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How To Get Your Baby To Sleep Through The Night, According To The Experts

It only takes 24 hours to break a habit.

30/05/2017 4:14 PM AEST | Updated 30/05/2017 4:18 PM AEST
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Not what you want to wake up to at 3am.

Ask any new parent what they miss most about their pre-baby life and they'll all probably tell you the same thing: sleep.

And with good reason. Getting enough sleep is vital for physical and mental health, while sleep deprivation can result in a number of health issues ranging from depression to obesity to heart disease.

It's a big deal, and when it comes to getting a baby to sleep through it night, it's also big business, with some 'baby whisperers' charging in the vicinity of $1000 a night for their services. An exorbitant fee, sure, but one many Australian parents are more than willing to pay.

So what's the big deal? Babies can't be that hard to put to sleep, right?

Wrong. According to Elizabeth Sloane, renowned baby sleep whisperer and author of The Gift of Sleep, most new parents don't stand a chance.

"Once mothers are discharged from hospital after giving birth -- so on day five or day three if they have an early discharge -- while the hospital has no doubt given them lots of tips on how to wrap a baby and feed the baby, they have given absolutely none on how to get a baby to sleep," Sloane tells HuffPost Australia.

"And it's important. It's the one component which makes not only the baby very fragile but the whole family unit.

"I say this with the greatest, deepest respect, but most GPs will say, 'look it won't go on forever'. In actual fact it does. It can be a very long period of 18 months to two years of broken sleep which can eat away at family units."

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Know the feeling?

So what's the secret?

Both Sloane and fellow baby whisperer and Baby Bliss author Jo Ryan agree the secret to a good night's sleep is a child's ability to self-settle or, in other words, fall asleep on its own. That way, if the baby does wake during the night, they should be able to put themselves back to sleep without assistance. This ability is what Sloane calls "the real gift of sleep", and what parents are paying through the nose to learn.

Common misconceptions

Teaching your baby how to self-settle should not involve the baby crying itself to sleep. Period.

"Don't be frightened to allow a little bit of grizzle," Sloane says. "But are we talking about controlled crying at week nine? No. The whole world has gone mad.

"Babies having a bit of a sook and grizzle... they are little and it's their only way to communicate. If they are safe and clean and there's nothing actually wrong, it's really great to allow that to happen.

"I think there is this mixed signal that once the baby makes a noise, you have to immediately pick them up. In actual fact you will probably make the baby more overtired and confused, as they will wonder why they are being picked up when there's nothing actually wrong. All they're doing is trying to go to sleep by themselves. The best gift you could give them is the opportunity to try."

There are lots of babies whose parents have never put them down awake. They think they have to be asleep when they go into their bed, but that's not the case. Jo Ryan

It's a sentiment echoed by Ryan, who says many of the babies she sees have never actually been given the chance to try and learn this skill for themselves.

"There are lots of babies whose parents have never put them down awake," she tells HuffPost Australia.

"They think they have to be asleep when they go into their bed, but that's not the case. Babies are very clever and they learn stuff quickly. As long as they are happy and not distressed in their bed, it's okay to put them down awake and step back and see what happens."

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Tactics you may want to rethink

Many parents -- particularly in the early days -- will rely on practices such as rocking or feeding a baby off to sleep, or use an aide such as a dummy.

While these may prove initially helpful, Ryan says they can come back to bite you at a later date.

Dummies

"The dummy can be a real issue. It's a frenemy. Great when they are little, but the sucking association is very strong and they can become quite addicted to that. Then you might run into an issue where the dummy falls out overnight and so the baby will wake up and cry," Ryan says.

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Dummy: friend or foe?

"In that situation my advice would be to take the dummy away. Just go cold turkey. It will be difficult that first night and the baby may protest, but really they are much cleverer than we give them credit for. They are so ready to learn.

"I always say it's short term pain for long term gain. If you can just stick with one or two nights, things can improve dramatically in a very short period of time."

Feeding

"Babies are meant to wake in the night and it's totally appropriate in the first six months that they wake to be fed," Sloane tells HuffPost Australia.

"But if you are finding at, say, week eight, they need something to put them to sleep during their day naps, whether that be a breastfeed or a dummy or a bottle feed, there's a good chance you are setting yourself up for some challenging sleep patterns.

"Feeding shouldn't be used as a tool to make them fall asleep, because if you get into that cycle, chances are they aren't even feeding because they are hungry. They are just associating the sucking as a behaviour to put them back to sleep."

It only takes 24 hours to break a sleep association. Night two will become calmer and night three even better than that.Elizabeth Sloane

Rocking

How would you like it if you fell asleep in your bed, only to wake up on the couch? Freaked out, right? This is the argument behind rocking a baby to sleep before transitioning them into their cot.

"From quite a young age, you can start to put your baby down and settle them in their bed," Ryan advises. "It can happen anytime really if a baby is calm and happy, but certainly from three to six months.

"Some babies will get that really quickly, others you will need to be present to assist them."

Late bedtimes

"I see quite a bit of that. Parents putting their babies down too late," Ryan says. "They actually need to go to bed early. It helps them sleep much better.

"Babies actually have most of their deep sleep before midnight, so they need to get a good stretch. It's a misnomer that putting babies to sleep makes them wake less. It's actually the opposite.

"I would say having them in bed between 6-7pm is ideal."

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Dreamland.

The good news

Both Sloane and Ryan insist babies are fast learners, and if you remain consistent, your efforts will pay off.

"It's about saying, "look, for a couple of nights, I need to follow the three Cs, and that is to stay very calm, very committed and very consistent," Sloane says. "It's knowing when I take that dummy away and when I make that decision to no longer feed in the night, that the baby isn't protesting for me, she is protesting because she is weaning off a sleep association.

"It only takes 24 hours to break a sleep association. Night two will become calmer and night three even better than that."

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