With so much conflicting baby sleep advice out there, it can be hard to know where you stand as a new parent trying to get your tiny crying bundle to sleep.
Do you pick them up and soothe them? Do you let them cry it out? So many questions – and to be honest, often no right answers. It’s mostly a case of trial and error, and doing the best you can.
When Gemma Coe, a baby and child sleep specialist based in Kent, speaks to parents about their baby’s sleep (we’re talking under ones), she suggests there are many who feel there are certain things they’d do differently next time.
Here are some of the most common themes.
1. That cot mobile? Probably not doing you any favours
In fact, get rid of all those fancy sleep props. That includes the projectors, toys, bubble lamps, cot mobiles, and those white noise animals that only last for 45 minutes, Coe suggests.
“Babies are distracted and fascinated by everything,” she says. So, rather than surrounding them with stimulation, the sleep specialist recommends setting up a dark, calm and – most importantly – boring sleep space.
“Try to keep things consistent, so the environment they fall asleep in is the same as when they wake in the middle of the night,” she adds. “They’re then less likely to wake completely if everything’s consistent.”
On top of that, for safe sleep it’s important to keep the cot or crib nice and clear of toys and other sleep paraphernalia, she adds. That includes cot bumpers and loose bedding like blankets.
2. Expecting too much from a newborn
As soon as they arrive on the scene, babies are embarking on a process of learning how to sleep. But sometimes we forget that and expect them to just ‘get it’.
“Babies in the newborn phase often need your help to get to sleep and lots of intervention at night for feeds and changes,” says Coe. “You’re not doing anything wrong.”
She routinely speaks to parents who worry they’re making a rod for their own back by carrying their baby in a sling or contact-napping. “It simply isn’t true. Please, please, enjoy those newborn snuggles as sadly they won’t last forever,” she adds.
As babies get closer to four months old, parents can start thinking about presenting opportunities for them to learn more independent sleeping skills, adds the sleep specialist, but remember: this is the ‘practice zone’ and it won’t always go to plan.
3. Rushing to them straight away when they stir
We’ve all been there: your wee one starts to stir in the middle of the night, so you rush to their crib and start to soothe them. But take a step back, eager beaver.
“Sadly, more often than not, this may wake them more fully,” says Coe.
“We have a stage between sleep cycles where we wake, but just partially. In this stage, babies and children can appear awake, but actually may not be. So jumping in straight away may have the opposite effect and totally wake them up.”
Her advice in this scenario is to hold off and see what happens. “Make sure they really are awake and actually need you before tending to them,” she adds. “They may just fuss for a bit or play with their hands happily and put themselves back to sleep.”
4. Pushing bedtime back to stop them from getting up early
If you’ve got a super early riser (oh the joys!) then it can be tempting to push their bedtime back and back in the hope they wake later the next day. But the sleep specialist warns against this.
“Over-tiredness can cause early waking,” she explains, “so pushing bedtime back will probably make it worse.” Conversely, bringing bedtime forward might be best.
“Be aware that making changes to rising time is a toughie. We’re trying to change the body clock and it’s stubborn,” she adds. “Work with this over a couple of weeks to see changes – sadly it won’t shift overnight.”
5. Listening to everyone else’s advice
When you have a baby, every person under the sun has some advice to give you – and we do appreciate the irony here, as we’re literally dishing out sleep advice in this article.
But the difference here is that this advice comes from someone who devotes their working life to helping parents and their babies sleep better, rather than, say, Pat from next door. (No offence Pat.)
“Every baby is different and every parent has their own style. If you have a baby not sleeping much at night then the whole world loves to step in and offer advice,” says Coe.
But she recommends thinking carefully about whether you follow advice – even if it is well-meaning.
“Taking steps to improve a baby’s sleep routine takes consistency and patience. If someone suggests leaving your baby to cry and it’s well outside your comfort zone then please don’t try,” she says.
“Work with a method that matches your parenting style and your baby’s temperament. If you’re confident, you’ll probably be consistent. Feel free to say: ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to others.”