LIFE

Your Baby's Sleep During The First Nine Months

What to expect (and how to cope).

27/06/2016 2:30 PM AEST | Updated July 15, 2016 12:56
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Yeah... it's not going to look like this all the time.

After "congratulations" and "he/she is so beautiful", the next topic of conversation for any first-time parent invariably revolves around sleep. How much you're getting, how much the baby is getting, and whether or not that amount is considered 'good' or 'bad'.

While it's no secret that new parents can pretty much say a big fat "see ya" to their old sleeping schedule once a baby arrives, opinions on what constitutes 'normal' sleeping behaviour for both parent and bub can differ from source to source.

The Huffington Post Australia spoke to psychologist at the Integrated Sleep Health Clinic and the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, Liora Kempler, to find out what to expect in the first nine months.

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Firstly, and most obviously, expect to be very, very tired -- but not for the reasons you might think.

"The reason you see so many new mums walking around like zombies is actually due to sleep fragmentation as opposed to a lack of sleep," Kempler told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Newborns can sleep for 18 hours a day, but only two to four hours at a time, so mums will be breastfeeding much more frequently and finding they need to get up through the night much more often.

"Sleep fragmentation has similar effects to chronic short sleep, which is why many parents will feel they are suffering from sleep deprivation."

Newborn

"It's pretty normal when babies are born to sleep around the clock, because they can't differentiate between day and night," Kempler said. "What many people don't know is there are two types of newborn sleep: active and quiet."

According to Kempler, 'quiet' sleep in newborns can be likened to non-REM sleep in adults, while active sleep is closer to REM sleep.

"The interesting thing is babies can be quite vocal and active during their active sleep phase," Kempler said. "Parents can mistake that for wake behaviour and, thinking their child is awake, pick them up and actually wake them up, and disturb their sleep in doing that. By frequently disrupting your baby's sleep, it means they might not learn to transition between the phases of sleep as well

"Something we encourage parents to do, if their baby is not very obviously awake -- so tossing and turning and letting a bit of sound out -- is to watch and wait and see what happens.

"After a minute or so, the baby will often go back to very quiet solid sleep."

Sally Anscombe
When you gotta snooze, you gotta snooze.

For those who want to maintain a flexible lifestyle (as much as possible with a newborn, anyway), Kempler recommends allowing your baby to sleep in environments other than their cot.

"Encouraging your baby to sleep in different places -- so in their pram, on you, in their cot -- is a good idea," Kempler said.

"If you put them in the cot at night and let them sleep in pram or on you during the day, they are going to be able to fall asleep when they are tired and not be fully dependent on the cot. It's actually a really good thing to do at the beginning. Also, it encourages Mum to get out and about which is often really needed at the start, in order to avoid cabin fever."

From six weeks

"It helps to start establishing a pre-bed routine," Kempler said. "This can be any number of things -- having a bath, having a feed, reading a book -- just a nice relaxing activity before going to sleep.

"The baby will probably still need help to actually fall asleep, so that can include rocking, feeding, patting, shushing and so on, but implementing a pre-bed routine now will help you later on."

Four to five months

"At this stage, you can start the transition to the cot to initiate sleep," Kempler said. "You may need to rock them or soothe them until they are 80 to 90 percent asleep before putting the baby in the cot to finish the process."

Putting the baby in the cot before he or she finally falls asleep can help minimise the 'shock' of waking up later.

"If you went to sleep in your bed and woke up on the kitchen floor, you'd be surprised too," Kempler said. "The same thing happens with babies. They think they went to sleep in their mum's arms and suddenly they wake up and they're in the cot. It can be a bit of a shock.

"Having the baby fall asleep while in the cot is a good thing to start practicing, though of course at this stage they will still be having naps during the day. Letting them sleep in the pram during these times is fine."

Alexandra Grablewski
Milk drunk?

Six months

"Around six months is when they say babies are neurologically ready to fall asleep on their own," Kempler said.

"But a lot of them won't. It's not a case of hitting six months and saying 'oh sweet I'm in the clear' -- there is a lot of variability."

According to Kempler, six months of age is a good time to start phasing out the assistance you give in terms of getting the baby off to sleep.

"At this stage they're already falling asleep in the cot, but you are helping them fall asleep by patting or shushing them. Now is the time to gradually remove yourself from the settling process. You might keep up with the patting but phase out the shushing, for example."

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So peaceful (when they're sleeping)...

While Kempler says it's usually encouraged for a baby to spend a year sleeping in their parents' room, she also notes this is not commonly practiced in Australia, with many people choosing to move their children into a separate room at four to six months.

"There are a couple of reasons behind this. By 4-5 months they have usually grown out of their bassinet and the cot doesn't always fit in the parents' room, so the decision is made for practical reasons.

"Even if people have the option [to keep their baby in their room for longer], to be honest, it's always going to be difficult to move your child into a different room no matter what the time."

Nine months

"By this stage, a lot of people will already have stopped feeding their child through the night. Pretty much every child is ready not to feed during the night by nine months, though some children will still take comfort from the feeding process, even if they're not hungry," Kempler said.

"If you have a partner who can settle the baby to sleep, this can help a lot. Even at this age a baby knows milk comes from mummy and not daddy (if breastfeeding, that is) and if you are in the process of taking the feed away, by having dad doing the settling, the baby already knows it's not going to get milk.

"Pre-bed routine is always a good idea, as is reducing stimulation. Knowing what to expect is a big factor for them, so trying to keep behaviour consistent can be really beneficial."

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Get used to this.

Tips for coping

"It is amazing what one child can do to two adults," Kempler said. "But I do have some advice for adults to help them get through this time."

1. Communicate

"It sounds really obvious but a lot of parents don't do it. In most relationships, mums spend a lot more time with baby than the dad does, and as such can't assume Dad knows what baby likes. If he is doing something wrong, instead of taking baby away and saying 'forget it, I'll do it' stop and say, 'I've actually found this works better'."

2. Divvy up the night shift (if possible)

"If you're having a really hard time in the sleep arena, it can help to have a plan in terms of who goes to tend to the baby in the night," Kempler said.

"For instance, Dad -- or whoever the working partner is -- might sleep from 10pm to 5am, but then offer to take over from 5am until they go to work. That means whoever is doing the majority of the night shift has this light at the end of the tunnel -- they will get at least two hours sleep from 5am to 7am.

"If this isn't an option during the week, maybe see if you can implement something similar on the weekends."

3. If it's not working, change your approach

"There's only so much you can do to change your baby. They are people after all, not robots. If what you're doing isn't working, think about changing it up.

"For instance you may have never napped in your whole life, but give it a go if you're struggling to get through the day. You're probably tired and need it. A very short nap can also be very helpful -- 20 minutes is actually an ideal amount of time. See what you can do to adapt to the baby, rather than the other way around."

4. Have realistic expectations

"The expectations of parents have a big impact on how they cope with all of this," Kempler said.
"If you have read that, at six months, your baby can sleep through the night and self soothe, you are going to be very disappointed if this doesn't happen."

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Lucky they're so cute.

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