Baby sleep is such an enormously contentious topic among mums. We all go through periods of exhaustion, frustration, confusion, sometimes even desperation. It’s difficult to know what advice to trust, and how to get things off to a good start with sleep right from the beginning.
Most importantly, we all want our little ones to have a happy, healthy relationship with sleep. To feel comfortable falling asleep, to sleep for as long as is healthy for their developmental stage, and to wake feeling rested and in a good mood (because a grumpy, tired baby means a grumpy, tired mum too!!).
I’ve pulled together some key tips to help you feel more prepared and confident with your little ones’ sleep.
Be familiar with their cues.
Spend some time getting to know your baby’s cues for sleep, rather than focusing on a schedule. As they grow, their natural sleep schedule will fluctuate. Some days they’ll need much more sleep than others, and that’s perfectly normal and healthy. When they’re in the middle of a growth spurt they may sleep for much longer, for example, because that’s what their body needs. Knowing their cues will prevent the stress of trying to get them to sleep when they’re simply not tired!
Often, our expectations of infant sleep don’t match the reality. They refuse to sleep in that beautiful, carefully selected cot, or can’t stand the fancy white noise machine you bought, for example. Sometimes they will be happy falling asleep at the breast/bottle, others they may only be settled when rocked in a figure of eight whilst you stand on one foot, and recite the alphabet backwards (ok, I may be exaggerating here…). In the same way, we adults don’t always fall asleep in exactly the same way each night, or with the same amount of ease. Be flexible, do some trial and error, and you’ll find their sleep becomes far less of a stress factor.
Do your research on safe infant sleep – co-sleeping, bed-sharing, cot bumpers, sleep positioners, separate bedroom etc. It is crucial to ensure your baby sleeps in a safe space every time. I recommend looking at BASISonline.org.uk for information on safe sleep, and you can follow me (@thegentlemama) for more baby sleep information. There are also some excellent resources out there such as Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Dr Sears and Elizabeth Pantley, who have written evidence based books that protect your little ones’ healthy development.
When setting up your baby or toddler sleep space, think about their ideal sleep conditions (and safety) first. Work your beautiful interior design to fit around that. It’ll save you money and frustration later! You may decide to not even create a nursery until your little one is older and ready to move into their own room. That’s perfectly ok! Babies don’t need beautifully decorated nurseries; they need to be close to their caregiver.
Most importantly, listen to your intuition. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Shut out the clamour of confusing advice from friends, books and social media, and listen to your instincts instead. You know your baby better than anyone else!
Written by British Mum Hayley Bukhamsin, founder of The Gentle Mama (www.thegentlemama.com, @thegentlemama). She is a certified Infant Sleep Educator, specialising in supporting parents to achieve healthier and happier sleep, balance for the whole family, and confidence in their instincts. Her primary motivation is to empower parents to cut through the clutter of confusing advice in order to listen to their own intuition and their babies’ communications.
For the last 5 years, Hayley has pursued this passion actively, building an Attachment Parenting community within the UAE, blogging about her parenting experiences, founding The Gentle Mama and writing for national and international titles including Baby & Child Magazine and The Natural Parent Magazine.
Whilst Hayley’s clients come from all over the world, she and her husband have lived in Dubai for 6 years, where they have two daughters, aged 5 years and 18 months.
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