7 Common Newborn Sleep Problems and What to Do About Them
Sleep is precious, especially when you are a first-time parent and aren’t getting much. One of the most fundamental parts of keeping healthy is in getting enough sleep. And sleep disturbances can affect the whole family.
Making sure your little one gets the sleep they need is vital for their growth and brain development – not to mention keeping you happy and recharged too.
We’re each unique and so are our children. Parents often see this uniqueness reflected in the way their baby sleeps. For some it comes effortlessly, but for others…. well let’s just say they need some convincing.
A baby’s sleep cycle can naturally establish fairly quickly as their circadian rhythm takes shape, but it can also be unpredictable and inconsistent.
Though this can be stressful and tiring for new parents, it’s likely your little one’s sleep challenges fall into some of the more common categories.
Here are 7 common newborn sleep problems
My baby only falls asleep while feeding
Many parent’s find themselves depending on bottles or nursing to get their baby to sleep at bedtime. This is commonly referred to as a STRONG sleep association. These babies will often need the same thing if they wake in the night because they connect settling with nursing or bottle feeding. This is one of the most common newborn sleep problems.
The first and most effective step to changing this habit is to bring any pre-bedtime feeding forward in the bedtime routine. Gradually teach your baby to go from fully awake — or calm but awake — to asleep on her own without nursing or bottle feeding.
It can be tricky to spot but mastering the “drowsy but awake” sleep cue is key to achieving consistent sleep success. I encourage my clients to think about it as drowsy but calm. So, once you have finished your wind-down routine, you will put your baby into their cot calm but awake.
2. I have to hold or rock my baby to sleep
There are few things quite as precious as holding your baby close. And you can’t spoil a baby with too much of this in the early days. The gentle, rocking motion is as lovely for the parent as it is baby. Plus babies are used to constant movement when inside the womb.
But…it is common to see this taking longer and longer for babies to fall asleep if you hold them.
It is not uncommon to hear of babies who need 1-2 hours to rocking to get to sleep. My arms ache just at the mere thought of it!!!
Rocking quickly becomes a firm habit, as baby learns they need this movement to get to sleep. Over time this means they will not only want to be rocked at bedtime, but they will also want to be rocked back to sleep every time they wake in the night......which is on average 4-6 times for babies over 5 months.
This is not sustainable…
If you have, understandably, reached your limit with holding your child to sleep, it’s time put your baby in their cot or bassinet calm but awake after a soothing bedtime routine. Try switching which parent puts baby to sleep, too. Sometimes baby has a strong sleep association with mum, so see if dad can help out.
At bedtime, hold your baby until they are calm (but awake) and put them down while they are still awake. You can then rest your hand on their tummy, or bat baby’s back or bottom if they need extra soothing.
Repeat this many times until they are asleep.
3. My baby keeps waking so early
Early rising is one of the most common sleep problems with babies. Like night waking, early rising can have many causes. Let’s have a look at them.
The most common reason is that they are really overtired. After some weeks of early morning waking your baby is missing out on a lot of hours of sleep that they biologically need.
This often means that sleep will fall apart in other parts of the day too. Naps for example can often become shorter when babies are over tired.
There’s a common misconception that putting babies to bed much later will help them to ‘sleep in’.
This is a big myth and will perpetuate the overtiredness even more.
In actual fact, the opposite approach is much more likely to help fix the problem.
Go for a really early bedtime for a few weeks (even up to a whole hour earlier) and let their bodies catch up on that lost sleep.
This will help to calm their nervous systems and make falling back asleep in the early hours easier.
The bottom line is that you need to help them to catch up on their sleep. So, offer more naps in the day if you need to for a short time.
4. We are still co-sleeping
Co-Sleeping Is a Very Individual Choice. Some Parents Are Committed Co-Sleepers, While Others Don’t Want to Co-Sleep at All (for a Variety of Reasons). Only You Can Decide when You Are Ready to Transition Your Baby from Bed Sharing or Co-Sleeping. When the Time Comes, I Suggest a Gradual Introduction of a New Sleeping Space. Your Baby Needs to Learn to Be Comfortable without You Right next to Them.
In very young babies, start with naps in their own space. For babies 6 months and over, start by spending ‘play time’ in their room first. Then, either at naps or bedtime, co-sleep with them in their room on a mattress then pick the big night when you decide to put them into their cot, or you decide to sit up at bedtime and lie down with them to get them to sleep.
Once your little one is asleep, leave. Ideally, it should take less and less time for your baby or toddler to fall asleep each night, as she grows more comfortable with the new arrangement.
5. My baby only falls asleep in a swing
Do you have to keep your baby moving to get them to sleep at night or for naps? Do you find yourself awkwardly trying to lower your baby into bed while still swinging or rocking her? Just like babies that need to nurse or bottle feed to sleep, your baby has a sleep association — with motion.
To help your baby learn to go to settle and sleep independently, decrease the amount of motion gradually over the course of a few days/nights. Then try letting your baby sleep in the swing without any motion.
You can also substitute another soothing method — patting, humming, shushing — at bedtime. Then slowly work that out of your bedtime routine. Chances are that because the new soothing method is a newer habit, your baby will let go of it more easily.
6. We are still up so many times in the night
Getting too much daytime sleep and not enough day time feeds is another of the most common newborn sleep problems. This can lead to multiple night feedings. Establishing a flexible but predictable feeding schedule during the day can help your baby get more of their ounces when the sun is up.
Look at how often your baby feeds during the day and how much milk they are getting. Talk to your paediatrician about how much your baby is eating and their overall growth to determine when and if they’re ready to drop their night-time feeding.
If your baby is over six months old and growing well, while still waking frequently at night, it could be they were put to bed overly drowsy.
Are you still rocking, walking, or feeding your baby to sleep? If your baby has any of these sleep associations, they may struggle to go back to sleep as they transition to light sleep throughout the night.
Going to bed overtired from short naps or a late bedtime can be another cause for middle of the night waking and requires working on daytime sleep. Speak to a lactation consultant about your supply if you plan to nurse past when your baby drops night feeds and have concerns about maintaining your supply.
7. Our baby was sleeping well, and now we are up all night again!
It’s very discouraging when your baby, who was finally sleeping well day and night, is suddenly waking early from her naps and up all night you. Sleep regressions happen frequently in a baby’s first 2 years.
Parents often describe being caught totally off guard: you think you have conquered all your baby’s sleep challenges, when suddenly, out of nowhere, you’re back to constant night waking. Frustrating, to say the least!!
As your baby gets older, they’re going to need fewer naps. These fluctuations can affect their overnight schedule as well.
Vacations, teething, illness, or other changes in routine can disrupt your baby's shut-eye schedule. Also the introduction of solids can cause changes to your little one’s sleep. Knowing the foods that we should be including allows us to plan some simple and tasty meals for our children, giving them the best possible nutrition for optimal sleep.
So, there you have it. The seven biggest and most common sleep problems that I see parents struggling with.
But whilst they might be common, they are definitely fixable which is of course great news.
In my experience these sorts of problems are best to get onto fairly quickly as they often don’t just correct themselves without a little bit of help from you.
And a little bit of help can mean so much more sleep for the whole family!
For a free 15-minute consultation, LET'S CHAT.
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