If the amount of sleepless nights caused by your wide-awake baby are wreaking havoc with your life it might be time to consult the Irish woman dubbed the baby whisperer.
Lucy Wolfe, a paediatric sleep consultant from Co. Cork, has been gaining an international reputation for sending babies around the world off to the land of nod much to the delight of their exhausted parents.
The mum-of-four has racked up an impressive clientele of both Irish and international parents who are struggling with their baby’s erratic sleep patterns.
“With each family I work with I develop a sleep strategy which is tailor made for every child and family unit,” she said.
“I don’t agree with traditional sleep teaching techniques which call for leaving children in a cot and reassuring them at different points throughout the night.
“None of us want our children to be crying and yet it’s important for a child to be good at sleeping. It enhances their emotional well-being and uninterrupted sleep is hugely beneficial to your baby.”
The sleep expert reckons that there are a number of ways in which parents can improve their baby’s tendency to sleep throughout the night which include regular bed and wake-up times, controlled environments, reading baby body language and dedicating time to daily routines.
“Reading your baby’s sleep language is a vital part of regulating their sleep. What many parents recognise as sleepy, for example a cranky and agitated baby, is actually overtiredness,” said Lucy.
“It’s best to avoid overtiredness because when we are overtired our bodies reacts with a chemical secretion of adrenaline which sends our bodies into a fight-or-flight mode where it can be hard to get to sleep and also can cause babies to only sleep in bursts,” she said.
The expert revealed that parents should avoid relying on motion, for example the movements of the car or the motion of a swing, to send their children to sleep after they’ve turned four months old.
“From the time your baby is four months old it is important to try and make sure their nap times are in their cot and motion is not relied on to get them to sleep.
“The environment in which they sleep is also important. Make sure they are neither too hot nor too cold and that there are limited distractions in their room, such as mobiles or cot toys to deter them from sleeping,” she said.
Lucy’s top tips to a great night sleep for your baby
Regular sleep times
Waking and going to sleep around the same time every day helps to regulate your baby’s body clock and promote good sleep.
Waking by 7.30am is a good anchor to help get the day off to the right start and most young children benefit from a bedtime in the region of 7-8pm.
Bedtime is “asleep” time, not the time you start the process.
Get enough naps
Ensure appropriate day time sleep. Young children require day time naps. It can be challenging, but most children- as much as 80%- still require day sleep at age 3 and beyond.
If your baby is under slept during the daytime then you may find that they wake more frequently over night and even stay awake for long periods overnight as a result. It’s a good idea to fill their day time sleep quota to promote great night time sleep.
Read the language for sleep
Knowing your baby’s sleepy cues can enable the onset of sleep, eliminating the fight out of going to sleep. Very often parent’s misinterpret sleep signal and therefore end up trying to rest an over stimulated little person. Brief eye rubs, decreased activity, staring into space often represent sleep readiness and would be the optimum time to begin a sleep time.
Intense eye rubs, big yawing, agitation and fussing are typically too far gone and may either cause a resistance to sleep and/ or short naps and frequent night awakenings
Get out and about
Filling the fresh air and outdoor activity quota is important. Light plays a role in regulating sleeping patterns and exposure to natural light specifically in the afternoon has been shown to help improve sleep. Aiming for 30 minutes in the morning and again in the afternoon is a good guide.
Have a feeding and sleeping balance to the day
Young children need feeding and sleeping frequently throughout the day. Once solid food is established normally beyond 6 months there may be a better structure to the day with your milk feeds factored in also.
Most children won’t sleep well if they are hungry, so make sure they are getting enough to eat and drink of the right kind of food and that they are well hydrated also.
Create a sleep inducing environment
Make sure your baby’s room is adequately dark without distractions. Black out blinds are a great solution for this, ideally used with a night light to alleviate separation anxiety and offset the use of bright external lights that can interfere with the sleep hormone, even whilst asleep.
We all sleep better with quiet, cool and comfortable surroundings; your baby is the same. Ideal bedroom temperature is 16-20 degrees and sleep and bed wear should be adjusted to the season
Have a peaceful bedtime ritual
Relax your baby in advance of sleep but beware or putting them all the way to sleep at the same time. Young children who are parent dependent at bedtime will be more likely to wake overnight than those who are not. Give your child the opportunity to perfect this skill set in order to promote this ability.
Mothers & Babies
Nothing can quite prepare you for motherhood. Before I had Ollie I had just myself to consider and I would always get my hair and my nails done before a night out. The whole process would take up a full evening. I'd go to one of my friends houses or they would come to mine. Together we would spend hours getting ready and having a few glasses of wine, listening to music, trying on a hundred different outfits - it seems like a lifetime ago.