So your baby won't sleep

So your baby won't sleep

Most new parents expect less sleep at points once their baby arrives. It’s probably the most common thing pregnant women here from others who have been there done that: “Prepare to be tired!” “Sleep while you can!” “Labour really hurts!” None of these pearls of wisdom are especially helpful, FYI.

Even though you may be expecting to be tired, the reality of the exhaustion that comes with caring for a young baby 24/7 who wakes throughout the night can really be very difficult to cope with. The exhaustion a non-sleeping baby provokes can make you feel physically ill. The days are also harder when you haven’t slept, and the effects are cumulative, meaning the longer lack of sleep goes on, the worse it feels. This is especially true if you have a baby who isn’t a fan of sleeping for anything but a short stretch of time. Lack of sleep night after night will take its toll on anyone, so if your baby won’t sleep and you’re reading this feeling bleary eyed and fed up, please be reassured you’re not alone.

Why some babies don’t sleep well

The first thing to say on this is that, although it is HARD waking up regularly throughout the night, it’s actually perfectly normal for your baby to do so. Small babies have small tummies and need feeding regularly as they can’t hold much milk. These overnight shifts are helping them grow rapidly and get the nutrients they need to thrive. 

The other, slightly less clear-cut, answer which is what drives many new parents to distraction, is that every baby is different and there are lots of factors that can influence how they sleep. Knowing what it is that’s causing more wake-ups or an upset baby can be impossible though, what with them not being able to talk to you about it.

Some reasons why your baby might not be sleeping well

  • Colic
  • Constipation
  • Reflux
  • Teething
  • A cold or other mild virus
  • Startling awake
  • Feeling thirsty or hungry
  • Being overtired
  • Out of routine
  • Moving from a moses basket to a cot or similar

A big reason why babies wake throughout the night...

One of the most common reasons for babies not sleeping well is simply they don’t want to be separated from you and need the comfort of feeling you close. In some ways this is reassuring: nothing major is wrong, it’s natural for them to feel this way as you are all they know and have known while they grew inside you. But, on the other hand, it can be tough to handle as there isn’t a magic fix.

Some parents find success through using a sleep pod or cocoon, that gives your baby the feel of being nestled close. And over time a lot of babies get used to sleeping separately and begin to do longer shifts at night, so long as nothing else is upsetting them and all the planets and stars align. (Joking not joking.)

Can baby sleep problems be solved?

There’s usually no single, easy-to-identify reason why your baby won’t sleep. Yes, you can start a bedtime routine and sure, a warm bath may help wind her down. Ensuring your baby is fed, comfortable, clean, winded and in familiar surroundings is important, and yes, sometimes white noise or a projector can help. But often, no matter how sweet you sing those lullabies, however many picture books you curl up and look at together and even though she’s fed, clean and just the right temperature, your baby doesn’t sleep well.

It’s not you… it’s not them really either. Ok, ultimately it is them. But they can’t help it, it isn’t easy but it won’t last forever.

It goes without saying, it’s important to rule out any possible medical reasons why your baby isn’t sleeping well. For example, reflux or constipation can affect sleep, as can an undiagnosed milk intolerance or allergy. Always speak to your Health Visitor or GP if you’re concerned.

Coping with a lack of sleep

If your baby won’t sleep well without being held, you do need to find a way to balance meeting her needs with meeting your own very real need for sleep. Because you can’t care for your baby or yourself on practically zero sleep. It isn’t safe and it isn’t healthy. 

Practically, you can try a Next to Me style crib so you can sleep safely next to your baby with your hand on her, to see if this provides enough comfort to her in the night. You can also aim even for short naps in the day not holding her, sometimes pushing your baby in a pram will help and then if she wakes quickly, you can try rubbing her tummy or back to soothe her back to sleep for longer. This can help transition her gradually into sleeping without you.

If you decide to co-sleep with your baby, planning to do so is safer than being so tired that you fall asleep and don’t follow guidelines to keep her safe. Read this helpful co-sleeping advice from the Lullaby Trust. 

Making sure you get some sleep is critical

However, whilst you can’t definitely solve your baby’s sleep problems, you can start to tackle your own. it’s really important that you have some rest, as the above won’t work for all babies and it won’t work overnight. If you have a partner, agree to take shifts. So you might head to bed early and your partner holds or soothes the baby until midnight, giving you a solid block of 3 or 4 hours at the start of the night. If they can’t help overnight, they could get up earlier than usual so you can sleep for two hours in the morning as well. While this still isn’t ideal, you can’t survive on snatches of 40 minutes throughout the night, so you need to work together to find a solution. You can also use weekends when you’re both around to get more sleep.

Baby sleep problems aren’t your fault

As if feeling thoroughly exhausted wasn’t enough, one of the worst things about your baby not sleeping is that it can make you feel as if you are doing something wrong. Especially if other mums you talk to have or have had babies who sleep beautifully. It’s important to remember that all babies go through phases, so you might be struggling now with lack of sleep but things may then turn around. And the other really crucial thing to note is that all babies are different, and you can’t help if your baby has colic/is teething/wants to be close to you.

You’re doing your very best for your baby, and if they won’t sleep it’s not because of anything you’ve done. It’s just one of those things. Whilst you can read sleep tips, talk to your Health Visitor and to friends, you can’t click your fingers and magic your baby into sleeping through. It’s important, therefore, to accept help, find solutions so you can sleep in the meantime and not try to be superwoman at full speed when you really need to rest. 

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