Why won't my baby sleep through the night?
There are all sorts of reasons why your baby may be waking through the night. She may need a feed, she may want your comfort and reassurance during the night. Teething can also upset your baby’s routine and sleep patterns.
If your baby is waking in the night, your own sleep pattern will be disturbed. Feeling sapped of energy and constantly tired as a result may make it hard to function, as well as make you more prone to depression.
Of course, many babies continue to wake through the night for many months, even when they're not hungry. If you can cope with the night-time interruptions, then you may wish to wait and let your baby sleep through the night in his own time. But if you're finding it hard to cope with the lack of sleep, and it's affecting how you parent your baby, it may be time to try something new.
What can I do to help my baby settle?
These tactics may help your baby to sleep better when she's as young as 6 weeks old. Try to be consistent, even at weekends.
- Make daytime feeds social and lively, and night time feeds quiet and calm. This will help your baby to set her body clock and learn the difference between day and night.
- Give your baby the chance to fall asleep on her own. You can start this as early as 6 weeks as your baby’s natural circadian rhythms, or the ‘sleep-wake cycle’, which helps regulate her sleep, start to develop. Put her down on her back when she's sleepy, but still awake. If you rock or feed your baby to sleep she may start to depend on it, rather than be used to settling herself.
- Set a short and simple bed time routine from about three months. It helps to encourage some quiet time half an hour before you start your routine. Turning off the television and winding down activities will set the scene and help your baby to relax.
- Start with a bath and then pop your baby into her pyjamas. Follow with a story or lullaby. You could also try giving your baby a calming massage. A consistent bedtime routine will gradually let your baby know that it’s time to go to sleep. Finish the bedtime ritual in the room where your baby sleeps (your baby should sleep in the same room as you for the first six months). This routine should last no longer than about 30 minutes.
- If your baby is over six months old, give her a security object, such as a baby blanket or stuffed animal. At around six months or seven months, your baby begins to become aware of separation from you, so having a familiar object in her cot can be comforting at night. Don’t give your baby a comforter or soft toy if she’s younger than six months, as this can pose an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Before putting the toy in her cot, keep it near you for a while so it smells of you. If you’re breastfeeding, you could try expressing some breastmilk on a small piece of muslin. Babies have a strong sense of smell, and when she startles awake, the smell of you will calm her down.
- Wait to see if your baby settles by herself, if she is four months or five months old. By this age she’s likely to need fewer night feeds and may be able to sleep for longer. If she's crying after you put her down, listen for a few seconds before you go to her, as this gives her time to try to settle herself. If she continues to cry, go to her and pat her gently and tell her everything's fine, but it's time for sleep. Then leave the room and wait for a couple of minutes, then check again. If after the third or fourth try, you still feel she's getting distressed, you may want to pick her up to check she's all right. If all is well, repeat the process.
What sleep training methods can I try?
If you think your baby is ready, you may want to try the controlled by crying method, which means leaving your baby for a few minutes before returning, but extending the time you leave her between each visit. Experts suggest starting with intervals of two minutes and gradually working your way up to intervals of 10 minutes.
It can be hard to leave your baby crying, even if it’s for just a short period. Be reassured that a lot of research has been carried out on controlled crying and its effects on babies. The research found that it doesn’t cause harm to your baby and it can help your baby sleep. However, you shouldn't leave your baby to cry for long periods at night.
If controlled crying isn’t for you, and for many parents it isn’t, there are lots of other approaches you could try to help your baby sleep.
One small study focused on letting parents choose when they comforted their baby, instead of setting strict intervals. The parents were told to gradually reduce how much they went in to comfort their baby, at their own pace. The results showed improved sleep for both babies and parents.
The following strategies may also help:
- Cuddle up if you'd like your baby to sleep in your bed. Comfort her so she knows it's time for sleep. Lie down together and cuddle her, pretending to sleep, firmly letting her know its bedtime. But make sure you are aware of how to make co-sleeping safe. If your baby is 6 months are yougner, it's safest for her to sleep in a cot next to your bed.
- Share the role of comforter with your partner, so both of you can help your baby fall back to sleep. Once your baby is old enough not to need a night-time feed, she can learn to be comforted by your partner. She may stop needing anyone when she learns there's no food involved.
- Tune in to your baby’s needs. During the day, you could make her feel secure by baby wearing. If she wakes in the night, try to work out why. Is her nappy full? Are her night clothes comfortable? Has she got a cold?
If your baby is still waking after you've tucked her in, her age may have something to do with how well she settles. So try to adapt your approach to her stage of development.