Sleep (or lack of it) is a big issue for a lot of parents – something which I can definitely relate to right now as I sit typing this at 4am having been kicked repeatedly on the inside by Pippin and the outside by Bubby D to the point that I was too wide awake to carry on lying in bed.
So it’s no wonder that anyone who can offer some solutions for a better bedtime and satisfying sleep is in high demand!
Jo Tantum, with over 26 years experience working with babies, families and sleep is frequently hailed as the UK’s leading baby expert when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. And I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to chat to her prior to her attendance at the Baby Show this weekend (she’ll be up on the Main Stage every day as well as on stand N18 along with her Sleep Angels) to discuss some common sleep issues and how to deal with them.
First off – newborn babies. Often they fall asleep feeding or being burped and it’s tempting to just lie them down in their crib or moses basket. Is it ok to put them down still sleeping or should you wake them up a bit?
Jo says: It’s best to rouse them a little bit – sit them up on your knee, tickle their ears or behind their knees, gently blow in their face. Always try and wake them 15 minutes before next feed too, so they get a bit of awake time during the day – change their nappy, have a bit of eye contact. This can really help with nighttime, helping to make a distinction between times of day and also promoting better nighttime sleep. Of course, on some occasions your newborn may be sleepy and fairly impossible to wake!
With a newborn shortly to be featuring in our lives, this is definitely something I’ll be giving a go!
Moving on to older babies (6 months plus) – how to encourage consistency with night waking (for example, with a baby who wakes two times a night for feeds but never generally at the same times), and are there any tips for self settling?
Jo says: Babies aged 6 months plus usually don’t need a feed during the night, it just becomes a habit. As they are coming through light sleep, they tend to set an internal clock and will wake.
One of the first things to make sure of is that they are having good naps in day and can settle themselves to sleep.
When they do wake in the night, try just leaving them for 5 mins. Usually they will be really sleepy and tend to go back to sleep if you let them. However, if they don’t settle, try and soothe them in the cot rather than picking them up. Pat their chest, gently rock them. Or, give them a quick cuddle. Continue doing that for 15-20 minutes. If after that they are still wanting a feed, give just a small amount – a few minutes if breastfeeding or just a couple of ounces for bottle fed babies. This all helps them realise nothing is going to happen when they wake, and encourages them to get back into deep sleep.
And how to encourage a baby to self settle?
Jo says: Naptimes are really important. A baby having a sleep prop (such as being fed to sleep or being rocked) gets more and more difficult as they get older and teaching your baby how to sleep in their cot in daytime can be a lot easier than tackling it at night. Take a look at what times they are getting tired and write a log – and don’t put them down when overtired. Pat them in their cot, make a loud shhh-ing noise. Additionally, have a curved hand when patting rather than a flat one, more like a gentle pushing than patting. These can all help encourage a sleepy baby to go to sleep and settle themself rather than needing someone else to help them.
7pm is a good time to try putting a baby to bed, as they are generally quite sleepy and can be patted in their cot rather than rocking or feeding.
And finally – how do you deal with increasingly complicated night-times when you have more than one child to worry about?
I had a couple of questions I was keen to get an answer to – how to promote a good night’s sleep when you’ve got two or more babies or children sleeping in the same room, and how to deal with older toddlers and children who keep on sneaking back into their parent’s bed!
For two little ones sharing a room, Jo says: get a wave machine – or something that plays soothing sounds consistently. If there is a consistent calming noise happening brain clicks into that, and anything that happens above that sound the brain doesn’t tune into.
Staggered bedtimes for getting them to sleep in the first place can also help. It takes 15 minutes to drop into a deeper sleep state, so try and leave at least 15 minutes between settling the first child and the next.
And in regard to bed thieves? Jo says: Consistency is the key. Try using a sticker chart reward programme by their bed or cot – they need some positivity going into staying in their own bed rather than all the attention being focused on when they turn up in a different one! A lucky dip with 99p store stuff can work well – when they stay in bed and have been good they get a present.
If they do leave their bed, return them straight into their room and don’t say much – ‘still nighttime, love you’. Nights 3 and 4 can be quite difficult, but after a few days there should be an improvement.
And in regard to a newborn entetering the mix, older children will be upset if the baby goes to bed later than them. Make sure everyone has a bedtime story together, say goodnight to the baby, say goodnight to the older children, then tend to baby once the others are settled.
All very interesting, and I can definitely see how what Jo is saying makes sense! With only 5 weeks to go until Pippin is due I’ll be giving this a go straight away to try and make bedtimes easier once we become a family of five…
…and of course that’s only a small number of questions in a giant pool of potential sleepytime problems.
If you’ve got your own questions you’d like answers to, you can bring them along to the Baby Show and have the opportunity to get some advice from Jo yourself! Plus there is a whole range of information about Jo and her Sleep Angels (who provide tailored support in your own home) on her website: www.jotantum.com
Thank you very much to Jo, and I look forward to reporting back in a few weeks time how our bedtimes are going!