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It's time to wake up to methods that help junior to sleep

As sleep-deprived parents turn to the UK's army of baby sleep trainers, expert Jo Tantum reveals what mums and dads can do to ensure the whole house sleeps well

By Kate Whiting

Published 26/09/2016

Waking nightmare: a lack of sleep can be tough for the whole household. File image
Waking nightmare: a lack of sleep can be tough for the whole household. File image

New parents will soon learn that lie-ins are a thing of the past and - for the unlucky many - an unbroken night's sleep becomes the stuff of dreams. Before you know it, you're fuelling yourself on a diet of caffeine and sugar to cope with the exhaustion.

Tired and stressed out mums and dads, striving for the ideal of their newborn 'sleeping through', are increasingly turning to the help of sleep trainers, with the UK baby sleep industry now worth millions.

Sleep is crucial to a baby's development and wellbeing, says Jo Tantum, author of Baby Secrets and a baby sleep expert on the Pampers Love, Sleep and Play panel.

"Night time sleep is when REM sleep tends to occur for babies. This is when the building blocks for brain structure are laid down."

Tatum has outlined five different baby sleep types, to help parents identify what kind of sleeper their child is.

STARFISH

Sleeps in the same position, on their back with legs and arms out. Wakes often and regularly, but does go back to sleep easily after you intervene with a sleep prop, for example rocking or a feed. They need this to get to sleep.

Your sleep aid: A muslin square, knotted in the middle. To provide more comfort, tuck it down your top before giving it to baby so it smells of you and comforts them. Try and teach your baby to fall asleep on their own gently. Start in the day, at nap times, watching for tired signs such as staring into space and rubbing eyes, then settle them for a sleep in their room.

SKYLARK

Awake early in the morning, singing and shouting and refuses to go back to sleep, whatever you try.

Your sleep aid: Wave sounds. This can be a sleep App or sound machine. Keep it on continually while baby is asleep, so when they come into a light sleep phase it soothes them back to sleep. Total blackout is also key here, as even a small patch of light can stimulate them. Remember babies can't tell the time. They don't know it's 5am. Babies have a very light sleep between 5.30-6.30am, as do adults. This goes back to the days when we woke with the sun. So try to respond to your baby as though it's still night, rather than creating a habit of early waking, expecting something to happen.

SLOTH

Loves sleep and can sleep anywhere and everywhere. A great sleeper day and night - lucky you. But what happens when they wake up? It's likely to be because of a growth or developmental spurt, or they are teething or not well.

Your sleep aid: Increased feeding. Increase the feed by five minutes if breast feeding and by 30ml if bottle feeding. If your baby is close to six months old, they may need weaning. If your great sleeper wakes up it can be an awful shock. So check for teething signs and temperature. Often this can happen at the 4-month sleep regression. Be consistent, try not to get into bad habits and they will get back to sleeping well again.

OWL

Goes to bed late and wakes in the night. Is wide awake for long periods and can't get back to sleep.

Your sleep aid: A Sleep fest. Allow your baby to sleep for three hours during the day to reset their internal clock. Babies need lots of sleep. And it's a myth that if you don't give them naps, they will be so tired they will sleep through the night. In fact, the opposite happens. Your baby will find it difficult to settle, wake often and have long periods of waking. Babies who wake often and don't go into a deep sleep cycle will often have low immune systems, because when babies sleep more deeply it repairs skin and boosts their immune system. Make sure your baby has enough naps in the day. As soon as you see tired signs, let them nap in their room as much as possible.

MEERKAT

Stands up, moves around trying to get comfortable all night, doesn't want to sleep; always on high alert. Late to bed, early to rise.

Your sleep aid: Wind-down time. Try bath-story-feed to establish a calming bedtime routine. Your baby is overtired. Babies need lots of sleep so when they are overtired from not having enough naps or night-time sleep, they will thrash around trying to get comfortable just like we do. They will have lots of energy around bedtime and early in the morning, as their bodies and minds are overstimulated and likely to go into meltdown at any time. There should be an hour before bedtime of no screen time or noisy interactive toys, as this stimulates rather than calms your baby.

TOP SLEEP TIPS FROM JO TANTUM

  • Follow a bedtime ritual consistently every night.
  • Treat every hour between 7pm and 7am as night time, which means dark and quiet with no talking and no games or activities. Baby will soon understand the difference between night-time and daytime.
  • Try not to let your baby fall asleep in your arms or while feeding and always lay your baby down awake.
  • Don't rush to your baby at every sound - many of the noises a baby makes are his attempts to fall asleep.
  • Give your baby a late-night feed or 'dream feed' at the same time every night even if you have to wake him to do so. Continue until he is ready to sleep through the night.
  • Set a base time for his middle of the night feed and never feed before it: stretch that time gradually until your baby sleeps through the night.

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