New parents have a lot to cope with and sleep deprivation doesn’t help, but how to get baby to sleep? asks Anna Coogan
MUMS of new babies are abuzz about a new book called The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan, a just-published guidebook which promises parents of new babies a good night’s sleep. Former maternity nurse, baby guru and author Alison Scott-Wright has been dubbed ‘The Magic Sleep Fairy' by her legions of grateful fans.
If it sounds a bit desperate to be getting excited about sleep, the chances are you are childless or your children are sound and regular snoozers.
If you are a bleary-eyed new mum obsessing about getting back into bed, you will want to know about the magic Scott-Wright sprinkles and which has gained her a reputation as a leading expert on children and sleep.
Being both a mother and grandmother, she understands the hysteria which grips parents in the early hours of a morning when a crying baby refuses to go to sleep. Controversially, she rejects the advice that babies should sleep in the same room as their parents for six months. She also advocates three-hourly feeds instead of four-hourly ones throughout the day, so a baby doesn’t rely on night feeds to take in crucial calories.
Scott-Wright advises mums to never wake up a baby at night for a feed but, instead, to be baby-led. Parents should establish a bath and bedtime routine from day one.
Babies often can't sleep at night because they are over-tired, so parents should make sure to allow them sleep during the day.
But even with the help of a best-selling book, can a parent get carried away expecting a baby to sleep like a dream every night?
Anne O’Connor is a child clinical psychologist, and is founder of the baby and parenting website, www.rollercoaster.ie. Each new mother’s experience is different, and she advises: “If you expect your child to develop a pattern of sleeping all night, every night, you will probably be disappointed.
“We know from research that even children who seem to sleep throughout the night do wake briefly at regular intervals.”
Problems may arise when a child is not able to go back to sleep. Children learn to fall asleep in the conditions their parents set up for them, and if they wake during the night and these conditions have changed, they may find it hard to get back to sleep.
Anne advises: “Feeding patterns are important in these early days. A newborn baby cannot sleep through the night, as they need to take in nutrition in small feeds throughout the 24-hour period.
“As your baby grows you can expect them to go for longer between feeds and it’s a good idea to begin to have routine feeding times — this helps a baby in the development of their daily pattern.”
She adds: “Try to keep to a daily schedule, if the times that you feed, play with and put your baby to sleep are constantly changing then they will have difficulty in developing a regular routine.
“There is nothing wrong with rocking a small baby to sleep or feeding them while they fall asleep. However, if you continue to do this after a baby is three months old you could be developing a pattern which may cause problems later.
“If a child becomes used to your presence and help when they are falling asleep they may then find it difficult to fall asleep independently.”
It is important to try to distinguish between a baby’s cries so that you are not feeding your baby when they need to go to sleep and vice versa.
Anne advises: “Be sure your baby is awake before picking them up. A small baby spends a lot of sleeping time in a stage of sleep called REM (rapid eye movement).
Twitching, eye movements and jerking often accompany this stage of sleep. The baby is asleep but may be very active physically.
“It is normal, for a baby to wake briefly between the different stages of sleep. These are just brief awakenings and if left to their own devices babies will quickly fall back asleep. So it’s best to be sure your baby is ready to wake up fully before picking them up,” she recommends.
“As you begin to see your baby’s emerging patterns of waking, sleeping and feeding you will know when it’s best to feed, play with or just leave them to sleep. It takes time so don’t expect too much too soon.
“Over the first few months babies develop the ability to pick up on cues, such as darkness, activity level and noise levels. They begin to associate quiet, dark, inactive times with sleep so it’s best that you don’t get involved in too much activity in the early hours. This could lead to confusion for the baby who is trying to make sense of the world they have just been introduced to.”
The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan by Alison Scott-Wright (Bantam Press, €9.99)