Sleep is a very important part of a baby’s daily routine. But has it been a part of yours too? We peak to a few experts and finds out what are the best ways to ensure that you and your baby get the sleep that you both need every day
Newborn babies do follow an erratic sleep pattern at the beginning. If they’ve slept for most of the day, they usually won’t sleep through the night—which means you end up being sleep deprived too. By simply planning for this phase, you will not only make things less stressful for you and your spouse, but you will also be able to set healthy sleep patterns for the child. At the end of the day, well-rested babies make happy babies, and well-rested parents also make happy and better parents. Here are a few things that you can do to ensure your baby sleeps well, and so do you.
SET A BEDTIME ROUTINE FOR YOUR BABY
Plan her nap times and establish a bedtime routine. Help her follow these, so that she gets used to a sleeping pattern. Plus, if your baby follows a schedule, it will be easier for you to find time to get some rest. Clinical psychologist Dr Brunda Amruthraj explains, “A typical bedtime routine could include singing a lullaby, gentle rocking, letting the baby suckle on a nursing bottle or a sipper, and switching off the lights.” She adds, “A nap routine in the day is similar, but shorter. Rhythm, singing and music work beautifully when you are lulling a baby to sleep.” When your baby naps, you should catch up on your 40 winks too. Dr Sunila Chawla says, “By around five or six months, you should start scheduling nap times, and use your baby as a guide to do this. Typically, a schedule may be 7 am (wake up), 9 am (nap), 1 pm (nap) and 7 pm (bed). The third nap is optional and usually short, which stops once the baby is nine months.” Many believe that babies must limit their naps, so that they will be tired and sleep all night. “But this is not wise,” says Dr Chawla. “A nap is much needed and restorative provided the baby is sitting still and not in a swing or stroller, and if the nap is approximately an hour long.”
ENSURE THAT THE BABY IS COMFORTABLE
Comfortable, dry-bottomed babies sleep better. So ensure that the diaper your baby is wearing is soft and comfortable and is changed before sleep time. Diapers, wet wipes, warm water and baby cream or lotion should always be kept on standby. Make sure that your baby isn’t wearing a diaper for some time during the day, so that his skin can breathe. If there are signs of a nappy rash, consult a doctor. Overdressing the baby is also not advisable. Short cotton wear in the summer, and jumper suits in the winter are perfect, so that the baby’s body temperature is kept stable, and he is not prone to catching a cold or a fever.
CREATE A SOOTHING AMBIENCE
Soundproof your bedroom once your infant is born. This will help cut out all the noise, and keep the room peaceful. Dimming the lights will help your baby to get into the mood to sleep. “A quiet room, where the drapes are drawn, where external sounds are reduced, will help put your baby to sleep,” says child psychologist Dr Ratna Parulkar. “Also, keep the baby happy before sleep time, so that she sleeps longer and more peacefully.”
LET THEM PLAY
“It’s natural for babies to rise early, as they are curious about the big wide world filled with colour and noise. So create simple play activities for you and the child. Rattles, blocks and musical chimes, when used discretely, will keep the baby engaged,” says Dr Chawla.
Dr Vijaya Kumar, a consultant at St Philomena’s Hospital, Bangalore, has conducted research on using play therapy with very young children, including toddlers. She explains that play is a child’s natural medium of self-expression, and natural forms of physical play can be fun and energetic for both the baby and the parent. In fact, this can instill a positive self-image in the baby. “If the weather is not good outside, simply put down a nice big mat, and allow the baby to move around, kick his legs and play with toys. Turn the baby on his stomach and allow him to reach out for soft toys. These activities will make him hungry and a feed of warm milk will ensure that he will have a good nap right after.”
FEED YOUR BABY AT NIGHT
Can a baby sleep at night without eating? Some paediatricians say once babies double their birth weight, they can, while others say one or two feeds up to nine months is normal. Dr Chawla says that for optimum sleep at night, go with what your baby wants. “Every baby’s eating habits vary,” she explains. “Some need to eat on demand, every three to six hours, till they are on solid meals. It’s up to the mum to know what’s best and whether the baby needs to eat at night in order to sleep.”
GIVE A WARM BATH
A warm bath can help your baby sleep well at night. “A light massage and a warm bath, after which your baby is fed and tucked in, will ensure that she sleeps longer and better,” advises Deepa Kumar of Moming, a store for newborns. However, a bath every night might not be the best choice. Dr Chawla says, “Some parents prefer not to bathe the baby every night because the baby may have dry skin, which could dry out even more in the bath.” Also, if your baby is very active, a bath can actually give her a boost of energy instead of relaxing her! So this completely depends on your baby’s—and your own—convenience.
SLEEP WHEN THE BABY DOES
Each child has their own sleep rhythm. As a mum, if you recognise their sleep pattern early, it will help set you both on track. “The baby doesn’t understand that the mother needs to rest; so it’s best to sleep whenever the baby does,” says Dr Amruthraj. Allow the baby to develop a natural sleep pattern in the first few months. Then slowly work towards taking shorter naps during the day, and sleeping for longer hours at night.
It’s okay to have a relative watch your baby, so you can catch up on sleep, do the housework, or just take a hot shower. You and your relative can agree on a daily schedule, so that it does not disrupt activities that revolve around you spending time with the child. However, Dr Amruthraj says, “Don’t feel bad about it if you’re
not ready to let someone else watch your baby.”
WHY SOME BABIES CAN’T SLEEP
• A baby might not be able to sleep, if there is a change in the kind of sounds the baby was used to hearing inside the womb. If the baby in the womb was exposed to loud sounds, she will be able to sleep peacefully in a similar environment.
• If the baby has colic or is very hungry.
• Sometimes, if the baby gets a few hours of very deep sleep during the day, there are chances that he may not be sleepy enough at night. Effects of sleep deprivation
• Inadequate sleep or disturbed sleep cycles could lead to multiple problems in the brain areas of memory and learning. The immune system also gets affected if they haven’t slept properly.
• A Harvard study concluded that too little sleep in babies and toddlers might be linked to obesity.
• Sleep problems could be a symptom of depression too, which is now commonly found in children, as well as adults.
FOR SAFER SLEEP
• Your newborn must be well-wrapped and tucked in close to you before she sleeps. The closeness will induce a sense of warmth and security that is essential to ensure the baby has a natural and relaxing sleep cycle.
• The room must be properly ventilated—not too stuffy or too warm. A gentle fan breeze should be there at all times.
• You can invest in a kangaroo pouch and keep the baby with you at all times. This lulls the baby to sleep when he is tired.
• There has been a lot of research on whether the baby can sleep on her tummy or her back. Both positions are okay. However, there is a condition called SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), the causes of which could be suffocation due to the baby sleeping on her tummy. So the ideal sleep position for the baby should be monitored by the mum. If possible, the baby can also be turned to her side now and then.
(Input from Dr Sunila Chawla, Dr Cajetan Tellis)