Confessions of a Sleep Consultant: The Jett Diaries; Week Twelve

Many will claim that things magically get better from the three month mark. I don’t know if it is so much as magic as a lot of long nights, early mornings, and blood, sweat and tears in the process; literally!

The main improvement I notice as the weeks go by, is Jett’s consistency with night sleeps. I am extremely grateful we are no longer awake for hours overnight with grunting and groaning as his little body struggles with the adjustment to life on the outside (over-stimulation, drinking milk, tummy upsets, and wind). For babies with colic or reflux, symptoms usually begin to subside around 3 months, however, can take anywhere up to 12 months (or even longer) for some more extreme cases.

Day sleeps on the other hand, can take much longer to establish than nights, with many babies not successfully linking sleep cycles for day naps until 6 months onward (Catnapping is common). At this age, it is preferable for our babies to be sleeping at least one full sleep cycle at each nap (45-50 minutes). In cases where it is more like 20-30min, then I recommend re-settling them back to sleep where possible, or if unsuccessful – you can shorten their next awake time to more like 45 – 60 min to avoid over-tiredness.

Which brings me to the question of self settling, and at from what age should we be encouraging this?  Although it’s never too early to start, many parents experience more consistent results from 3-4 months onward. Many factors can impact our baby’s ability to self settle; temperament, over-stimulation, being overtired or under tired, illness, leaps, colic/reflux, sleep needs, soothers (e.g. dummy, comforter), routine and environment. As this is an acquired skill, know that your child will become more competent the older they get (if given regular space and encouragement to do so). Whilst I am an advocate of the fourth trimester in the first three months after birth; where rocking and feeding to sleep, and baby wearing for day naps is beneficial to our baby’s transition from womb to world, we must be careful of the sleep associations we create from 3-4 months onward, as these can become their sleep needs, and interfere with self-soothing ability.

So what’s so bad about rocking, holding, or feeding to sleep? Well nothing if it is working for you. The issue that I see most in my practice is parents who cannot get their baby (4 months – 2yrs) to sleep any other way. And when they do finally rock or feed them to sleep, they wake just 45 minutes (or less) later, screaming to be helped back to sleep (day and night!). In cases where this is more of a hinderance than help, I suggest some techniques to lessen the reliance on these sleep associations.

If you are using a dummy, now may also be a good time to **think** about giving it up, or reducing your baby’s reliance on it (e.g keeping only for sleep times if you’re using one during the day also). At 4 months, the sucking becomes more habit, than reflex – and the longer a habit persists, the more difficult it is to break. A personal decision, and a difficult one to make if your baby’s only source of comfort is the dummy! (speaking from personal experience with a dummy loving 2 year old!)

Between 3-4 months is when it becomes increasingly important to incorporate some structure and consistency to your day; where your child sleeps, day and night/bedtime routine, and positive sleep associations. Positive sleep associations refer to those which are sustainable, promote lengthy and quality sleep, optimise self soothing capabilities, and require limited intervention from us as parents in the long term. Examples include; white noise, comforter, swaddling/sleeping bag, and a dark room. Whilst I refuse to label feeding and rocking to sleep as a negative association, it can prevent the quality and quantity of sleep in some babies if they continue to wake frequently (unable to transition into consecutive sleep cycles unassisted). Around 6 months is where our babies begin to develop object permanence; they know when we are gone from the room, and become increasingly aware of changes in their environment. Having them sleep (cot/room/family bed) where you intend to them to sleep ongoing is beneficial, as changing sleeping spaces from 6 months onwards becomes increasingly more challenging for parents and baby! As I always maintain …there is no wrong or right, just what feels right for you and your family!

Establishing an environment conducive to sleep is also very important when looking to enhance quality sleep, and lengthen day/night sleep. The three main environmental factors which impact on a baby’s ability to sleep is amount of light exposure, warmth, and noise (or lack thereof). Exposure to natural sunlight during the day will encourage melatonin production (sleep hormone) and keep their body clock in check, whilst maintaining a dark room for sleep, signals to their little brains to release melatonin (promoting sleepiness and relaxation).
White noise is a great for blocking out any household or outside distractions, and being too cold is one of the main reasons for restless sleep. Also important to look at these three elements with respect to what your baby has become accustomed to in the womb; constant sound (your heartbeat, blood rushing, and muffled outside noises), a temperature of 37 degrees, and darkness.

Keep in mind the main developmental factors around 3 months which can influence sleep; onset of teething, developmental leap 3, increased alertness, growth spurt, and the maturity of their circadian rhythm (body clock) – which can impact on sleep patterns. And of course emotional wellbeing has a huge role to play.

WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT AT 12 WEEKS/3 MONTHS:

Awake time of 1.5hrs (1hr in the morning or 1hr 15min rest of the day plus 15 min wind down time). I find any later to bed, and I have missed this window, creating him to become overtired and more difficult to settle
Average of 45 minute naps – regardless of carrier, bassinet, or car (until this week he would sleep 3-4hrs at times in the carrier if we were out and about!)
Growth spurt over a few days; irritability during the day, constant feeding (or cluster feeding), and more frequent night wakings (for feeds)
Personality/temperament will be more pronounced – you will know by now if your child is a more sensitive or spirited type (requiring more help at sleep time, or during times of development or change) versus an independent, relaxed child who sleeps relatively well with limited intervention.  This will heavily influence how your one sleeps ongoing (regardless of routine or environment)
Increasingly alert, making breastfeeding in public (or even outside of the bedroom) challenging
Sleeping for stretches of 4-6 hours overnight, feeding anywhere between 3-8 hourly overnight
Easily detectable tired signs – red eyebrows, yawning, short/jerky hand and leg movements, crying/fussing
More structured routine during the day
Established sleep associations: dark room, white noise, swaddle, sleep bag, comforter
3 month growth spurt – cluster feeding, irritability, more frequent night wakings
lots of drooling, chewing on hands, irritability – some children start teething from this age
Bedtime anywhere between 6pm -9pm
It can be beneficial to introduce a dreamfeed to get more mileage between feeds overnight (spaced 3 hrs from bedtime). Aim to stick to a minimum of 3hrs between feeds overnight – any more than this, I recommend addressing their intake during the day as they may be compensating for lack of day nutrition – especially common around this age when babies become more distracted during the day to feed!

DISCLAIMER: Every baby is an individual and will have unique sleep requirements. The above is guide only. I always encourage parents to follow their intuition with respect to their baby’s needs. And of course, nothing is a problem, unless it is a problem for you!

I would love your feedback if you have anything to add to this. What did your baby do around this age?

Until next time, with love,
Sophie & Jett xoxo

 

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