‘Why won’t my baby sleep?’
This is probably the most googled question by new parents. You don’t realise how stressful a lack of sleep is, until you’re in the thick of some serious sleep deprivation.
Few people handle sleeping as little as their baby like a champ, most of us become obsessed with figuring out why our baby isn’t sleeping, and what we can do about it.
The dream is for our baby to figure out how to sleep, all by themselves, but the truth is, newborn sleep isn’t like adult sleep. And unfortunately there is no magic pill, no clever trick to getting your baby to suddenly start sleeping.
But saying that, here are 5 reasons why your baby might not be sleeping and what you can try to help them get that much needed shut eye, and ultimately you too.
1. Your baby is overtired
Yes, you read that right.
Your baby could be so tired, they aren’t sleeping.
Keeping them awake for longer, trying to ‘tire them out’ isn’t going to help. The more you keep your baby awake, the worse they are going to sleep.
The simple fact is this: sleep begets sleep. I.e. the more your newborn sleeps, the more your newborn will sleep.
Essentially, if your baby isn’t sleeping well at night, it could be because they aren’t sleeping enough during the day. Think your baby is hyper because they’re so energetic and don’t need sleep? No. The odds are your baby is so active because they are sleep deprived.
Set the foundations for good sleep habits now, and reap the rewards as your baby grows. For more information about sleep from the moment your baby is born, here’s MyTamarin’s guide to baby sleep and routine in the first two weeks with a newborn baby.
2. Your baby doesn’t know HOW to sleep
It’s illogical that your baby doesn’t know how to sleep, but it’s true. Babies aren’t born knowing how to fall asleep. You have to teach them this essential life skill.
We also have to teach our babies when to sleep and when to be awake. This is where the beauty of a sleep schedule comes into its own. Babies and children crave routine.
Consistency makes them feel safe and secure.
Introduce a sleep routine from as little as 12 weeks and don’t worry if your baby doesn’t get it straight away. Practice makes perfect. Teach your little one when it’s time for sleepytime, by introducing positive sleep cues to prepare them to get some shut eye.
When it’s time for your baby to go to sleep, either for a nap or at night, begin to help them unwind. Move them away from the general household noise, to somewhere quieter and calmer. You want to distance them from any distractions or stimuli - siblings, deliveries, cooking, pets etc. Babies suffer from FOMO and if they’re worried they’re missing out on something, it will make it harder for them to fall asleep.
At bedtime, establish a good routine such as: bath, darkened room with white noise, a feed of warm milk, swaddle, lay them in their cot and let them fall asleep. For naptime, use an abridged version of this, without the bath, maybe do a little massage instead.
Here’s what you have to know - you can’t make your baby sleep. There is nothing, absolutely nothing you can do to get your child to physically fall asleep. Only they can do that. All you can do is create an environment that encourages them to fall asleep. Teaching them how to settle themselves and fall asleep on their own is one of the best gifts you can give your newborn.
Your instinct might be to rock them, or pick them up when they stir, but this isn’t teaching them how to fall asleep or settle themselves. Instead, gently soothe them when they stir, i.e. a gentle pat on the bottom, shushing them, or softly rocking the crib, or singing will reassure them you’re still there, without them relying on you to fall asleep.
3. You've misunderstood them
If you haven’t yet learned your baby’s different cries, there’s a chance you could be mistaking hunger for tiredness.
When your baby is screaming at you, you’re going to go through your repertoire of tricks to soothe them, including giving them food. But early on, most newborns cry because they’re tired, not because they’re hungry.
And the issue with feeding them every time they cry, apart from feeling like Daisy the Cow, is that this encourages your child to snack, rather than feed properly. Meaning if you feed your baby every time they cry, they’ll soon get used to snacking every hour or so, getting enough milk to sustain them for the next hour or so, rather than having a big feed and sleeping for longer stretches.
4. Baby relies on props to fall asleep
We talked above about positive sleep associations, i.e introducing a sleep routine that will teach your baby that it’s about to be sleep time. But sleep props, while helping your baby fall asleep, can actually be detrimental to their sleep. Your baby comes to rely on the sleep prop, and when it’s not there, they can’t fall asleep.
Sleep props include:
- Feeding your baby to sleep
- Rocking your baby to sleep
- Driving them to sleep
- Sleeping with them
If you want your baby to be able to fall asleep on their own and stay asleep, or settle themselves, you need to realise what props you’re using to get your baby to sleep. If they include the above, you might want to reconsider them.
5. You need to learn how to teach your baby
As parents, we don’t automatically know how to teach our children. We need to learn these skills too.
If you need help getting your baby into a good sleep routine, get in touch with myTamarin. Our Maternity Nurses and Night Nannies can come to your home and teach you, or if you prefer, they’re available via video call through our new online newborn support.
Remember, it takes a village to raise a child, you don’t have to do this alone.