We’ve all heard stories about babies not sleeping. We’ve seen new mothers tired because they haven’t had a good night sleep in weeks. When we’re pregnant, we start to think about how tired we’re going to be and how we are going to cope with the late-night feeds and diaper changes. But, whatever stories you’ve heard, you don’t really understand until you’ve lived with your own newborn baby.
In the first six months, a lack of sleep is one of the most common issues new parents face. They struggle with energy. They’re tired and distracted. Their mood suffers. Their relationships become tense. Tiredness can make bonding with your new baby difficult, and if you’ve got other children at home, it can be even worse. Many new moms and dads become frustrated and irritable, and it can make enjoying this wonderful phase of your life much harder than it should be.
It can also be hard on your baby. They need sleep to grow and to develop. They also need you to be at your best. Here’s a lot at 10 of the reasons that your baby might not be sleeping, as well as some ideas of how you can help them.
They Are Hungry
The main reason that babies wake so much is that they are hungry. Whether you are breast or bottle feeding, it’s perfectly normal for your baby to need a feed every 2-3 hours for the first few weeks. These feeds can last for around 30 minutes each, and if you are breastfeeding, you could face cluster feeds every time they have a growth spurt, which can see you feeding more than 15 times a day. Over time, the gaps between feeds grow, as your child’s stomach gets bigger and their growth slows. But, it’s not uncommon to still be waking up for a night feed at six months old, and many babies can’t sleep for a full 12 hours solid until they are closer to one.
They Need Changing
Babies have no control over when they wee or poo. While modern diapers will hold a lot of urine, lots of feeds can mean increased urination, and your baby might be bothered by a wet bottom during the night. Feeding can also stimulate their bowels. So, it’s normal to find that your child is soiling their nappy shortly after they’ve gone back down following a long feed.
They’re Too Hot
New parents are often a little over cautious when it comes to temperature. We see newborns out in their prams with thick coats, blankets, and covers. They also sleep in baby grows, sleepsuits, blankets, and sheets. Then, parents leave the heating on in case it gets cold during the night.
If your baby is fed and changed, and still struggling to sleep, you might be keeping them a little too warm. Which can make them uncomfortable. If you are concerned about the room temperature, buy a wall thermometer.
They Can’t Move
Overwrapping your baby can also mean that they can’t move. We’re often told to swaddle new babies, to help them to feel safe and protected like they were in the womb. Some babies love this, and can only sleep tightly wrapped. But, others find it restrictive and uncomfortable. A grobag can be the ideal solution. It keeps your baby warm while giving them room to wriggle around if they want to.
You might also find that your baby doesn’t like a small crib or moses basket. Some, enjoy the closeness of a smaller sleep environment. But, it’s not for all babies. If yours is struggling to settle, try putting them into a large crib earlier than you had planned.
They’re Too Cold
Of course, if being too hot can keep them awake, so can being too cold. It can be hard to keep your house warm during the night. A smart thermostat can be a big help, but it’s still hard to judge how much the temperature could fall when you are getting them ready for bed.
It’s common for babies to have cold hands and feet, so if you want a true reading of how warm they are, touch their tummy or back. If this is chilly,, they might be too cold to sleep. Newborns especially can have trouble regulating their own body temperatures, so don’t just assume that because they were warm when they went to bed, they will stay comfortable all night.
Their Skin is Irritated
Babies have very sensitive skin. It’s no surprise really. They spend 40 weeks growing surrounded by protective fluids. Then, they come out into the world. They are dressed, they’re surrounded by air pollutants, and their skin can suffer. For the first six months of your baby’s life, their skin is adjusting to the outside world. Read “what is cradle cap” to find out more about the flaky skin on your child’s head, which can itch and become sore and inflamed. Look for the signs of eczema and dry skin. But, also watch out for common ailments like nappy rash and heat rash.
Many skin conditions can be treated by washing your baby in only plain warm water, avoiding chemicals, washing their clothes in non-bio detergent and using a gentle moisturizer. But, you may need to see your doctor if it gets worse and is really bothering your baby.
They Need a Routine
Many parents struggle to know when it’s the right time to start introducing a routine. For the first few weeks, your lives are controlled by their feeds. But, at around six weeks, when feeds start to become further apart, you can begin to think about a routine. Even if it’s still flexible.
Start bathing your baby and getting them ready for bed at the same time every day. Then, settle down for a bedtime feed, story, and cuddles. Put them into bed at the same time, after a relaxing bedtime routine. They might not go to sleep, and they might still wake up often, but having a routine gives them a great chance to start learning how to settle themselves to sleep. Bedtime can start to become a lovely part of your day.
They Are Overstimulated
The opposite of a relaxing routine is overstimulation at bedtime, and this is often why slightly older babies struggle to sleep. If they are running around playing right up until bedtime, or watching loud, bright TV shows, their minds might be too stimulated to settle. Many parents find that their children start to misbehave before bed even as they get older and this is often due to overstimulation. Try to calm things down between dinner and bed, and they might settle down more easily.
They Are Unwell
If your baby is waking up more than usual, seems hot and irritated and doesn’t want a feed, they might be ill. When we’re sick, we take care of ourselves. Babies can’t tell us what is wrong. So, they cry. You know your baby if they seem different and you’re not sure why they might be ill. Try an infant paracetamol to bring down a fever and offer them extra feeds to keep them hydrated. If you are worried, or their symptoms don’t improve, see your doctor, and remember to trust your instincts.
They Are a Baby
It’s important to accept that babies don’t sleep well. Sometimes, it’s not because they are hungry or hot. It’s just because they are a baby, they are new to this world, and it’s all a little scary. They don’t know how to sleep yet, and they need you to help them. Sometimes, they just need their mom.