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Erratic sleep patterns

All babies differ in how much sleep they need. During the first month some will feed, stay awake for a short period, then settle easily and sleep well until the next feed. However, if a baby gets into a pattern of not settling and sleeping well in the evening or at night, then a pattern of then of erratic day time and night time sleep can soon emerge, leaving both baby and parents stressed and exhausted. There are can be many reasons why this problem occurs. Once you have ruled out genuine hunger as a cause, and are ensuring that your baby is well fed, I would advise that you try a solution that I call the 'assisting to sleep method'. The aim of this method is to get your baby used to sleeping at regular times during day-tiime naps and in the evening, which in turn will help him to sleep through the night as soon as he is physically able.

After genuine hunger and the wrong sleep associations, I find that too much daytime sleep is the most common reason why a baby does not settle in the evening, or wakes frequently during the night. When this happens a vicious circle soon emerges where the baby needs to sleep more during the day because they are not sleeping well at night. In my experience, the only way to reverse this with a small baby is to assist the baby to sleep. Once their sleep improves in the night, a baby becomes much easier to keep awake during the day, which in turn has a knock-on effect on them sleeping better in the evening and at night. The aim of the assisting to sleep method is to get your baby used to sleeping at regular times during naps and in the evening. Once your baby is used to sleeping at the same times for several days, you should find that you can settle him in his bed with the minimum of fuss.

For this method to work it is important that it is done consistently and by only one parent. During stage one of the method, and for at least three days, do not attempt to put your baby in his bed at nap times or early evening. Instead, one parent should stay in a quiet room with him and cuddle him throughout the whole of the sleep-time.

Try to ensure that he is held in the crook of your arm, rather than lying across your chest. If he is older than two months and is no longer swaddled, it may help to use your right hand to hold both his hands across his chest; in this way, he will not wave his arms around and risk getting upset. It is important that the same person is with him during the allocated sleep time, and that you do not hand him back and forth, or walk from room to room. Once he is sleeping soundly for three days in a row at the recommended times, you should then progress onto the second stage and try to settle him in his bed. It is important to sit right next to his bed, so you can hold his hands across his chest and comfort him. On the fourth night, hold both his hands until he is asleep, and on the fifth night hold only one of his hands across his chest until he is asleep. By the sixth night you should find that you can put him down sleepy but awake in his bed, checking him every two or three minutes until he falls asleep. Do not try to settle him in his bed unless he has been sleeping soundly in your arms for at least three nights. Some babies may take longer than three days to sleep consistently at the recommended times.

When he reaches stage two, where he is settling within 10 minutes for several nights, you should try leaving him to self-settle using the crying down method described on page 352. It will help your baby get used to being happy in his bed if you put him in it for short spells during the day, when he is fully awake, with a small book or toy to look at. For the lunchtime nap, if you prefer, you can take your baby out for a nap in his pram or buggy. The important thing is to try to be consistent; the lunchtime nap should be in the buggy or in the home, but do not switch from one to the other midway through the nap.

Gina Ford © 2017

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