For the first few months of a baby’s life your baby has three basic needs - feeding, sleeping and love. A well fed baby is generally a happy baby. ‘Nutrition’ then is the first and most important need of a baby, for without it you will not succeed in accomplishing the second which is ‘sleep’. Right from the beginning we need to put into place good eating habits.
If your baby feeds well, they will generally sleep well.
Feeding a baby to sleep is not a good idea, as they begin to associate feeding as a technique to get them to sleep. It is also a very hard habit to break when they are older.
You may also find that your baby will fall asleep on the breast or bottle and not complete a feed. This will cause them to be hungry quicker and usually leads to catnapping and snacking. Try to keep baby awake during and after the day feeds as this encourages baby to sleep for longer periods between feeds and feed well when it is feed-time this in turn leaves time to play before going back to bed. Keep to the guidelines of – feed, play then sleep.
‘demand-feed’ Many mothers fall into a trap with demand-feeding because they believe demand-feeding means feeding their child every time they cry. A well-fed baby will, of its own accord, begin to ‘demand-feed’ every 3½ - 4 hours within the first few weeks of birth.
Ask Yourself the Following
Is my baby crying because they are hungry or is there some other reason for their cry?
Is he/she unsettled because they are over tired, over stimulated, uncomfortable or in pain, or have they woken and just needs to be resettled?
When was the last feed? Even breastfed babies will go 3 - 4 hours between feeds. Calculated the time from the beginning of the last feed to the start of the next feed. If your baby wakes after having less than an hour’s sleep, it is advisable to resettle him/her.
How long did baby nutritively feed for? A breastfed newborn may take up to 45 mins to feed well. If baby falls asleep on the breast, wake them up by tickling the toes, undressing them, or using a wet cloth on their face. As baby gets older, they will become more efficient and quicker to feed. Bottle-fed babies usually take a shorter time to feed, but they too should not be given small feeds regularly but should be fed their full quota every four hours. (The amount baby is needing goes on their weight not on their age as indicated on many of the formula tins)
Baby’s Sleep Cycle
Understanding baby’s sleep cycle will help you understand why they wake and when to resettle. The sleep cycle of a baby is usually thirty to forty-five minutes. During each sleep cycle we have Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep, which is when we enter our deep sleep. Every baby’s progression Non-REM is different, with some it takes as long as twenty minutes to enter a deep sleep. Others reach their deep sleep quickly and stir after twenty minutes. We all wake briefly after our deep sleep; this is where many of the difficulties of resettling begin. Most of us do not even remember waking; others such as light sleepers, will wake and resettle themselves. A baby may stir, and even cry, as he/she wakes. If parents are not aware that their baby needs to be resettled at this time, they are often picked up, offered a feed or encouraged to have time up. This pattern repeated day after day will reinforce to the child the need to wake up and stay awake after only a short nap instead of learning to self settle.
Why is Sleep so Important?
Sleep is a basic physiological need. It is crucial for our health because when we sleep, our body repair and restore themself. Lack of sleep for babies therefore hinder growth, robbing their body of the vital rest needed for energy to grow. More than at any other period of our lives the first five years is crucial for physically development therefore the need for large blocks of solid sleep. This growth is also seen in the development of our brains. Consequently sleep deprivation in children may hinder physical and mental development. Not only does sleep effect baby’s growth and development but a child who sleeps well tends to be happier, more settled, healthier and easier to manage both day and night.
Parental sleep is also important. During the night, if your child sleeps soundly in between feeds, you are more likely to be able to cope with waking to feed them. A rested parent has a happier frame of mind and can manage the challenges of parenthood. An unsettled child, who wakes several times during the night to be settled or fed, can cause sleep deprivation which affects the whole family. Older children in the family may also be affected either directly through disturbed sleep, or indirectly through lack of attention and irritable parents. Parents who are up during the night may need to sleep or rest during the day to catch up on their sleep. This can be difficult if you have more than one child.
Some Myths Regarding Sleep for Babies
During my practice as a mothercraft nurse I have heard of many beliefs and myths surrounding sleep for babies and toddlers. Here are some of them.
Myth: Not all babies and toddlers need to sleep during the day.
All babies and toddlers need daytime sleep but amounts of sleep vary depending on their age
Myth: Babies that sleep well at night don’t need long sleeps during the day.
Some babies catnap during the day and fall asleep exhausted at night sleeping sometimes six to eight hours. This often changes. A baby who has not learnt to self-settle during the day often begin to wake several times during the night and demand assistance to resettle.
Myth: Catnaps and night waking are just ‘phases’ babies/toddlers outgrow.
Some babies and toddlers need to learn how to sleep. If they develop a bad sleeping pattern, it may become a lifetime habit which can affect them even as adults in the form of insomnia.
Myth: Changing from breast to formula or starting your baby on solids will help them to sleep better and longer.
There is no guarantee or evidence that either will work if a child has never learnt to self settle.
Myth: Babies need to be picked up in they are unsettled as they may need their nappy changed or to be burped.
Babies were born out of a wet environment are not disturbed by wet or dirty nappies. Wind doesn’t disturb a baby. It is not wind that causes discomfort otherwise why is it that a baby, who isn’t crying, can have a huge burp after being picked up from a sound sleep? It is usually something more than just wind that unsettles a baby.
Myth: All babies have an unsettled period ‘the witching hour’ or ‘arsenic hour’.
I disagree with this as parents who have kept their babies to a good sleep routine do not have an unsettled period unless there is something upsetting the baby such as over handling, poor feed, reflux, teething, an infection or they have never learnt how to self settle.
Signs of a Possible Sleep Problem
Sleeping for less than an hour or “catnapping” during the day.
Frequent night waking.
Needing external assistance to go to sleep - nursing, cuddling, rocking or feeding to sleep or a dependency on a dummy or pacifier is often a sign of a sleep problem.
Frequent waking with small feeds - often just snacking or comfort sucking.
So wrapped up in our doting love for our baby is the understanding that they need to feed well and be encouraged to sleep well. When you have these elements right you are on the right track to having a contented baby.
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Disclaimer: Article on our website are for education purposes only. Please consult with your doctor to make sure this information is right for your child.