Sleeping through the night is one of the most unrealistic expectations a parent can have of a small baby. Only about 30% of babies younger than six months might do so – many won’t. But with insight, compassion and down-to-earth advice, moms will cope well and be able to implement strategies that will greatly improve matters. Success hinges on understanding that very few babies have sleep ‘problems’ – and the same goes for most dads. Moms are usually the sleep-deprived ones, and strategies are aimed at helping her.
Many factors affect how a baby or small child sleeps. Babies that do sleep through from early on are mostly plump, friendly, relaxed little souls, usually taking after relaxed parents and born to a mother with a ‘worry-not’ nature. The more tense, anxious or perfectionistic the parents (especially mom!), the less likely baby is to sleep easily, well and through the night. Triggers like changed routine, teething, immunisation, type of milk and early solid foods are all possible catalysts for unsettled sleep. If one parent is a poor sleeper, baby also has at least a 50% chance of being similar. A mother’s best bet is to be relaxed, not to expect her baby to sleep through – and to find ways of dealing creatively with her own tiredness.
Seven sanity-saving sleep tips
- Baby can fall asleep in his/her own room or bed, but the first time baby wakes after you’ve retired to bed, allow them to sleep with you as he/she (and you!) will sleep far better.
- The earlier parents go to sleep, the better baby sleeps that night.
- Arrange for a sleep-in morning each weekend for mom – dad should take baby away (out of earshot) for 2–3 hours; mom must avoid wondering if dad is coping – this is their special bonding time and is as good for them, as the extra rest is for her.
- Avoid putting babies, toddlers and small children to sleep in front of the TV.
- Don’t count the times a little one wakes at night – pretend it simply doesn’t matter. This way, you relax and they sleep better.
- Don’t strive for absolute silence when baby sleeps – background sounds are relaxing and reassuring.
- Plan ahead for wakeful nights by having everything you might need at hand.
Sleep walkers are often very deep sleepers who also tend to talk in their sleep. Many are also prone to bedwetting for longer than expected, probably because they sleep so deeply that they don’t register their full bladders. Keep a sleep walker safe by ensuring that windows are closed, stairs are secured and all other hazards removed. Give the tissue salt Sister Lilian Kali Phos (one tablet three times daily for a prolonged period) to strengthen the central nervous system.
Medication and sleep
Don’t+ give babies and small children medication to make them sleep as there are many adverse effects, some only noticeable in the long run. Homeopathic remedies like Sister Lilian Rescue Rest help allay anxiety that keep sleep from being peaceful. This remedy should be given three times daily to prepare baby or child for better sleep – it won’t lead to swapping day and night sleep!
Did you know?
If mom is away at work all day, babies often thrive particularly well if they can snuggle up close at night – co-sleeping at night makes up for missing mom during the day.
Sister Lilian’s special sleep recipe
There isn’t a magic recipe to get a baby to go to sleep and stay asleep all night, but if parents follow this wind-down routine each day, they have the best chance of having a contented baby that sleeps as well as his/her nature allows. Adjust starting time to suit your family.
08:00 Give baby one dose Sister Lilian Rescue Rest
13:00 Give baby another dose Sister Lilian Rescue Rest
17:00 Go for a walk – small babies should be taken in strollers, bigger babies allowed to toddle along with mom and dad
17:30 Play physical, boisterous, age-appropriate games – dads are really good at this and the investment they make by taking this parenting task to heart, has enormous returns
17:50 Supper – ensure this is as happy, non-stressful as possible, and don’t insist on a heavy meal or that every scrap is eaten
18:10 Give baby another dose Sister Lilian Rescue Rest
18:15 Bath-time – make it fun
18:30 Massage baby – touch is the language of love and a proven relaxing technique
18:45 Time for quiet play, like puzzles, drawing, building blocks, dressing dolls, etc.
19:00 Story-time – even if baby can’t yet ‘read’ or understand, read or tell a story to tap into the age-old technique of calming baby with the familiar sound of a loved parent’s voice and the cadence of reading
19:15 Time for hugs, kisses and goodnight – lie with baby until asleep or sit alongside your toddler until he notices that you aren’t trying to escape
A study of a traditional Mayan community in Guatemala reveals interesting information. Parents report that their babies and toddlers fall asleep when tired, not according to any preconceived ideas or planned bedtime routine. These Mayan mothers also shared the following points:
- Sleep begins in someone’s arms or in bed with a parent.
- Infants sleep with mother from birth until 2–3 years or when the next baby is born.
- After the birth of the next baby, the previous child sleeps with another child or the father.
- The parents’ preference is to have their baby in the same room they sleep.
- Babies and others have no specific sleep clothes.
- Mothers report NO sleep resistance or other sleep-related problems.
- Need-feeding is the norm, day and night.
- Mayan mothers appeared shocked when hearing of the Western model of separate rooms and beds, considering this as ‘tantamount to child neglect’.
- Closeness between parent and child is seen as setting a good example, as children then care more for others, are socially more adept and considerate within their communities.
Maybe urban South Africans should ponder the possibility that if we alter our sleep expectations and fully integrate our little ones into our lives, sleep would be less of an issue and emotional security more of a given.