You can’t wait to hit the sack, but your baby seems to have other ideas. ELISA CHIA gets expert tips on how you can help him to nod off.
• Dr Harvey Karp is a paediatrician as well as founder and CEO of Happiest Baby, Inc. He is also the best-selling author of The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep.
• Dr Kenny Pang is a medical director at Asia Sleep Centre.
• Dr Veronica Toh is a specialist in Neonatology and Paediatrics at Rafﬂ es Children’s Centre.
• Zoe Chu is a private baby and child sleep consultant. She recently launched her ﬁrst book, Sleep Baby Sleep!
How much sleep does my newborn need?
DR PANG A newborn generally sleeps two to four hours at a time, adding up to about 18 hours a day. He wakes up hungry and needs to eat around the clock at first, so night and day don’t matter much.
But they matter to me! How can I set his body clock?
DR PANG You can behave differently. During the day, talk to him more while you feed him. At night, be more subdued and quiet. Keep the lighting dim. Eventually, he will catch on and begin to sleep more at night.
But to sleep through the night? How soon that happens will vary according to the individual, as well as factors like age and circumstances.
Will my baby sleep better in a sarong?
DR TOH It’s quite normal for anybody to feel sleepy with movement. That’s what a sarong does. Even when a mum cradles her child, her rocking helps to calm and coax the little one to sleep.
But here’s the more important question: Is it safe? Your baby might fall out from the sarong and, in the worst scenario, fracture his skull.
Thankfully, the incidence of severe head injury has dropped significantly because sarong sleeping is hardly practised now.
Should we tiptoe around our newborn to help him sleep longer?
DR KARP No, that’s a myth. Babies don’t like crashing and chaotic noises, but they desperately need rhythmic, rumbling noises when they’re asleep and upset. In the womb, they had that 24/7. When they get this white noise, they are much happier and better sleepers.
There are many CDs with recordings of womb sounds. You can get them from mobile apps, too – but a word of warning about smartphones: They release microwave radiation, so you should always put yours on airplane mode when you place it near your baby.
How do I teach him to soothe himself to sleep?
DR KARP I’d like to share one of my book’s key suggestions. I warn you, it may make you think I’ve lost my marbles. But humour me. It’s called wake-and-sleep.
Many sleep experts warn that mums who lull their babies to sleep in their arms or while suckling are setting themselves up for misery. They caution that babies soothed to sleep every night won’t learn to self-soothe and will be hooked on Mama’s help to sleep every time they wake up.
The advice sounds logical, but it puts parents in a terrible bind. Yes, rocking or nursing a baby to sleep every night will create a sleep cue he expects at every waking. But it’s impossible to keep him from zonking out when he’s being cradled with a stomach full of warm, sweet milk.
Besides, there is nothing more beautiful than rocking your precious, sleeping child in your arms. So, it feels wrong to tell parents and caregivers not to cuddle their babies to sleep. Yet, it will keep him from learning the skill of self-soothing.
So, what’s a mum to do? Luckily, there’s an easy solution to this puzzle. As your baby’s bedtime approaches:
- Turn on white noise (at the intensity of a soft shower).
- Give a full feeding with lots of delicious holding and rocking.
- When he finishes, swaddle and rock him as long as you want.
But… when you place him in the crib – swaddled and with the sound playing – jiggle him to wake him up a tiny bit. When you rouse your infant after a good feed, his little eyes will open for a second or two and then he will slide back into dreamland.
If he keeps fussing, pick him back up to calm him, but be sure to wake him a tiny bit again when you put him back down.
You’re probably thinking: “Are you out of your mind? There’s no way I’m going to wake my sleeping baby!” But, this is one of the most important tips I can teach you. Even a few seconds of drowsy waking will begin to teach your baby how to self-soothe.
Within a few weeks, you will get a huge reward: As long as he’s not hungry or uncomfortable, he’ll often be able to slide back into sleep on his own.
Can you hear that? My sweetie is snoring. He must be in deep sleep.
DR PANG No, no, no. Snoring is sign of sleep apnoea. This is when the child doesn’t get enough oxygen, which may lead to poor concentration, short attention span, hyperactivity disorders and even brain damage.
