Nearly all parents will tell you that the hardest thing about having a baby is sleep deprivation. But why is it so hard for parents to sleep? And when will things finally start to improve?
For the first few weeks of a baby’s life, they’re unlikely to cry the house down all night, however they will wake up, or must be woken, roughly every 3 hours to be fed. If they sleep the whole night without feeding, this is very unusual during the first weeks, but it is also dangerous for their health and growth. Babies’ stomachs are so small that they cannot consume a lot of milk in one feed, so in order to get the sufficient amount of nutrients and to keep growing, they must be fed regularly. As well as this frequent-feeding, new mothers might be in pain after labour, might have sore breasts or anywhere else because no matter what kind of childbirth you have, pregnancy and labour take their toll on your body. During the day you might be exhausted, but adults who aren’t used to taking daytime naps will find it unnatural to do so once they have a baby. Especially when you see the amount of washing that needs to be done, meals that need to be cooked and floors that need to be vacuumed. The most common advice given to new mums is to sleep when your baby does, and it’s really important to try to rest so that you’re fit and healthy when your baby needs you, and to protect your mental help. Try to get help during these first few weeks, from your partner, parent or sibling, friend or anyone in the new parent community, who knows how hard sleep deprivation can be.
Colic and Reflux babies
Colic and acid reflux are two of the most common problems for babies. But what are they, and how do you know if your baby has them?
Let’s start with colic. When babies are a few weeks old, they should not cry for more than 3 hours per day, and crying should indicate hunger or a dirty nappy. If babies cry for what seems like no reason, for extended periods of time, then they probably have colic. Colic may indicate a food allergy or difficulty digesting, but it should stop around 6 months. Colic babies like to be held, soothed and rocked, which can be a nightmare for parents who want to get things done. A crying baby will also prevent parents from sleeping well, so make the most of every second your baby sleeps to catch some Zzzs yourself. To ease colic, try to feed with the baby in an upright position to avoid them swallowing air, and to rock and soothe them as much as possible. It’s also worth trying some anti-colic drops and changing your diet if you’re breastfeeding, although these haven’t yet been proven to work.
Reflux is when your baby spits up milk or is sick during feeding. Other symptoms include coughing or having the hiccups during feeding and crying a lot. You don’t usually need to see a doctor if your baby is growing healthily, however you should see a doctor if your baby is not gaining weight. Reflux begins before 8 weeks and should end before they turn one, but it’s important to see a doctor if your baby’s reflux continues after 1 year of age, or if they develop reflux after they are 6 months old. Reflux is caused by underdeveloped muscles around your baby’s food pipe, but like with all muscles, they build and get stronger and this explains how babies usually “grow out of” reflux.
4 Month Sleep Regression
The 4 month sleep regression does what it says on the tin: At four months old, most babies will struggle to sleep through the night for 2 to 6 weeks. At 4 months, a baby’s sleep cycle changes, whereas previously they slept in 2 cycles, they are now starting to develop a 4-stage sleep cycle, like adults. During this time they are also becoming more active, recognising faces, starting to roll over, and are becoming far more awake and interactive with people and things around them. This can all contribute to sleep regression, no matter how perfect their routine was up to this point. A baby that wakes up constantly throughout the night can be hellish for mum and dad, so it’s important to try to get through the phase quickly and without worrying too much. Here are some things you can do to make the 4 month sleep regression a little easier:
How to deal with sleep regression
- Falling asleep
If your baby is usually fed to help them fall asleep, then this could continue for a very long time. Everytime they wake up during the night, they will want to be soothed back to sleep with boob or bottle. You need to break this habit as quickly as possible, or your sleep will suffer in the long run. Try to feed your baby a little earlier every night, and keep them awake for a few minutes before you put them down for the night. This means that the moment they associate with sleep will be the moment they are put in their crib or cot, and not the moment they are fed. This teaches them to fall asleep independently.
- Stick to your routine, but feed for longer
Consistency is so important for babies. try to stick to their routine, no matter how hard that might be. If the timings change then that’s’ ok, but do all of the activities that you previously did with your baby. They may need to feed for longer now, because at 4 months old their appetite increases and they might be hungry more often. Feeding for a longer period of time can help you, as it might encourage them to sleep for longer. Babies will wake up throughout the night no matter what during sleep regression, so you don’t want them waking up even more because they’re hungry.
- Active days and sleepy nights
Think about what makes us feel feel tired and sleepy: a busy day, exercise, soothing music or a long hot bath. Like adults, babies need to use their energy and feel tired before bedtime. Keeping them active during awake times is important, interacting with them and helping them to play. At this age, they are trying to roll over, and are starting to enjoy playtime. It’s good to encourage tummy time and rolling over during the day, so that when they lie down in their cot, they don’t think it’s time to practice their new roly-poly skills. Tire them out, give them a nice bath and have some quiet time before you lie them down. Black out all natural light and keep it very quiet, to create a calm environment that they will associate with sleep.
- Extra help
You can also use weighted sleepwear (specifically designed for babies, not just any old weighted blanket) and white noise machines to help your baby even more. Babies aren’t the only ones who need help – sleep regression is a stressful time for parents, so take turns where possible, and call in some favours so that you can have some time to relax during the day, to be ready to face the sleepless nights. Just remember – it might be hard, but it won’t last forever!