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Top Tips for early morning waking by Gina Ford

I believe that how parents deal with early morning waking during the first few months will help determine whether their baby will become a child who is an early riser. Hunger should always be looked at as the first cause of a baby waking too early, and once you are sure that it is not the problem, look carefully at daytime sleep habits (your sleep diary will help here). Other possible causes of early waking include nappy rash and teething.

  • With babies under two months, too small a feed in the middle of the night (between 1am and 5am) is often a cause of early morning waking. The middle-of-the-night feed should never be reduced until the baby has shown that he can sleep happily to 7am for at least one week. Then it can gradually be reduced every few nights by a small amount provided he is sleeping through to 7am and continues to gain weight.
  • With babies between two and four months who are sleeping through most of the night, too small a feed at 10pm is often the cause of early waking, so they should be offered a top-up of expressed or formula milk from a bottle if they are emptying both breasts.
  • During the first few weeks, a baby who is feeding at 2-2.30am may wake around 6am and genuinely need to feed. However, it is essential to treat this feed like a night-time feed. It should be done as quickly and quietly as possible, in the glow of just a small night-light and without talking or eye contact. The baby should then be settled back to sleep until 7-7.30am. If possible, avoid changing the nappy as this usually wakes the baby too much.
  • During the first 2-3 months it is important to have the baby fully awake for the 10pm feed for at least an hour. Once the baby is sleeping through regularly to 7am for at least a week, you can gradually cut back on the time he is awake at 10pm. Reducing it by 10 minutes every three nights , provided he continues to sleep through to 7am, will ensure that he does not end up waking earlier.
  • Once the baby is over four months old, is only taking a small feed at 10pm, is awake for only 20 minutes and solids are well established, this waking time can be dropped. Once the 10pm feed has been dropped, it is important to encourage your baby to stay awake until 7pm.
  • When the baby is over four months, parents often drop the 10pm feed before he is taking solids. Ensure that your baby is well established on solids for at least two weeks and taking only a very small feed before dropping the 10pm feed. Once he drops it, he may also start to wake up early because he is not getting enough to eat at the 7pm feed, If so, offer him a top-up after this feed.
  • Between six and 12 months nearly all babies are well established on three solid meals a day and three milk feeds. Provided a baby is receiving the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit, plus three full milk feeds a day, he should not be waking up because he is hungry.
  • Between six and nine months many babies who have slept regularly to 7am will often start to wake up earlier in the morning if you have not pushed the morning and lunchtime nap on to 9.30am and 12.30pm. If your baby is starting to wake up earlier and earlier, try gradually moving his first nap of the day forward by five minutes every three or four days so that he will eventually be happy to go down later for his middle-of-the-day nap.
  • If your baby is waking early and sleeping 1-2 hours in the morning and only one hour in the afternoon, gradually cut back on his morning nap by 10 minutes every 3-4 days, until he is sleeping no more than 30-- minutes. This should have the knock-on effect of him sleeping longer in the afternoon and prevent over-tiredness keeping him awake later. If he will sleep for only an hour or less at the second nap, try offering him a small drink of milk, water or well-diluted juice before he goes down in case thirst is preventing him from sleeping longer at this time.
  • Avoid using a night-light or leaving the door open.
  • All babies under six months sleep better if tucked in securely. Babies who work their way up the cot and get out of the covers will benefit from being put in a lightweight, 0.5 tog 100 per cent cotton sleeping bag and being tucked in with a sheet.
  • Once a baby starts to move around the cot and is capable of rolling, I would advise that you remove the sheets and blankets and use only a sleeping bag suitable for the time to prevent coldness waking him up.
(from Gina Ford's Top Tips for Contented Babies and Toddlers)

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