Small children need a lot of sleep. It is estimated that a newborn sleeps about 16 hours per day. It makes me wonder, though, why parents are tired to the bone due to the lack of sleep and unsuccesfully try to soothe their children to sleep.
Most problems with small children’s sleep arise from the simple fact that we want them to sleep when it is convenient for us. And they just won’t cooperate! We believe that people should sleep at night (that’s when we want to sleep!) and expect our children to have regenerative naps during the day (which give us a little time for ourselves). On top of that, we would like the baby to sleep in their own bed.
But reality is totally different. The child doesn’t sleep but naps, not in their bed, but on your stomach and is mainly active at night.
Why is it so and can we do anything about that?
When they are 0-3 months old
A newborn doesn’t know the difference between night and day. They get tired fast, even while breast feeding - an activity that engages them for hours each day. They need to be close to their mothers, they need their smell, warmth, the sounds of her body (heartbeat, breathing, stomach gurgles); all this makes them feel as before the birth, when their life was simple and comfortable. During these first 3 months babies adapt to life on outside the womb. They learn how to breathe, suck, swallow, digest and excrete. They are getting used to the feeling of clothes and nappies on their skin, to temperature and humidity. They receive a lot of stimuli, and although they still don’t consciously register them, they are all processed. Newborns’ brains work in the overdrive mode and require regeneration. And that’s why babies sleep so much. However, newborns also wake up often, due to the limited capacity of their small stomachs, and any food that gets there is quickly digested anyway. Hunger and the need to be close to their mothers make babies wake up crying.
What should we do?
During the first weeks after birth try to follow the child: sleep or nap when they do. You need to regenerate, which is still difficult to do at night, so take naps during the day. For now, forget about cleaning, receiving guests, etc.: now your health and strength are the most important. Don’t hesitate to ask family or friends for help. Perhaps someone can take the child for a walk and you will lie down and catch an hour or two of sleep?
Little by little, introduce a regular rhythm of the day. For now, walks and bathing, together with all their accompanying rituals, will be the main points of the day. Feed on cue between these “events.” It’s still too early to regulate the rhythm of feeding, there will be time for that in the future.
At night, when your baby wakes up and wants to eat, don’t switch on bright lights and avoid making too much noise. Slowly teach your child that night is the time of peace and quiet, while day is the time of activities. Unless the nappy is soaked or dirty, wait with changing until the morning.
If your child suffers from the colic, regulating their daily routine should be your priority! Don’t invite guests and avoid visiting crowded and noisy places. Try out Whisbear the Humming Bear, which calms babies and facilitates falling asleep.
When they are 4-6 months old
An infant registers more external stimuli, such as sounds and lights: the barking of a dog, leaves rustling in the wind, children shouting at a playground. They find sleeping during walks difficult and wake up often at night. During this period you actually notice how noisy your neighbours are and firmly believe that car alarms should be banned. When, after an hour of soothing, you see your baby’s eyes slowly close, you are the happiest person in the world. A minute later when a phone rings, waking the baby up, you could kill the calling person with your bare hands.
Feeding during the day becomes a problem. Your baby is easily distracted, turns their head, stops sucking. But at night they could just suck and suck. They wake up often and so you can’t sleep either.
Frequent night feeding is now important and necessary. Food produced at night is rich in fatty acids, which are required for brain and sight development and provide energy for daily acitivities. It is a difficult time for the feeding mum, but by feeding her baby, she makes sure they get what’s best for health. It is an investment into the baby’s intelligence, memory, constitution and correct development. The fact that an infant wakes up often does not necessarily mean that they’re hungry and need feeding. Giving them a bottle with formula is not a good solution. Mother’s milk is much more nutritious and especially important and needed at that developmental stage (and others as well).
What should we do?
First of all, keep telling yourself that this is only a stage that will pass. Children are like that. Maybe not all children, but it seems that yours is. It is better to accept that fact, learn the reasons and meet the needs: the child’s and yours.
