It’s no secret that babies disrupt sleep. Heck, when I was pregnant with Baby Boo I lost count of the amount of people who warned me about the nocturnal horrors of newborns. It’s a good thing too, because for the first six weeks she woke every couple of hours during the night. Fortunately, at eight weeks there was respite when she began sleeping through. I was euphoric. Then, at four months disaster struck, and we had the first of many sleep regressions. Now I live in fear of the 3am yell that tells me another round of nightly wake ups is on the way. However, this time I’m prepared, because I recently caught up with parent educator, midwife and founder of Baby Senses, Cecile de Scally, to get the lowdown on what causes sleep regressions and how to prevent them. Here’s what she had to say…
Cause of sleep regression #1: Age
Around the four-month mark, babies begin to experience a lot of changes. Their appetites increase, and while they might not be ready for weaning, they certainly feel hungrier. They’re also enjoying life. Their little brains are working at a rate of knots as they take everything in, so come bedtime it’s very difficult for them to switch off. This is why sleep regressions often occur around this time.
What to do: If you have a hungry baby, you may need to start them on solids a little earlier than the usual six months. Alternatively, if you don’t want to introduce solids, but you feel appetite is the issue, just up the breastfeeds. You should also keep an eye on how much day sleep they are getting. It’s easy to assume that because a baby is alert, they don’t need so much sleep. However, the less sleep they have, the more overtired they become, which results in trouble sleeping at night. I recommend four hours during the day up until a year.
Cause of sleep regression #2: Bad habits
When a baby suddenly starts waking up at night the mother’s first instinct is to pick them up. However, if you rock baby to sleep in your arms, she’ll associate bedtime with being held, which means when she wakes up at night, she’ll be unable to fall back to sleep on her own.
What to do: The only time you should pick up a baby at night is if they are either very young or if you truly think there is something wrong. Instead, attend to them by gently shushing and patting them back to sleep, without lifting them out of the cot.
Cause of sleep regression #3: Mother’s diet
If a breastfeeding mum comes to me with concerns about her baby’s sleep regression, one of the first things I ask is about her diet. If you’re breastfeeding and you decrease your calories, that also decreases your baby’s calorie intake. Ultimately, if a baby is not full, they won’t sleep properly.
What to do: What you eat can influence your breastfeeding so much that it can actually cause a sleep regression, so look at your diet and make sure you have a healthy breastfeeding diet that includes enough of the right foods during the day.
Cause of sleep regression #4: Baby’s diet
Another time you can expect a sleep regression is when you introduce solids. There are two reasons for this. The first is that baby may experience some digestive discomfort. The second is that baby realises, ‘This stuff is nice. I want more!’. Of course, they don’t think this consciously, but their little bodies begin to crave solids, so when they wake up at night, it’s what they’re looking for.
What to do: Because you have to introduce solids slowly, you can’t simply offer more food. Therefore, this is one sleep regression where you just have to patient. However, if you want to avoid digestive discomfort in the early stages, one tip is to only offer solids in the mornings. This way, if they’re going to get a tummy ache, they’ll get it in the morning, rather than the evening.
Cause of sleep regression #5: Physical developments
Whether it’s learning to roll over, standing up, or walking, physical changes cause sleep regressions. The usual scenario is that baby will roll over onto her tummy and then not be able to roll back, or she’ll pull herself up to the side of the cot and then panic at not being able to sit back down again.
What to do: Of course, you can’t ignore these forms of sleep regression because baby genuinely doesn’t know how to lie down again, but the best thing is to simply roll her back over, or lie her down again and shush-pat her back to sleep. Don’t pick her up, as you’ll create bad habits.
Cause of sleep regression #6: Change in routine
If there has been a change in routine, such as mum returning to work or baby starting nursery, this can create a sleep regression. The reason for this is that baby goes from spending all her time with mum to only seeing her for limited periods. As a way to cope, she is likely to wake continually throughout the night, as she will quickly learn that if she cries, mum will come running and she’ll get the attention she’s been craving.
What to do: Allocate some time when you return from work or when you pick baby up from nursery, where you’re 100 per cent focused on her. This is often difficult when you’re trying to balance work and family life, but it’s important to give babies that time where they feel they are receiving your undivided attention.
Cause of sleep regression #7: Travel
A common problem in this part of the world is that so many of us fly abroad with our babies on a regular basis and jet lag can play havoc with their routines.
What to do: The advice I give parents for anywhere they go is to stay on the clock time of Dubai on the plane and then move straight onto the clock time of their destination country when they arrive. Ideally you should time your flight so that you can get home and get baby to bed at a decent hour. Of course that’s not always feasible, so in these cases, you should do bedtime whenever you get home and then wake baby the next day at the normal hour. They will be a bit cranky that day, but just give them a bit of extra daytime sleep and they should be back into a normal routine by the following day or so.
Cecile de Scally is a midwife and parent educator based in Dubai, who specialises in prenatal and postnatal support (both feeding and sleep support). Her centre, Baby Senses, is based at Jumeirah Lake Towers. For more information or to book an appointment call 04 5587407 or visit www.babysenses.me.