Little one not sleeping through the night yet? Feel like they ought to be? Well I’ve got the answers for you!
Let’s go through the key steps to helping your baby sleep through the night…
Some babies are able to make it through the whole night as early as just 3 months of age while others will take a bit longer and it largely comes down to whether or not they need assistance in getting to sleep and back to sleep.
With younger babies, we tend to take every waking as a sign that they must be hungry and feeding the baby will often send them back to sleep so this can become a bit of a habit.
Now, you’re right to feed your baby when they’re hungry and that will be more frequent in the early weeks until they develop a bit more sustainability and can go longer stretches between feeds.
If you know your baby is healthy, growing steadily and you’re able to spot if and when they may need milk in the night, then let’s take care of that hunger and keep it separate from our approach to helping them sleep.
Learning to settle to sleep is a process. Babies need a LOT of help from you to begin with because it is all new to them. In the womb, they were lulled off to sleep by sounds and movement and they’ve never done the whole ‘falling asleep’ thing without assistance. So your job is to help them get practice so they can get better at it.
Having a bedtime routine is the first step. It will set up cues and triggers for your baby at this unique time of day and prepare them for the longer stretch of sleep ahead. Going through these same steps every evening in the same way will help to create a rhythm for your little one for recognising daytime and night time and making the transition.
At the end of the routine, place your baby down in their own safe sleep space so they can begin to experience what it is like there and grow to be comfortable with it. Your help will still be needed and your reassurance but you’ll be giving your baby a chance to practice going through the motions of falling asleep, starting with the sleep environment.
They’ll then practice feeling the sensation in their bodies of falling asleep and it all will become a lot easier for them. The better they get at this, the less help they need from you to get to sleep and once your little one can get to sleep independently, they’ll then be able to repeat that skill when they wake in the night, resettling into the next sleep cycle without you knowing about it!
Now, the thing to watch out for is thinking that your little one is settling to sleep by themselves already just because you pop them down awake and they nod off without your help – This will lure you into a false sense of security and have you scratching your head when you get hourly wake ups from midnight onward!
If your little one is dropping off to sleep super easily and quickly, like in less than 5 minutes, then they’re actually being aided by exhaustion. They’re so tired that it’s effortless for them to fall asleep.
Sounds bliss right? You put the baby down and they fall to sleep with ease? Mmm but this bedtime win or at least what feels like a win, will be hindering any progress to sleeping through the night.
How your baby settles to sleep will dictate how your baby settles back to sleep when they wake in the night. And I say WHEN because we all wake in the night to varying degrees.
If your baby zonked out to sleep with extreme tiredness at bedtime or was rocked or fed to sleep, he or she will inevitably seek something like this to come and do the job for him or her again when they wake in the night.
We call it a sleep onset association and it’s important to make sure your little one has helpful sleep onset associations and not ones that sabotage any opportunity for them to develop this vital skill.
So, when you can work on this with your little one?
You can practice and give your baby exposure to little experiences of this right from the early weeks, just don’t expect them to master it and be prepared to finish the job for them when they’re tiny.
That said, early practice can go a long way. From around 4 and half months you’ll be able to give them more practice and have them work a little harder at it and you can definitely help them, you don’t need to leave them to it, just don’t do it FOR them.
Now, there are factors that may disrupt your little one’s sleep like teething, hunger, overtiredness, reflux and sometimes we need to address those things too before we will get the full sleep through, but with all of those things in check, your little one will only sleep through the night if he or she is able to get to sleep and back to sleep without needing you to do something to or for them to get them there.
We’d love to hear from you and your sticking points with getting your little one sleeping through the night. Pop a comment below and let us know where you’re stuck and we’ll try to help.
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