If your child is cranky during walks and doesn’t want to be in the pram, try carrying them in a sling or a soft baby carrier. Babies get angry when laying flat in their pram, because they are unable to observe the world, which is so interesting! And it is still too early for a stroller and the half-seated position. Slings are great, since not only do they allow children to observe the world, but also they make hugging the parent easy. And when tiredness takes over, the child can easily shut off the stimuli and take a nap.
When your baby is cranky and unable to calm down, try using Whisbear the Humming Bear.
At night feed on cue, possibly while lying down, so you can rest at the same time. Make your bed a secure place (no heavy pillows or duvets, a lot of space and good protection against rolling off the bed) and feed while napping.
When they are 7-12 months old
During this period the infant is slowly beginning to understand that they and their mother are not one organism. That they can separate. This awareness is both tempting (you can crawl away to explore the world!) and scary (but we’d better keep our mum in sight!). This is how the so-called “separation anxiety” begins. A difficult period for mothers, as if they had it easy before... The baby does not want to be away from them, also at night.
In the second half of the first year, sleep at night might be disturbed by teething. It’s a painful process that might be accompanied with high temperature, crankiness, lack of appetite, and even runny nose (irritated mucous membrane) and diarrhea.
Finally, there is one more factor interfering with the willingness to lie down and sleep: the ability to stand up. The moment the baby can sit, heave themsleves to sitting or standing position by using furniture etc., making it lie down is almost impossible. And even if, it doesn’t last long. Down-up, down-up, down... When they eventually fall asleep, they keep moving, turning around like a clock hand, adopting the strangest positions and throwing the blanket off moments after you cover them.
What should we do?
Perhaps it will be easier to survive when you realize that the child is not trying to manipulate you or make life difficult for you. Their behaviour (waking up, trouble with falling asleep) arises from their natural needs.
Moreover, don’t forget that although at this stage the child prefers their mother, the father is perfectly able to do everything (except breastfeeding) the mother can. And he should be a part of the baby’s life, for their mutual benefit. Don’t give up, don’t lose hope.
When you baby starts eating solid food, try giving them something nutritious for supper, for example porridge or a banana. Thanks to that there is a chance that they will feel hungry - and wake up - a bit later than usually.
Take care to keep the rhythm of the day regular: meal times, walks, baths, naps. Children need this routine, it provides them with the feeling of security. And the safer they feel, the better they sleep at night.
During this period you can still use Whisbear the Humming Bear. Its shushing noise soothes also older infants and toddlers.
To alleviate the pain of cutting teeth, use gum relief gel, and if the symptoms are very severe, consult your paediatrician, who may allow you to give paracetamol (the dose should correspond to the baby’s age and weight).
If your baby squirms at night a lot, instead of covering them with a blanket, put them into a sleeping bag.
If your baby wants to sleep only with the nipple in their mouth, delicately but firmly teach them not to. They may fall asleep while sucking, but the mother shouldn’t be forced to stay in the uncomfortable position for the entire night.
When they are one year old or older
You thought that infancy was the most difficult stage? Well, 1-year-olds are not programmed to sleep through the night. Well, most of them. It is especially difficult when the mother returns to work and the baby uses nights to make up for the lost time. And it’s not only about hugging and being close! Now they want to play, read books or even eat lunch at 2 a.m.
It is also difficult to soothe to sleep someone who can escape from bed and actually run. Weaning might be also difficult, especially if the child learnt to fall asleep only during breastfeeding...
What should we do?
Don’t listen to people saying that “a child that old should sleep alone.” Don’t try the “crying out” or “2-5-7” methods, they distort relations and the feeling of security, make children very stressed, which influences the development of the nervous system.
Try sticking to the rhythm of the day. Check how much your child sleeps at day - perhaps too much? Make sure the baby actively spends time outdoors. In the evening offer calming activities, reading books and rituals (e.g. massage). Establish evening “duty”, fathers can also put children to bed.
Just like you, most parents dream about having at least one night of uninterrupted sleep. On the one hand, you’re probably missing the times when it was possible to watch a film in the evening.
On the other hand, the things happening around you are as unique as your child. There is no greater proof of trust as the moment when your child hugs you close, relaxes and drifts away into sleep.