Guest article by Emmy Samtani, founder of parenting app, Kiindred
When you ask any new parent what their main challenges are, I can guarantee you that the most consistent theme will be around sleep. Sleep (or lack of) can have different effects on people. Some will get by on a few extra cups of coffee, while others will struggle and need to seek a little extra support.
I’m Emmy Samtani, mother of three little ones and founder of Kiindred. Over the last few years, I’ve learnt a thing or two about babies, thanks to the wonderful experts I get to work with and the community of new parents we connect with each day.
The fact that newborns don’t sleep is nothing new. Well actually – they do sleep – but it’s in much shorter cycles than when they are much bigger. Their tummies are teeny and they will digest their milk and be hungry again in no time – hence the feed/sleep rhythm will be in shorter cycles.
The good news is, babies will generally sleep well anywhere during those first weeks. You will be able to venture out and have your baby fall asleep in the pram or carrier with ease, unlike when they are older and become much more alert.
Your baby’s needs will change frequently in those first weeks and months and there are a few key things to consider that will help you through this time. If you are armed with the right information and support, you will feel much more confident in navigating this special time with your little one.
1. Ensure they’re well-fed
Giving your baby full feeds will ensure that they aren’t waking up due to hunger. In saying this, it is to be expected that they will wake in shorter cycles as we mentioned previously. Providing there is nothing else happening with your little one’s health, by offering a ‘full feed’ you will be able to extend this period somewhere between two to four hourly feeds.
It is extremely easy to fall into 40-minute cycles if you are tired and fall asleep mid feed or the baby falls asleep on you.
Mothercraft Nurse, Chris Minogue says that to ensure your baby is well-fed, you will need to empty one breast completely before offering the second breast. In order to establish if you have emptied your breast completely, you will notice that it is soft. Whilst your baby might not take the second breast, it is a good idea to offer it to them and ensure your baby is satisfied.
If your baby becomes sleepy mid-feed, chances are they’re going to wake up and be hungry again in a much shorter time frame. Whilst it’s tempting to fall back asleep quickly yourself, if you focus on giving your baby a ‘full feed’, then it will extend the time between this and the next feed. This can happen a lot overnight and Chris suggests stimulating the baby with a nappy change or lights/movement to keep them awake and finish the feed.
If you are formula feeding your little one, check in with the clinic nurse or your healthcare professional to seek support on what quantities are suitable for your baby based on their size and weight.
2. Consider their sleeping environment
At around the six-week mark, your baby will become more alert and with that comes a harder period for settling them for sleep. Environmental factors like light and noise will come into play and it becomes more important than previously to put them into their bed in a dark and quiet room for sleep. Whilst the six-week mark is still a little too early for true predictability or self-settling, you can start to create positive sleeping habits by making sure that you've considered their sleeping environment.
From six weeks you can also start to help your baby understand when it is time for their ‘nighttime’ sleep. Chris Minogue suggests following a rhythmic pattern called feed-bath-feed. This is where you feed your baby one breast or half a bottle – bathe them – and then finish the rest of the feed in a dark room to signify that it’s nighttime. This generally falls somewhere between 5:30-7:30pm.
Sure, they may wake again somewhere around 10pm and one to two times overnight but it is still early days and this night ritual will be something that you can consistently carry on for years to come. Those feeds we talk about will just change to dinner – bath – bottle and bed.
3. Understand their awake windows
4. Master the art of wrapping
Another very important factor in those early weeks is wrapping your baby. They have spent their time in utero nice and snug, only to be exposed to this wonderful new world. By wrapping your baby for sleep you will ensure that you can replicate this experience and ensure their arms stay nice and close to the body.
At Kiindred, we have been big fans of the Boody stretchy wrap since the beginning. Not only are they one of the (if not THE) softest wraps on the market, they are generous in size and offer the perfect stretch for containing little Houdinis.
A lot of new parents like to free their baby’s arms once they start fighting out of the wrap but it’s important to keep them wrapped until the 10-12 week mark. This will help with them sleeping for longer as they won’t wake themselves up as a result of the startle reflex.
The most important thing to note with wrapping is that if your baby starts to roll in their cot, it is time to transition them to a sleeping bag.
5. Know how to resettle them
There is quite a lot of discussion around crying-it-out methods and self-settling. The most important thing to note is that helping your baby to ‘self-settle’ or resettle doesn’t necessarily mean ‘crying it out’.
Your baby will go through different periods of alertness and will start waking up after a sleep cycle i.e 40 minutes. By understanding their suggested daily rhythm you will be able to identify catnaps as opposed to their longer morning and afternoon sleeps.
By doing this, you will see which sleeps are best for resettling and extending rather than fighting a losing battle when your baby isn’t going to go back to sleep. It will also help to promote a more predictable routine which babies thrive off. But remember – true predictability is not present until around the 12-week mark.
A lot of people talk about ‘sleep regressions‘ when in fact these are generally periods of new alertness where they may react easier to environmental factors such as light, being in a pram or transferring from the car.
As they reach this stage you will find it much harder to resettle them for sleep, so factor this into your day and find ways to take them out during catnaps versus asleep where you want them to sleep for much longer. The Daily Rhythms will also help you to space out feeding and sleeps so that you can be sure that they aren’t waking because they’re hungry.
Chris Minogue’s resettling technique
A simple yet effective technique for resettling is to pat and shoosh while they are in the cot. You can do this by gently rocking their body whilst patting their bottom and making a shooshing sound. Once they’ve settled you can walk out of the room and stay close by to give them a chance to drift back off to sleep.
If they become too unsettled, go straight back in and reassure them by following the same technique. If your baby becomes too distressed, you can pick them up for a cuddle before placing them back into their bed.
A note on sleeping aids
A dummy can also be an incredibly useful tool for resettling and the rules you put around this are generally up to each parent. You might choose to use this simply for sleep and keep it in the cot at all times. The dummy will then become a cue that it is time for sleep and once they wake up, you can simply keep it in the cot and explain to your baby that ‘dummy stays in the bed’.
Remember through all of this, that those days and nights might feel long but they sure pass by in the blink of an eye. I write this as my youngest of three is about to turn one and I have no idea where that year went. Enjoy your babies and know that you are doing your best at the most important job there is.
Emmy Samtani is a mother of three little ones and the founder of parenting platform Kiindred. Kiindred offers expert guidance, support and inspiration to millennial parents through a range of tech products, including their FREE ‘go-to’ app which delivers content based on your child’s age.