping with this time. When it comes to parenting, I always say the most important person to parent is yourself, so seek support, ask for help and generally do less than you would normally in the first few months."
The reality is that some children just aren't good sleepers, but O'Malley says that by six months of age, babies won't need to feed throughout the night. She notes though that breastfed babies might still look to be fed. " It's important to try not to establish the habit of your baby falling asleep at the breast, as when they wake up they will want what they had when they fell asleep – unless you're happy to continue with this."
By nine months of age, 70– 80pc of babies won't wake during the night and generally they will sleep for nine to 12 hours at night and have anything from one to four naps during the day. These can last half an hour up to two hours, O'Malley explains.
" From two years of age, a child will need 12–14 hours' sleep over 24 hours and will probably drop to one nap of around two hours. Try to avoid letting them have the nap in the late afternoon as this could create a problem in getting them to bed.
" During toddlerhood, a resistance to going to bed is natural as children are trying to assert their independence – they might get out of the bed or cot and can be prone to nightmares and night-time fears and possibly some separation anxiety."
In dealing with this, she is not in favour of what's known as 'control crying', where a baby or toddler is left to cry for increasingly long periods of time in the hope they will stop and be trained to get into a sleep pattern.
" The child will only stop crying because they feel no one is going to come. As babies can't communicate any other way, they're crying for a reason and I think as far as possible parents should respond quickly so their child doesn't get worked up and feels relaxed.
" The key to good sleep for babies is that they feel secure and know there is a parent there who will come to them if they're anxious or have a tummy pain. Sometimes it may mean staying with them for a while, maybe promising to come back in 10 minutes, which you must stick to if you say it."
While they may not admit to it, most households experience " musical beds" when there are small children, O'Malley continues.
" In our culture, it's not considered normal, but in most other cultures it's completely usual and it avoids the problem of separation anxiety. It's hard though to get children out of the habit of getting into the parents' bed. They'll get dependent on this, so you need to gradually wean them off it. Sometimes having a mini-mattress in your room can help to get a child through a distressing period such as if they've been alarmed by something they have seen on TV."
In terms of good bedtime routines, she advises keeping the lights dim and being calm and soothing, with as little stimulation as possible. Blackout blinds are a good idea, and try to avoid giving your child sugary drinks. A bath or playing classical music can also help to relax an overactive child.
" The most important thing is that a child feels loved and secure, so this is a chance for you to spend time with them. I always give my children a hot water bottle, while a story can also help a child to settle."
A regular on TV3's ' Ireland AM', O'Malley will be running one-day parenting courses in February, March and April. For more information, go to www. practicalparenting. ie.
Mother & Babies