When your baby just won't sleep

By Dr Jonny Taitz, Love To Dream

"My baby just won't sleep!"... If I had a dollar for every time a parent utters this phrase I could retire a very wealthy man. It seems that babies that won’t sleep are a very common occurrence. For most parents and their babies this is a phase that seems to settle with time. However some babies graduate to become life-long committed insomniacs!

My son was a terrible sleeper in his first year of life. Now at the age of 10 years he is still easily the first person awake - often well before sunrise. At least he is trained to not wake the other family members. I often find him fully dressed and having breakfast at 6am!

I think that sometimes parent’s expectations of their newborn babies are just too high and are off the mark. Only twenty percent of babies will sleep through from six weeks of age. That means that the other eighty percent won’t sleep through and will often wake multiples times during the night. Most babies will sleep through from about 8-9 months of age, but again this can be quite variable.

Very few parents will forget the exhaustion that accompanies a poor sleeper. Some babies sleep well at night and are poor day time sleepers. I would rather have it this way then the other way round where babies sleep well during the day but are terrible night time sleepers.

There are a couple of rules that I have found to be helpful:

  • Ensure that your baby’s room temperature is between 18C-21C
  • Your baby’s room should be dark and quiet. Ideally babies should be in their own room but on occasion their cot or bassinet is in the same room as the parents. That is fine but I strongly discourage co-sleeping in the same bed. There are a number of studies that highlight the dangers of co-sleeping. Babies should always sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of SIDS
  • Many babies can start to self-soothe from about 3 months of age. The trick is recognising the signs of tiredness in your baby and putting them down to sleep before they get overtired. Aim to put them down when they are drowsy but not yet asleep. In this way they can learn the important skill of self-soothing and put themselves to sleep on their own accord
  • Swaddling with an age appropriate swaddle has also been shown to be highly effective in allowing babies to self-settle and in so doing promote better sleep for babies and their parents! A good example of swaddles is the Love To Dream range of swaddles that is widely available in Australia and internationally.

As mentioned some babies just won’t sleep no matter what. The good news is that there is help available. In Australia organizations such as Tresillian & Karitane offer a range of programs including in house residential placement for mums & their babies.

Another option is to enlist the services of a “sleep coach” or night nurse. Again they can be very effective but do not come cheap. My advice to parents considering this option is get a full written quote as it can be a very costly exercise. 

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Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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