Sleep doctor: How new mums can get more shut-eye

Kristine Tarbert

It’s a universal reality: having a baby means bye bye sleep-ins, or any kind of decent sleep really.

If you’ve ended up with a bub that magically sleeps through the entire night at two weeks old, then lucky you. Enjoy it!

But the vast majority of new mums haven’t, according to a 2017 national survey by Galaxy Research.

Research says 84% of mums suffer from sleep deprivation. Photo: Getty

It comes as no surprise that 84 per cent of Aussie mums with babies and toddlers aged up to three, have suffered from sleep deprivation.

What’s worrying about the results though is that of those mums, a huge 95 per cent have experienced negative feelings because of it.

The poll revealed around half of all mums surveyed said that reduced sleep caused particularly stressful feelings including anxiety (50 per cent), feelings of failure (47 per cent) and guilt (40 per cent).

A shocking 95% of mums have negative feelings as a result. Photo: Getty

A further 22 per cent admitted to battling severe depression or post-natal depression as a result of their lack of sleep.

Baby sleep consultant Maryanne Sayers, who helped launch an online resource for mums called DreamStartBaby, says the lack of a good routine for both mum and bub from day one is the main cause.

“It starts a domino effect. Mothers are not being educated on how to manage their baby’s sleep, feed and wake cycles from day one, in fact much of the advice given is not to worry about implementing any sort of routines or patterns for the first 4 to 6 months,” Maryanne tells Be.

A lack of routine can lead to an overtired unsettled baby. Photo: Getty

“As a result they end up with an overtired, unsettled baby day and night which gets worse as time goes on and it spirals down this exhausting and relentless pathway for mum and baby for months.”

The poll also discovered the average mum gets less than 4.5 hours of sleep a night in the first few months with their new baby, with one in four mums (24 per cent) usually getting just three hours or less of sleep each night.

Sleep doctor Maryanne gives Be some tips to help us sleep. Photo: Getty

Maryanne says having a sleep routine is key because even babies thrive on consistency to help regulate their own 24-hour body clock.

“Without a consistent sleep routine, babies will struggle, meaning they don’t establish regular sleep patterns,” she explains.

“This means their coping mechanisms break down, and they end up in a recurring cycle of sleep deprivation every day that is never resolved.”

Thankfully Maryanne has given Be some tips to help you and your baby have a good night’s sleep.


Establish your baby’s 24-hour clock

Your baby’s circadian rhythms are regulated by light and dark. During the day they nap when tired but at night time you want them to have one long continuous stretch for 12 to 13 hours with feeds through the night.

This is the first aspect of setting up a baby’s routine. The ideal bedtime for babies is 6pm, and 6.30pm for older toddlers.

Always make your baby sleep in their cot. Photo: Getty


Always put your baby to sleep in their cot

When you’re at home, don’t put your baby down to sleep in different places throughout the house such as on a lounge, bed, or pram.

At home your baby should always sleep in their bassinette or cot – day and night. By doing this from the word go, your baby will quickly form a strong sleep association with their own cot. It’s all about consistency.

Learn to read your baby's tired signs. Photo: Getty

Respond to tired signs

This is essential during the day. Learn to recognise these signs such as your baby becoming irritable, rubbing their eyes, yawning, or making jerky arm and leg movements.

Babies get worn out quickly, and if left up for too long they become overtired and over-stimulated making it very difficult for them to fall asleep easily.

Avoid too many toys around your baby's cot. Photo: Getty


Create the optimum sleep environment for your baby

Your baby’s cot area should be free of musical toys, hanging mobiles, play mirrors etc as these all equate to noise, colour and movement. These are strong stimuli and distractions and not conducive to restful sleeping at all.

Don’t be lured by the promise on a product’s packaging that such items will help soothe your baby to sleep. They won’t!


Allow your baby to acquire the self-settling skill

All babies can sleep, will sleep and love sleep. But the more you allow your baby to self-settle, the sooner they’ll acquire the skill.

Falling asleep will become their natural response when they’re tired. This will mean some initial unsettlement. But know that you can go to your baby at any time and provide them brief comfort as needed, before leaving the room again to allow them time to put themselves back to sleep.

If you're experiencing feelings of anxiety or depression contact BeyondBlue or PANDA for support.

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