Expert Talks: How Babies Sleep?

A. - Hello! My name is Anisha and today we’re going to discuss baby sleep with our guest Jemma. She is a Mom of two, a holistic sleep coach, and the author of the DNA sleep program - meet Jemma.

A. - Jemma, being a mother is very hard work, isn’t it?

J. - Absolutely! We, moms, are tired anyway, let’s face it - we’re tired through pregnancy, tired because you had a baby and you gave birth, you’re absolutely exhausted. Finally, you have a little human to look after, but I’m pretty sure it takes a good couple of years for you to start really getting on top of that feeling and to start feeling more normal.

A. - My dad always jokes that he was tired for 18 years!

J. - I’ve got two children and my eldest is just turned four and I’m still tired.  

 

A. - To start off, I’ve got a really simple question: why do babies have bad sleep? Why does that happen? 

J. - Well, to be really honest - babies don’t have bad sleep, we have bad sleep because of babies. Often what goes on with our little babies is absolutely biologically normal.

Babies don’t sleep for long periods of time and there are a lot of reasons behind that:

  • In the early days, they need to feed a lo, they have tiny tummies and if they slept a lot without food - they wouldn’t grow and thrive

  • Another reason they have short periods of sleep - is a safety reason. If babies don’t go have long periods of deep sleep, it’s thought to be protective against SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) 

  • And there’s also a lot of things that are going on in their brain. The majority of brain development and all the connections happen in the first two years of life.  When they’re learning lots of new skills (how to crawl, walk, talk), the brain needs to process them. During that time our brain needs a certain type of sleep called REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep). This type of sleep processes what we’ve learned in the daytime into memory in our brains. But during REM sleep they can be easily disturbed. 

So, when we say ‘’why do babies sleep badly?’ - they're not sleeping badly, they just sleep as human babies should sleep. But the thing is we find it so hard. 

 

A. - Right. What I’m wondering now is: I’ve got two friends with babies where one sleeps bad, and one sleeps well.

And we wonder, does the behavior of a mom during pregnancy influence a child’s sleep?  

J. - All babies are different. I had this thing in my head when I first got my baby. I thought that they all did the same things - at 3 or 6 months they would sleep through the night. If my first child does this - my second child would do the same, and we would do the same routine.

But no.

Children are different.

Some babies are very settled and calm, fall asleep by themselves, some babies don’t. It’s about understanding what your child needs and trying to go with that, more than looking at the sleep plans, schedules you find online and trying to make them fit. We just need to be patient and open minded.

J. - As a sleep coach, I don’t ever provide my clients with a routine that is the same for everybody. Some people say “What? What you mean there is no routine, no timetable?

I know from experience when a book says “you have to give them food at that hour” and “they should fall asleep at that hour” - that didn't work with my children. I was doing something wrong, and I thought my baby was broken if it didn’t follow that. It’s really worth finding out what works with your little one. So throw these books out, just try to figure out what works with your baby.

 

A. - Yeah! Let’s go to another question. I’m sure everybody wants the answer - best things to do when your baby’s bawling its eyes out. What do you do? 

J. - Speaking about my experience. My son cried a lot. He had tongue tie and we had problems with breastfeeding (he was really tiny), he had colic - he cried for hours, every single day for weeks, that was really stressful.

It’s important to remember that children can only communicate by crying - because they’re hungry, bored, wet, they want to sleep… But sometimes babies just cry. It’s really worth checking out what’s going on and search for some helpful tips on a website: http://purplecrying.info/    

A. - I’m assuming like, it must be hard to find the exact reasons for everything. Do you think it’s more important to figure out the reason first? 

J. - You’re never going to find the exact reason at the first sight. You just go through the checklist in your mind:

  • are they hungry

  • rule out discomfort

  • do they need a diaper change

  • is there something that you can fix, etc.

If all those fail, you literally just have to try things like some skin-to-skin contact (it can really help), sometimes you just have to hold them and cuddle them. Babies can get really inconsolable when they are overtired.

So if you’re finding that every time you try to help them to go to sleep they’re crying a lot, then it’s worth just trying to get them down a little bit sooner.

On the flip side if you’re trying to get them down to sleep too early and they’re just getting a bit frustrated ‘cause you’re trying to get them to sleep when they're not tired.

So parenting, and certainly with the children in their early days, is not easy and it can feel a lot like trial and error.

 

A. - That’s really helpful! When it comes to really inconsolable babies, where are these strict rules kinda coming to a fact, what do you have to make sure you’re doing (things like lying on the back)?

