Sleep is always an issue in families with young kids. We won’t go into detail here as every child and family is so different. Don’t expect miracles before 6 months- the young baby is programmed to require night feeds which can be normal until 8-9 months of age. Thereafter, demanding a milk feed is usually not a nutritional issue but a comfort “prop” to help them fall asleep again. Teaching a child to self soothe is an important tool to impart on your young one and can be done from about 4 months of age. They may need a comforter such as a special small tag blanket, soft toy or dummy/pacifier (or a combination of these) to help them fall asleep.
In the newborn baby, the sleep requirements are high (about 16 hours a day in total for the first few weeks), gradually settling into a pattern of approximately 3 naps per day by 3 months of age and a long (but probably broken!) night’s sleep. If possible, some naps should be more than 40 minutes long to provide restoring sleep. At night time they will continue to wake 3-4 hourly for feeds for the first few weeks; by 3 months there is often a longer “stretch” of sleep during a part of the night of 5-6 hours or so.
Remember that the safest sleep position for your baby is on the back. The “back to sleep” campaign in countries such as the UK and New Zealand has seen the rate of cot deaths halve over only a few years. If the family is really not coping with the interrupted nights, or if there is a sudden change in sleep pattern, it is worth having the child looked at to make sure there is not a physical ailment disrupting the sleep. The routine and feeding pattern should be examined to make sure the daytime sleep and feed requirements are being met. There are a variety of forms of sleep training available, from controlled checking to gentle gradual separation techniques- please discuss with your clinic sister or doctor before embarking on these. If a child is unwell or going through a stage of separation anxiety, it is not a good time to sleep train. Remember that “this too shall pass” and that most children- even the worst initial sleepers- sleep very well by the age of 4 or 5 years (this may seem like a lifetime away if you’re a tired parent- but it comes so quickly!).