If ever there was a million dollar parenting question, I reckon this would be it.
When I had my first baby, a dear friend’s mum said to me: “When you’re up at night with your baby just think of all the other mums out there who are doing exactly the same thing as you, all around the world.”
It was a lovely thought. But in the dead of the worst sleepless nights, the desire to understand why my baby wasn’t sleeping wreaked havoc with my mind (and my own sleep.)
Drum roll please …
According to parenting and breastfeeding advocate Pink McKay, there are quite a few reasons that account for sleep disturbances in your baby. And in some cases, there are some changes that you can make to temper them.
In a recent Instagram share, Pinky posted a page from her recent book, listing the most common reasons for a wakeful baby.
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Your diet and their playtime habits can affect baby’s sleep
According to Pinky, emotional, neurological and physical milestones can change our baby’s sleep patterns. As can how much “activity” they engage in, which for babies looks a little bit more like “awake time” or floor play, than actual engaged play.
And then there’s diet, meaning the mum’s diet. For example, are you deficient in something or are you drinking too much coffee or eating too much chocolate?
Understanding the “why” your baby is waking more is helpful for everyone, but how do you tackle your own sleep needs? Like, how do you catch up on your backlog of sleep?
Pinky makes some great suggestions via her blog.
Call on your family
Is there someone – your mum, sister or aunt who could come and stay with you for a few days – or you go stay with them?
“Please don’t worry about feeling judged because you aren’t ‘coping’. Most people are only too glad to be involved with a family baby and, if they have had babies themselves, they will understand. You may even be giving them an opportunity to speak about how hard it was for them in their own early days,” writes Pinky.
Engage a postnatal doula
According to Pinky, postnatal doulas are worth their weight in gold. “They’re the next best thing to having your mum to help.”
If you can afford to outsource help, Pinky also says this can help to alleviate feelings that you are “imposing” on anyone you love by asking for what you need. The services postnatal doulas provide include watching the baby while you catch up on sleep, cooking a meal, hanging out washing, and making tea.
Baby sleep specialists are also a good option for families who can afford to outsource their support – even just for a short period to get you back on track. And as Pinky writes, just be careful about who you choose and check their qualifications.
Check out sleep schools
If you can’t afford to bring help into your home, mother-baby units like Tresillian or Karitane are a great option.
As Pinky writes, “If you want to make some changes to the way your baby is sleeping, you may want to ask your GP or baby health nurse for a referral to a mother-baby unit or ‘sleep school’.”
But just a reminder, like sleep specialists, Pinky says it’s important to do your research: “Ask questions about anything that is concerning you. For instance, what do they do? Will sleep training involve leaving your baby to cry? Will you and your baby be checked for any health issues? Will you and your baby sleep in the same room or will you be separated?”
Pinky says questions like this will help you assess the school’s approach – i.e. is it gentle and will it make you feel comfortable?
Sleep is one of the biggest challenges we face as parents of young children and being able to engage the right help will get us halfway there.
Good luck, and may the force be with you.
Need some more baby sleep advice? Our Parent School sleep experts can help. Click to find out more or book a one-on-one session.