Help, my baby won't sleep!

12 Apr 12 07:00AM EST
Post by Robyn Ball
Toddler wanting to get out of cot
Whoever came up with the saying “sleeping like a baby” must have had one of those one-in-a-million textbook babies who slept way more than mine do.

The perennial problem of babies and toddlers who either won’t fall asleep or won’t stay asleep was recently thrown into the spotlight through Adam Mansbach’s adults-only bedtime story Go the f**k to sleep.

Mansbach gives voice to the thousands - perhaps millions - of parents of young children, who get anxious each afternoon as the sun begins to go down in anticipation of the hours of patting, rocking, “shshhhing” and pleading that lay ahead.

With so many edgy, sleep-deprived parents out there, it’s no surprise that there are a multitude of products on the market which claim to deliver a baby – and her parents – a full night’s sleep, guaranteed.

Products marketed as baby sleep aids

Some of the popular products which claim to aid longer, more settled sleep include:
  • Wraps and bedding systems
  • Bedtime bath and other lotions
  • Music and light gadgets

So do they work?

Well as the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true…

On closer examination, for example, the Johnson's Baby Bedtime lotions which claim to be “clinically proven” to help baby sleep better include the qualification “when used as part of a routine”.

A cynic would argue that routine - minus any of the massage oils and white noise generators - would have the same is one thing worth considering in relation to these products: If you think something is helping, or even might help, the chances are it could be making you a feel a bit calmer which is likely to rub off on your baby.

If a wrap that zips up tightly around your baby makes it easier for you to get them in and out for nappy changes and they seem to like it then why not use it? But claims that simply placing your baby in one of these will result in a full nights’ sleep every night forth are hard to believe.

Routine is key

Unfortunately, there are no magic solutions and most of us have to teach our babies to sleep the hard way. Even the advertorial for Johnson’s Baby Bedtime products on the Johnson’s website features a video in which a Tresillian nurse says that routine is key.

Aids like wrapping and dummies can be useful but in the end most babies need consistency. They need to learn how to settle themselves and they need clear signs that it’s time to sleep on an ongoing basis.

In other words, once you get them putting themselves to sleep and sleeping for long stretches, you can’t then expect that things will keep going smoothly if you take off in a caravan around Australia.

In fact, in the more extreme cases, some babies will need to be re-taught to sleep every time they cut a tooth or get the sniffles. This is how both mine are – and it’s very tiring.

What is “teaching to sleep”?

Sleeping all night is something we all do naturally, right? Wrong.

Few babies will consistently fall asleep and stay asleep unaided. In reality none of us sleep all night. We wake and go back to sleep several times throughout the night.

Babies who don’t know how to self-settle will have trouble going back to sleep after each of these waking moments and will instead call for attention. So it’s important to teach your baby how to put herself to sleep without your assistance.

What help is available?

If like me, you have a baby who just won’t sleep for long enough, despite your best efforts, it may be time to call for help beyond the bedtime lotion and musical mobiles. Lack of sleep can be debilitating and if you have other children to look after or need to return to the workforce you really start to need that full night’s sleep.

We’re fortunate that there are a lot of resources in Australia which offer help in teaching your baby to sleep.
  • Baby health clinics can provide tips and referrals to family support centres or specialists if required
  • Family support centres, such as Tresillian, can provide residential programs where you and your baby stay for a few nights. Unfortunately, there can be long waiting lists and you will often be required to complete a “day stay” required first.
  • Private baby whisperers who come to your home are available but they can be quite expensive and you'd need to be sure you're comfortable with their technique.
If you have a baby or toddler who is a difficult sleeper, have you found any products which helped or did you seek professional help? Do you have any tips for sleep-deprived parents?

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