One of the most talked about issues when it comes to new babies (or even toddlers) for our Epping Forest mums is sleep and how to get it.
Why isn’t my baby sleeping?
When will I sleep again?
Surely my baby is just a ‘bad’ sleeper.
I can’t get a routine because I’m breast feeding.
There’s just no escaping that the sleep deprivation that’s often associated with having children is literally, torture.
But there are people out there who can help.
We spoke to Essex based, top rated baby sleep author and maternity nurse Lisa Clegg, The Blissful Baby Expert, to get her best advice for our new families.
Lisa has been working as a maternity nurse for 13 years and her book, The Blissful Baby Expert, is consistently rated 5 stars for her excellent tips that work, for life.
Karen: What is the most common myth associated with babies and their sleep habits?
Lisa: That you get what you’re given. That you get either a ‘good’ sleeper or a ‘bad’ sleeper. It’s simply not true. All babies have the potential to be good sleepers.
Karen: What’s your golden piece of advice you’d give to expectant parents to help their babies learn to sleep well.
Lisa: Routine is the magic key. The earlier you get that routine established and the sooner you can get those self settling habits started, the better.
Karen: How soon would you recommend getting good habits and routines established with babies?
Lisa: I work with families as soon as they’ve brought baby home from hospital. I usually work with families for 10-12 weeks. By the time babies are 3-4 weeks old and can go a little longer between naps, then you can really start to get those routines established.
Karen: In your experience, what are the biggest mistakes parents with babies who aren’t sleeping well are making?
Lisa: The most common mistake I see is that parents, usually mums, use feeding as a tool for everything. Snack feeding (where babies only get a small feed at one time) is probably the leading cause of digestive issues like wind and colic because you aren’t letting baby’s digestive system recover and cleanse ready for the the next feed. You’re just putting food on an already windy tummy
Using milk or cuddling as a tool to aid sleep all the time will also cause babies to wake multiple times overnight to have that repeated. Self settling is the key for all babies and toddlers to sleep well, no matter how old they are, so that alongside a routine is crucial.
Karen: What are the most common reasons that mums contact you for advice, other than a lack of sleep?
Lisa: I get lots of mums contact me at 3-4 months saying their babies won’t take a bottle. I think breast feeding should be enjoyable, not a chore you have to do because there are no other options. It’s important for breast feeding mums to establish a good bottle routine early on in baby’s life so it’s always an option and gives them a break.
Karen: At what point should breast feeding mums get babies used to feeding from a bottle?
Lisa: The current Health Visitor advice is 6-10 weeks. In my opinion this is too late for good sleep habits. With all my babies we get them established on a bottle at 2 weeks for one or two feeds per day. At this age they will happily switch from breast to bottle but consistency is key. Many parents have a go then leave the bottle feeding so it’s no longer a part of the routine. Keep it going.
Bottle feeding the late feed and the night feed are ways dads and other care givers can get involved with baby’s routines and give mum a well needed break.
Karen: What if baby is colicky? Can you still establish a good routine when baby has a tummy ache?
Lisa: In my experience, colic is usually the result of frequent feeds which are giving her wind. You need to give her digestive system time to relax. Feed her. Wind her and give her space before the next feed. Try to stretch out that time between feeds, even if it’s by half an hour to start off with.
Karen: What about babies with reflux?
Lisa: Again, a good routine helps calm a baby with reflux down. The reflux happens as a result of feeding so having bigger spaces between feeds can help. In my book I explain also how it might be helpful to get babies who can’t lie comfortably on their back to lie in a safe, side sleeping position but this has to be checked with their paediatrician and done according to very specific guidelines.
Karen: What advice would you give to second time mums who are worried about establishing good sleep habits for baby number two?
Lisa: Get those good routines established early on. It’s slightly easier with baby number two because you’ll generally be a more relaxed parent, which helps, and also you’ll already have one in some sort of routine.
Karen: And what about parents with toddlers who aren’t sleeping well? Is it too late or do you advise parents with older children too?
Lisa: I can and have worked with children up to the age of 4. For children who aren’t sleeping well, it’s important to have a very calm bedtime routine. So books and puzzles rather than jumping on a trampoline after tea. It’s also important to leave the room before they drop off to sleep, so they know to settle themselves and understand that they go to sleep in their own bed.
Another simple tip I advise is to help teach your children when is the right time to get up. Children, especially toddlers have very little concept of time. Parents can help with this. You could get a gro-clock or similar but even simpler is to get a lamp with a character your children likes and put it on a timer to come up when is a reasonable morning hour. If they wake up before this time you can simply explain that ‘the dinosaur’ isn’t awake yet, it’s not morning time. Then when they do wake up when the lamp is on be full of praise and happy to see them for the day. This way children learn the difference between night waking and morning waking – mummy is clearly happier to see them in the morning!