J. - Yes, researchers say that babies, that lie on the front or on the sides are at high risk of sudden infant death syndrome. So it’s really important to place babies to sleep on their backs every time. It is really important to do this before they learn how to roll themselves front and back and back to front - once they can, you can allow them to find the right position to sleep in. But before that - always put them on their backs to sleep. 

 

A. - Thank you, this is very important. Since we talked a little bit about strict rules, just kinda quick little answers - any “what to do” “what not to do” before bedtime?

J. - The best is:

  • to avoid just before bedtime things like screens - TV, tablets, phones, etc. Blue screens really mess around with the sleep hormone that is produced at night, it’s called melatonin. 

  • Try to make sure that kids are going to bed not overtired. What happens when they’re overtired is they get a bit dysregulated, really excitable, they may run around the house like crazy - all this happens because they should have gone to sleep earlier. 

  • Try to avoid over stimulating activities and noisy games right before bedtime. 

  • And awake windows, we talk about awake windows quite a lot, because of the impact it has on your child’s ability to fall and stay asleep. The awake window is the time your baby is awake between each nap, focusing on making sure the gap between the last nap and bedtime can make a difference to night time sleep. 

  • Try a lovely calm massage 

  • Definitely, dim the lights as well in the evenings. Light and dim light can really help to set our circadian rhythm.

  • When you wake up in the morning - open the curtains, it will help the baby to realize that it’s daytime. And in the nighttime, a couple of hours before bed, close the curtains, get the lights dim. Even if you’re bathing the baby in the bathroom and it’s really bright there - it can make the child not want to sleep. Maybe use some candles, much better than bright bathroom lights.

  • For me, one of the biggest things about having a good routine is building a lot of connection with a baby at the end of the day, by talking about what you did today together, focusing on 1:1 play time.. 

 

A. - What about feeding? Would you say breastfeed right before bed or however?

J. - Yes, before sleep it is one of the most natural biological ways to go to sleep. In the first few months, it’s hard not to feed to sleep, it’s totally OK! But if you want to stop feeding to sleep because you’re tired, or you want someone else to help with bedtime that’s OK too..

I’m not a sleep coach who will tell people they need to stop feeding to sleep unless the parent wants to do that.  

 

A. - One more question “Baby is sleeping only with me, not alone” - what to do?

J. - This is really normal for young children, they want to be near us. But we can feel a bit frustrated.

One tip - if your baby’s really little and they need to nap quite often - it’s really worth getting your hands on a sling/carrier.

If they are older and you want to try to start getting them down in the crib, moses basket, or wherever - usually the easiest time to get them to do that is bedtime, or for the first nap.

Just keep practicing. The transition out of arms can be difficult because they wake up.

Sometimes, if your baby is having 5 or 10 minutes of sleep in your arms, and then when you want to put them down in the crib, they suddenly wake up. It’s because that  sleep pressure’s gone because they’ve had a 5-minute nap already. If that happens either put them down really quickly after falling asleep or wait about 15 minutes until they are in a really deep sleep.

 

A. - Thank you, that is super helpful. Now I’ve got the ultimate question for you - do you have your top tips? Like your “number one”, just making sure that your baby is getting good sleep? Do you have some secret hacks?

J. - Yes, sure. So, things like:

  • make sure that they’re having enough naps during the day, so they’re not overtired at bedtime. 

  • make sure those naps are spread quite evenly during the day. Enough sleep in the day will help them sleep better at night. 

  • make sure that sleep hygiene is good: have consistent wake up and bed times, lots of daylight during the day, dim the lights in the evening, have a lovely bedtime routine, - all those sorts of things would just really serve as a good foundation to helping your baby to sleep.

 

A. - I find it really inspiring to hear that you don’t have to necessarily follow this really strict and perfect routine and it really just comes down to listening to your baby, listening to yourself, the environment, and doing what you think is best at the moment.

J. - Yes, babies don’t have wants, they only have needs and especially in the early days, we are here to support those needs no matter what.

It’s really worth remembering that babies are not manipulative, they’re not crying because they say “oh, if I cry, then this will happen”.

They’re crying because they just need us.

When you think this way, it can feel easier to deal with all that. You cannot spoil your baby by responding to their cries.

 

A. - Yeah! That is amazing! It has been such a pleasure to chat with you. Thank you for sharing! Now I feel so excited about my future mom duties, what a great message to Moms!

J. - Just keep going, you’re doing an amazing job! If you need me, I’m really happy to talk anytime! Just get in touch!



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