Your baby's sleep - expert dossier
Getting your baby to sleep, by Sophie Transler, paediatric nurse
What advice would you give to a young mom in a maternity unit to help her get both herself and her baby to sleep?
“First of all, I would advise her never to wake her child up for any reason and to respect their sleeping rhythms. The mom will gradually adapt her sleeping rhythms to those of her child, without trying to impose her own pattern on them. She could, for example, rest at the same time as her child. This way, she will be able to fit in with her child. She should also allow her child to find a comfortable position for falling asleep in – they will try and recreate the sensations they had in their mom's womb."
Does the parents' attitude have any influence on how babies sleep?
"Yes, parents must respect their child's sleep. And they shouldn't run to them when they cry a little – they may be in the dream phase. If they settle down in the next few minutes, it means they were dreaming and should be left to calm down on their own. If they really need something, they will continue to cry and the parents will know that they are calling them.
Picking them up or disturbing them unnecessarily runs the risk of disrupting their rhythm and creating a need. Nor is it necessary to be completely silent when the baby is sleeping; on the contrary, they may be reassured by hearing their parents' voices from the next room. But you should not make more noise than your baby might have been exposed to when they were in their mom's womb."
Should a mom feed her baby every time they cry? Is there a particular time when they should stop feeding them during the night?
"Over the first few days, yes, and especially when breastfeeding – the quantities of milk produced are still low and are quickly digested. So it is entirely normal for the baby to be hungry 90 minutes to 2 hours after a feed.
But when they are a week old, moms should think about other reasons for their crying before automatically breast- or bottle-feeding them: they may have a dirty nappy, they may be too hot, they may have colic… or perhaps they just need a cuddle, etc.
Up to the age of 3 months, it is normal for them to wake up feeling hungry during the night. If they are still crying during the night after 6 months, it may be that they are not eating enough during the day."
Can breastfeeding on demand lead to sleeping disorders?
"No, because the child knows exactly when and how hungry they are. The main problem is finding out why they are crying. Moms have to learn to recognize their child's cries and eliminate all other possible causes before coming to the conclusion that they are hungry. This is particularly important if the child has colic or reflux, because breastfeeding will calm them down for a while, but the problem will return in an hour or so. Meals don't have to be strictly scheduled, but a balance should be found: yes to breastfeeding on demand, but no to bottle feeding every time the baby cries!"
For more information
Sophie Transler was awarded her nursing diploma in 2001. She undertook paediatric training at the Paris Paediatric School and has since been working in the haematology-oncology unit at the Armand-Trousseau Children's Hospital in Paris.