Why is it happening and what can you do?
The first most frequent question/query about a baby’s sleep I get is this.
‘Every time I put my 5 week old baby down once she has fallen asleep on me, she immediately wakes up. Why? I am just so exhausted!’
Why is this happening?
This is a typical and tough situation for parents who are desperately tired and just want a few minutes to themselves. The fact is that babies like to be close to their caregivers. It makes them feel safe and secure. When a baby is in your arms they feel your warmth, smell your scent and can hear your heartbeat. Just like they did before they were born. You are not spoiling them by holding them a lot or creating a ‘rod for your own back’. We are in the ‘carry’ mammal species group like monkeys and gorillas, so a baby preferring to be held a lot is a normal biological instinct. A baby spends 50% of their sleep in light active sleep so can easily stir when moved.
So what can you do?
Try carrying them in a sling or baby carrier. This has the double effect of meeting your babies needs and freeing up your arms to do something else. Young babies sleep well when they are being carried.
Once winding them after a feed try holding them in a horizontal position. You could also rock them in this position. This might make the transfer to a cot or a bed easier as they will be this position for sleeping. A lot of babies will wake if you have been holding them upright for a while and then try to place them down in their cot.
Consider co-sleeping for all naps, maybe you might get a short power nap as well. Remember to follow the safe co-sleeping guidelines https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/co-sleeping/.
Try swaddling as some babies love to be swaddled as they find it very soothing.
Have a pre-nap and bedtime routine. At the beginning it will not make much difference to the settling process but as your baby gets older they will start to associate it with the expectation of sleep. It doesn’t need to have many stages or be too long. For the nap it could be a simple lullaby and the bedtime a massage and a lullaby.
Get the other parent or family member involved in trying to settle them. This frees you up for a bit and if you are breast feeding your baby can smell your milk. This could be unsettling them more as they will naturally want to start rooting, so give them to a non-lactating person if you feel they are showing signs of tiredness and you are struggling to settle them.
The second most frequent question/query I get is this.
‘I have an 8 week old who has no routine with when he wants to feed or sleep. Why is this? Shouldn’t he be on a schedule now? My friend’s baby is!’
Why is this happening?
It is normal for a parent to feel overwhelmed and confused by a young baby’s very random sleep/wake/feeding pattern. Every day and night can be totally different from the other. It’s certainly tough to manage especially when you are sleep deprived.
Babies often don’t follow a consistent pattern of feeding, sleeping or when they are awake until 4-6 months of age.
This is due to many things. The rapid growth rate that occurs during this age group means that they require frequent feeds to meet their energy needs. The milk taken is quickly metabolized so they will require feeding again some 2-3 hours after the last feed.
They have shorter and lighter sleep cycles then we do.
The master body clock which is located in the brain is not mature yet. This amongst other things regulates the awake and sleeping cycles. This is known as the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm matures at 6 months of age and it is often after this age that sleeping patterns become more consolidated both day and night.
So what can you do?
Be baby led and feed responsively. Your baby is totally capable of regulating their own appetite. If there are days when the amount of feeds increases consider if there is a feeding problem with the latch etc or are they having a growth spurt.
Look out for tired signs and try to facilitate sleep.
Try to spend time outside each day. Broad spectrum daylight is good for us all as it helps to regulate our circadian rhythm.
Floor time, to give them opportunity to use their new skills. Physical activity has a positive impact on sleep.
Try not to compare them with other babies. Yes some babies do seem to fall into a pattern at a young age but most don’t!
Have a bed time and pre-nap routine. Bedtime routines have been proven to positively affect sleep.
If you have help then tag-team so you get an opportunity to have some time for yourself. It also can give the other parent a chance to help and look after their child.
We don’t expect a new born baby to be able to walk for some time and sleep is a function that also takes time to develop and mature. Although it may not feel like it right now, it will change and your baby will start to become more predictable with their day and night time sleep. So if your baby isn’t in any routine or wakes as soon as you put them down, just remind yourself this is an intensive phase of your baby’s development, very typical in children of this age and that you are not doing anything wrong.
If you need any advice and support then please contact me. I’m here to help.
Vanessa Campion is a Registered Nurse, a Registered Health Visitor and a Registered Holistic Sleep Coach. She works at Savoy Personal Parenting Support. She can be contacted either by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by