SINGAPORE: Think that simply giving your baby a relaxing warm bath, then swaddling him and placing him in his cot will give him (and you) a full night’s sleep?
Think again. Your little one didn’t come with an instruction manual, and most of the time, you’re left to figure things out on your own.
Sleepless nights and extreme fatigue are familiar to many new parents – sometimes, your baby just doesn’t want to sleep. But did you know that there may be things you are unwittingly doing that are making bedtime harder?
Here are some of the most common sleep mistakes that new parents make and expert advice on how to rectify them.
Do you rock your baby to sleep? Or place him in a bouncer? “On other days, maybe he’s brought to your bed out of desperation,” pointed out sleep expert and parenting coach Zoe Chu of SG Supernanny. The problem here is that your baby becomes confused with the method of falling asleep, making it even more difficult for him to doze off.
“Find a consistent manner that works for you and your baby, then stick to it,” Chu advised. “He needs to learn that he can self-settle on his own without anyone’s help.” Your child will thrive on falling asleep in the same environment. So, stick to a structured routine for bedtime each night – perhaps a bath, story and then bedtime.
RELYING ON PROPS
Another problem is when your baby relies on something like a pacifier to fall asleep. Pamela Lee, mum to Aiden, 2, recalls how Aiden could only fall asleep with his pacifier. “He would fall asleep with it, and we would remove it after he sleeps. Of course, when he woke up in the middle of the might, he would scream for it.”
In the end Lee decided it was best not to give it to him, after he had fallen asleep without it the first time. “It was a painful few days and we let him cry, but he finally learnt that he would not be able to have it if he wakes up in the middle of the night, and started sleeping through,” Lee said.
PICKING BABY UP TOO QUICKLY
It’s easy to feel stressed and anxious when your baby suddenly cries out in the middle of the night. But know that it’s completely normal for them to cry a little in between their sleep cycles. “If you immediately go in to pick the baby up, you’re robbing him of the chance to self-settle on his own, because your baby would keep thinking that he needs someone’s help to soothe him back to sleep,” said Chu.
The same goes for naps. If your little one has only napped for 30 minutes and he cries out, he is probably going through a partial arousal. He’s not done napping yet and still wants to continue his nap. “If the parent assumes that the cries means he wants attention and wants to be picked up, that’s when the baby tends to catnap, and he’ll be unable to lengthen his naps,” Chu explained.
RUSHING BABY TO BED
The clock is ticking as you edge closer to your baby’s bedtime. You’re feeling stressed with every minute that passes. In the meantime, your little one is still all alert and full of energy. You decide that there’s no time to run a bath, or read a book. You hastily draw the black-out curtains and try to place him in his cot. Of course, he’s having none of that.
“If parents rush their baby to bed, then you may get a baby who will cry and protest more because they might not be ready for bed yet, or they don’t know what is expected of them,” explained Chu. “The bedtime routine should be relaxing and pleasant to help increase melatonin – it should be at least 20 to 30 minutes long to allow them to get ready for bed.”
PUSHING BACK BED TIME
Working mums would completely understand the dilemma – if you’re back from work late, it’s hard to put your baby to sleep early, since you want to spend time with him as well. The problem is that children who stay up late past their bedtime will often be overtired and cranky.
They get hyperactive and become harder to settle in, said Chu. “As adults, we need 8 hours of sleep to function well throughout the day, and children definitely need a lot more than us to be alert and focused.” Try to find an alternate solution to be able to spend more time with bubba – for instance, talk to your boss and see if you can leave the office earlier, or take work home if you have to.
BELIEVING BABY WILL OUTGROW BAD SLEEPING HABITS NATURALLY
Your baby’s sleep situation may feel dire right now, but many parents are just keeping their fingers crossed and hoping that this too, shall pass. It’s a common mistake to make.
“Sleep, like anything, is a skill that has to be taught to your child, and only he can learn that skill,” she said. Parents have to play their part by creating the conducive environment to learn those skills.
EXPECTING BABY TO SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT
Newborns can’t sleep through the night because their tummies are small and they need to wake frequently to feed. In addition, babies under three months have no concept of night and day, so it’s unreasonable to expect that your child will sleep through the night at this age.
Chu points out that experts generally agree that babies three months or older, weigh more than 6kg and are gaining weight well, can be expected to sleep through for six to eight hours at a stretch at night. But she also adds that every baby is different.
“Once your baby is on solids, though, it’s not at all unreasonable to expect him to sleep through for 11 to 12 hours,” she added. If your baby hasn’t been sleeping well for most of his life, it’s unrealistic to expect changes to happen overnight as well. But with determination, consistency, and a commitment to practise better sleep habits, you can expect your little one’s sleep patterns will get better with time.
SLEEP TRAINING WITHOUT GUIDANCE
It’s tempting to try sleep training as soon as you feel your little one isn’t sleeping well, or if you’re having problems putting him down for naps. But Chu cautions against implementing sleep training without proper guidance, as well as listening to too much good-intentioned, but conflicting advice.
She noted that sleep training isn’t about letting your baby cry it out, and you walking away hoping that he eventually falls asleep. “Sleep training is like solving a puzzle. It’s important that every single piece of the puzzle is looked into before attempting to put it all together,” she said.
Remember that every baby is different, every family is different, and your baby may take a little longer to settle into regular sleep patterns, so don’t despair.