Of all the questions I get asked about by clients, sleep is the biggest one. It is the most important thing for a family; sleep deprivation really can drive a wedge between partners. But it needn’t be that way. You will have broken nights at times even if your child is a brilliant sleeper – early on babies need to be fed, and as they get older children do get ill and teeth. But any well child can sleep through the night from a young age, if you are willing to persevere and be lovingly consistent with your baby.

A lot of it is very basic stuff, like making sure a baby isn’t going to sleep on an empty stomach or sleeping in a light room. There is also nothing wrong with leaving a child to settle themselves so long as they are safe and not in pain. You don’t need to lay down hard and fast rules but you do need to gently and lovingly establish good sleeping patterns.

There is nothing wrong with leaving a child to settle themselves so long as they are safe and not in pain.

New babies need about 16 to 18 hours sleep in every 24 hours, for the first few weeks. If a baby is premature they may sleep almost entirely through the day before waking up on their due date and wondering what is going on. It is tempting to think if you keep a baby awake in the day it will sleep better at night, but in some ways sleep produces sleep: the better the daytime sleep a baby gets, the more settle he or she will be at night.

The current advice is that a baby should sleep in a parent’s room for the first six months. For me, that is far too long. After a point, baby is disturbed by you and you are disturbed by baby and all the little noises it makes through the night. If a mother is confident and baby is sleeping reasonably well, then it is perfectly OK for them to be in their own bedroom. Parents tend to sleep much better when a baby is in their own room, and that way if baby wakes briefly they will more than likely teach themselves to drift back to sleep. The six months rule just seems to be heaping more fear and guilt on mothers.

What is most important for new parents in the early weeks is that they find somebody who will come and take baby for a walk at some point during the day. You find when new mums get over-tired it’s really hard to switch off, and over-tiredness can produce anxiety. After birth you and baby have both been through an enormous experience. It’s really important to have an hour, if possible, every day or so to relax, and if there is someone who can bring in a hot meal in the early days, I always think that is a wonderful gift.

In the daytime it is important if you are inside not to try to rest in the same room as baby; new mothers are very tuned into find every noise and gurgle and you will not be able to relax.

When new mums get overtired it’s really hard to switch off, and over-tiredness can produce anxiety.

If as the weeks progress you have a baby that doesn’t settle or who is feeding ever hour or so it may be that something needs adjusting. I’m a firm believer in making sure baby has a good feed at every feed – and if that is proving difficult, do seek help – then tucking them down in their cot or in a pram to have a good rest in a soothing environment. If they’re inside make sure the room is dark and not too cold. If you have a garden which is safe, then you can pop baby outside with a net over their pram or buggy.

It’s very common as little ones get on towards a year for them to start waking up early after being good sleepers. What you want is for them to learn when they wake up before 6.30am to resettle themselves. I’d recommend going into their rooms and to lie them down and say ‘no, mummy loves you and its not time to get up yet’. Reaffirm that it is not time to get up. The key is to be firm and consistent. If you do that every morning for a week then baby will be sleeping through again, or they might coo and sing for half an hour before it’s time for them to get up.

If you get them up at 5am then they very quickly get into that habit of thinking ‘If I shout then mummy or daddy will come in and I will get up’, but it is too early for everybody. They’ll shattered by 8am. It takes a bit of sleep training to show them that when they wake up they can turn over and go back to sleep again.

Daily plan for babies from birth to three months

5 to 7am: Your baby may wake up at any time between five and seven. When baby wakes, feed him/her and change his/her nappy.

6 to 8am: Your baby may have been awake for about an hour to an hour and a half, including his/her feed. Swaddle him/her and put back in cot to sleep. During the first two to three weeks he/she may only want to be up for about an hour at a time, sometimes even less. If he wants to feed and settle again, this is fine.

9.30 to 10.30am: Your baby will probably wake up between 9.30 and 10.30. Top and tail him/her (wash his face, hands and bottom). Feed baby. As baby gets older he/she will enjoy having a wakeful time after this feed (probably from three to four weeks onwards).

11 to 11.30am: Swaddle and put him/her down in his cot or pram to sleep. Your baby should now sleep for about two or three hours. This is usually his main daytime sleep and he/she may continue to enjoy it at this time of the day for months to come.

2 to 2.30pm: If your baby hasn’t woken on his/her own, wake them by 2.30pm. Feed him and change nappy.

3.30pm: Tuck baby down in cot or pram to sleep. Your baby will normally sleep for about an hour and a half, sometimes longer if he/she has been more wakeful in the morning. Wake him/her by 5.30pm if still asleep.

5.30pm to 6pm: Bath and feed baby.

7 to 7.30pm: After his/her feed is finished, swaddle baby and tuck into his cot for the evening.

10 to 11pm: Wake and feed if baby doesn’t wake of his/her own accord. Change nappy and settle back in the cot after feeding. It is very important that this feed is a good one, as you want him/her to sleep for as long as possible through the night.

Night feed (optional): This could be any time from 1am onwards, depending on time of last feed. Feed again, making sure baby has a full tummy, then tuck him/her down in cot again. Baby may sleep through until 4am or 5am onwards. It’s best not to wake baby in the night to feed as you want to train them to have one long sleep in 24 hours, and for this long sleep to be in the night. But if they are underweight or jaundiced or unwell, they may need to be woken for a night feed.

As the months go on baby will gradually sleep for longer periods at night and eventually right through to the morning.

‘Sleep Solutions: Quiet Nights for You and Your Child, from Birth to Five Year’ is published by Lion Hudson, £8.99

Rachelsbabies.com

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