Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Advice for people with babies who don't sleep

My son has had another sleep regression.  I think (hope) he's coming out of it now but I may have to accept that morning starts with the number 5.

Anyway, this got me thinking about babies who don't sleep as well and other peoples reactions.  Parents who have one child often imply it's my fault or that it's 'strange' unless they have a little sleep dodger themselves.  Can I let you know all you lovely people out there?  This doesn't help to have people who barely know your son pass judgement on your parenting techniques.  Likewise it's tough being sleep deprived.  It can make you depressed (literally), run down, prone to illness etc.  Telling someone to 'cheer up and be more positive' is also not helpful.  I actually defriended someone on facebook for this.  I was fed up with her telling me how negative I was.

People with more than one child know better as inevitably you don't get two who sleep well.

So, what has worked so far?  Well at different times in his life he's gone through different problems, frequent night wakings, feeding through the night and early wakings.

So here's my advice based upon experience of 1 so unlikely to work with anyone else's child, but hey, I know how it is, anything is worth a shot.

At all ages:

Get black out blinds.  Don't just rely on black out linings, particularly if you have a curtain rod rather than a track.  Think about landing / hallway windows too as if you have to feed or settle at 4am in the summer you will be opening your child's door and letting in light.

Get outside during the day, get natural light, cover with sun tan lotion or a snow suit if needed but getting fresh air is good for both of you.

Before 6 months:

For night wakings at this age, unfortunately just go with it.  There was nothing I found which helped and if breastfeeding you need night feedings to get a decent supply.

At 6 months:

If still nightwaking a lot, try pick up put down if you can stand to do it to work down to two night wakings.  Here's a forum with advice on this.

Try not to do the morning feed before 6am to avoid early waking becoming a habit.

Try, if you can to put your baby down awake at bedtime rather than feeding to sleep.

At 8 months:

If still waking up twice, try and get down to 1 night feed using pick up put down again.  (Some people swear by a 'dream feed' where you feed your child half asleep at 11pm but it never worked for us.)

Try not to do the morning feed before 6am to avoid early waking becoming a habit.  

Try, if you can to put your baby down awake at bedtime rather than feeding to sleep.

At 10-12 months:

If still waking up, try and get down to no night feeds using pick up put down again.

Try not to do the morning feed before 6am to avoid early waking becoming a habit.  

It now becomes even more important to put baby down awake at bedtime rather than feeding to sleep.  If on formula transitioning to a sippy cup can help with this.

12 months plus:

If waking early, look at naps, it might be your baby needs more or it might be s/he needs fewer but longer naps.  

To transition from 2 naps to 1, try taking your baby out for a 5-10 min nap in the pram in the morning and sticking with a longer nap in the afternoon.

Have your longer nap at home (on nursery or child minder) rather than on the move, every day apart from minor exceptions if you can.  

Do lots with your toddler in the day to wear them out!  I always find swimming, going on the swings, and doing inside obstacle courses are good.  Don't keep them strapped into pushchairs or carseats all day.  Not easy when your child isn't walking like mine but it is important for them to be active.

Treat early wakings as a night waking.  No doubt at this age s/he will stand up in their cot.  Try just lying them back down again.  Sometimes it works.

For early wakings, try putting your child to bed earlier.  Didn't work for my son but I've heard people say it works for them.  

If all else fails, try putting to bed later or just accepting it and going to bed a little earlier yourself.  Sometimes there are things just not worth fighting about.  Remember that all the smug parents telling you you're doing something wrong will face problems somewhere, I don't think any parenting life is truly hassle free!

Oh and throw the books away.  There is so much 'should' and 'must' in those books.  I remember reading in one how pick up put down doesn't work on kids over the age of 6 months.  Well you adapt it for age but yes, it still works in my 14 month old if he needs it.  Kids don't read books.  They don't know how much sleep they 'should' be getting at their age.  Remember as well if you live in a different culture you'd have different expectations.  For example, in Spain adults go to bed late, get up early and have a siesta in the afternoon so children must have very different sleeping habits there.  Ultimately if your child seems happy and not exhausted, you're probably doing a pretty good job.


  1. Brilliant post. It is the second of three who wakes us in the morning ... far too early. But like you, we now just focus on burning as much energy as possible. And by nightime, we're all pooped!

    Your practical advice is exactly what Parentonomy is all about. Thanks for linking.

    1. No problem, it was written a while ago in a sleepy haze. If anyone does take a look here and have a child who doesn't sleep, be reassured that my son is now a much better sleeper than he was.

      Eventually pretty much all kids will learn to sleep well but I don't judge anyone who decides to do any kind of sleep training (after all pick up put down is sleep training) because until you've been through it, you can't understand just how hard it is to cope day to day with very little sleep. I remember the early days having months where I thought "if only I could have 3 hours in one stretch I would feel so much better..."


I would love to read your comments but please don't include links in them.