Check if his mouth is open while asleep – his nose passage may be blocked. Highlight this to his doctor.
Is it okay to bring Baby into our bed?
DR TOH As a paediatrician, I’ve never encouraged bed sharing. I was a medical officer in the Accident and Emergency Department and, one night, a frantic father rushed a lifeless infant into the emergency room and begged us to revive the child.
The child never made it. It was a tragic story of the dad waking up and finding the infant pinned under him.
The health authorities and government bodies advising against bed sharing have sparked heated debate in recent years. Those who are in favour of this practice cite increasing success at breastfeeding, especially beyond six months.
In a recent study, babies who co-slept with their parents were found to have lower stress hormones at six to 12 months of age.
But doctors worry about the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (Sids) – there are more than 10 studies in the last 20 years confirming that bed sharing is a risk for Sids.
The risk increases exponentially when the mum is obese, smokes or co-sleeps with the infant on a sofa. There is also a small increased risk in infants below three months even when the mothers are non-smokers.
The main reason for the deaths is suffocation, usually from the mum’s sleeping position or blankets. It may also be as innocuous as a hand or a breast compressing the baby’s nose and mouth.
What else should I be aware of about bed-sharing?
DR TOH Mums and babies tend to wake more often and the mums may become more exhausted. Also, the mother’s super attentive tendencies to pick up her little darling may do more harm than good. It may cause potential problems later when the baby gets older and has to move out of the room, such as when a younger sibling arrives. He may have a tough time adjusting to a room by himself.
The lack of a good night’s sleep for months may jeopardise the mother’s health. A recent study has shown that sleep deprivation can lead to memory loss.
His diaper is very wet. Should I wake him up to change it?
DR KARP Babies frequently pee and even poop during the night. So, before you tuck him in, always put a nice layer of protection on his bottom (cocoa butter or zinc oxide is nice; avoid creams with artificial ingredients like fragrances, parabens and petrochemicals). This prevents a rash.
I keep hearing the term ’’dream feed’’? What is that?
DR KARP When your baby wakes at 3am and you feed him, you are in essence rewarding him with sweet milk for waking up. But, of course, you need to give food during the night because it is just too much for most babies to fast from 9pm to 7am.
A dream feed is when you wake him to give an extra feed when you think he will be hungry (say, 12am or 1am).
The idea is to wake him before he wakes you, so you’re giving him the nourishment he needs, but not rewarding him for waking and crying. He usually takes the milk while he’s drowsy and then continues to sleep through 6am or 7am. This way, you can also get a nice stretch of shut-eye, too.
When and how can I wean my baby off night feeds?
ZOE Once your baby is on solids by six months old and fed well throughout the day, you can drop your baby’s night feed. He can be expected to sleep through the night for 11 to 12 hours.
You can drop it by going cold turkey – that is, not feeding your baby at all. When he cries, wait it out for 10 minutes or so. If he is still crying, you can give him some loving touches intermittently. This is to wean him off the habit of waking up for milk even though he might not be hungry.
Some parents prefer the gradual method of nursing a little each subsequent night.
During holidays, how can I help him adjust to his new sleep environment and routine?
ZOE When on the plane, do whatever it takes to get your baby to sleep – even adults find it hard to fall asleep on the plane sometimes.
Ideally, you should try to arrive at the destination just before bedtime so you can start your holiday on the right foot. Your child will get a good night sleep and ready to start the day.
If it’s daytime back home and it’s bedtime at your destination, follow the new time zone and prepare him to sleep. Continue to do the same bedtime routine you did at home even when you are in a foreign land.
Pack his portable cot if you can. At the hotel, try to mimic the home environment by bringing the same bedding, pyjamas and comfort toys so he feels – and smells – right at home.
Be patient with your baby. Just like adults, it takes a few days for him to adjust to a new environment, schedule and time zone.
Enjoy your vacation to the fullest. You may have to break some rules and you may not be able to go back to the hotel in time for bedtime – that’s okay.
You can always go back on track again when you return home. It will take another few days for your baby to readjust to the routine.
’’During the day, talk to him more while you feed him. At night, be more subdued and quiet. Keep the lighting dim. Eventually, he will catch on and begin to sleep more at night.’’