Encouraging Day Sleeps After Your Baby is Two Months Old

To promote good growth and development, babies need plenty of nutrition, lots of love, and lots of sleep.  When newborn, babies often sleep for much of the day, but this gradually changes as they get older.  But young babies are happiest when they get as much sleep as they need.

 

Over the first couple of months, it is amazing how much your little baby has changed.  He has become much more skilled at feeding and can suck very strongly.  His neck is stronger and he can hold his head up to look around.  And he has learned certain sleep cues.

 

Sleep cues are things that everyone (even adults) associates with going to sleep.  These are different for everyone, but they help to put us in the mood for sleeping.  For example you may have a cup of tea, wash your face and clean your teeth, hop into your PJs and snuggle into bed then read a book for a few minutes before you go to sleep at night.  That is the little routine that you do every night that gets your body ready for sleep.

 

And your baby has already learned certain sleep cues from their experiences since birth.  These may vary for every family, and your baby might expect music, swaddling, patting, being held and rocked, bouncing, or feeding to sleep.  Or any other behaviour that works for your family.  What has your baby learned to associate with going to sleep?

 

It doesn't matter what sleep cues your baby has.  Although some are easier to sustain over the next few years (such as music or dim lights).  Whereas others can be exhausting to maintain repeatedly over time.

 

For example, if your baby associates sleeping with being rocked in mums' arms until she is asleep, this can be hard for mum to keep doing.  And sometimes babies become more and more dependent on a particular sleep cue, and they will only go to sleep this way.  And if they go through a period of light sleep, they will want mum to rock them back to sleep or else they will wake up.  Unfortunately a baby who wakes before having a deep sleep will quickly become unsettled.

 

If your baby expects you to rock/pat/feed them to sleep, and you are happy to continue doing this whenever she wants you to, then there is no problem.

 

But if you are becoming stressed and exhausted by these (as many parents do), then these methods are no longer working for your family.

 

So what is the alternative?  How can you change your babies sleep cues to something more manageable without distressing mum or baby?

 

First of all, you need to think about what behaviours you would like your baby to learn.

 

Many parents decide that they would like to be able to put their baby in their bassinet / cot for a daytime sleep and the baby will go to sleep by herself and stay asleep for an hour or two.  What this basically means is that the baby will learn to "self-settle".  Instead of being put to sleep by parents, your baby could put herself to sleep, and if she stirs in a period of light sleep, she will be able to put herself back to sleep without needing someone else to rock/pat/feed her.

 

Wow!  You might think this would be lovely, but an unobtainable dream at this stage!  But you can help your baby to learn to self-settle.  And you will find that your baby will sleep so much better in their own space, and with less disturbance.  Then when she is awake, she will be happier and more responsive.

 

Next you need to consider what is happening when you are putting your baby to sleep at the moment.  Does he cry for a while before he drops off to sleep?  Many babies do, even if you are holding them and soothing them.  So it would be unreasonable to expect that your baby will just lie down in his cot and drop off to sleep without a murmur.  It is important to keep this in mind because many babies cry before going to sleep, whether they are being held or lying in their cot.

 

Then you need to decide when is a good time to start making this change.  For the parents, you need to agree to a plan to follow through together.  As with any learned skill, you need to be very consistent in doing the same thing every time the baby is having a sleep during the day.  This means that both parents and any other helpers follow the same routine for the baby.  Everyone has to be ready for this change, and be committed to it.

 

For the baby, he will be learning a new skill, so it is no use starting this when he is tired and fussing.  I would recommend starting this at the first morning sleep, after a good feed, when he is first showing signs of tiredness.  Don't wait until he is crying because that means he is overtired already.

 

You may have decided on two or three sleep cues.  These could include closing the curtains, putting on music, using a pacifier, swaddling, reading a short book, turning on a mobile or any other little routine.  So go ahead and do these with minimal interaction with your baby.  We want to communicate that it is time for sleep, not time for play.

 

Then place your baby gently into his bassinet / cot and walk away.  If he cries, remind yourself that he always cries before he goes to sleep.  Perhaps you can give him 5 minutes (or any time you decide is reasonable) before you go in to him.  When you do go in, remember this is new for him and may take a few days to learn.  But if he is going to learn, you have to be consistent.  How many hours have you spent teaching him the old sleep cues?  Many parents have spent many hours rocking/patting/soothing their baby to sleep by the time they are two months old!

 

If you go in, try to soothe him without picking him up.  This may be by singing a soft lullaby, or shushing, or stroking his face.  Remember we want him to learn new sleep cues that you can continue using for the next couple of years.

 

As soon as he quietens down (not asleep, just quiet) put him down in the cot.  Walk out again and repeat the process.

 

It is always distressing for parents to hear their baby cry.  Nature has programmed us to instinctively respond to a baby's cry.  So you need to be very clear in your own mind about why you are doing this and how your baby and your entire family will benefit from learning this new skill.  If you are concerned about leaving your baby alone, you might choose to stay beside the cot with your hand on his tummy.  It is up to you to decide the best way for your family to do this.

 

The first few days are the hardest, so make sure you have supportive people around you.  But with a consistent approach, you will suddenly find that your baby has dropped off to sleep without any help from you.  And you probably will not know what to do with yourself at first!  And the more practice your baby gets, you will find that she is able to settle herself even when she stirs during periods of light sleep.

 

Helping your baby to learn to self-settle can be a life-changing experience for exhausted new parents.  You will find you are less stressed and you will be able to enjoy more beautiful moments when your well-rested baby is happy and playful for longer periods of time!

 

 

 

 

 

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“I still remember the first time Gina came to my house and the relief I felt as soon as she walked in the door.  With no family in Brisbane I had no support to call on in those early sleep deprived weeks and was lacking confidence in my role as a new mum.  Gina was a listening ear, someone to ask questions to and hand my bundle of (screaming) joy over to so I could have some, much needed, time to myself.  She is such a warm, caring and knowledgeable person who just makes you breathe easier when there; she is not only a baby carer but also a mum carer.

It was through having the support of Gina that got me through the tough times and helped me be a better mum for taking care of myself; my only regret is not calling her sooner.  I now understand the saying "it takes a village to raise a child"... we are not meant to struggle on our own.”

Hayley from Bardon QLD     


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