Your baby's sleep - expert dossier
Practical advice for a good night’s sleep
The number of hours that your baby sleeps during the day can vary considerably from one baby to another: as long as your baby is alert and in good health, don't worry if he sleeps a lot… or very little. The most important thing for him over the first few months is to learn the difference between night and day: that way, he will spontaneously pick up the sleep rhythm that best suits him.
Sleeping in the right conditions
- Always put your baby to bed on his back, ensuring that his airways are completely clear. This position dramatically reduces the risk of cot death.
- Cot bumpers are generally not advised – they can result in your baby suffocating. If your baby's bed does have one, however, put it under the mattress to stop him from lifting it up.
- If you want to have your baby sleep in your room for the first few weeks or months, don't deprive yourself: after 9 months inside your tummy, he will be very reassured by your being there during the night. But for the whole family to be happy with this choice, it has to be made with dad's agreement. Dad will also play an important role in helping you to slowly “break away” when you decide to move your baby into his own room.
- Watch out for the first few signs of your baby feeling sleepy: for him to fall asleep easily, you have to put him to bed as soon as he starts to look tired, right at the start of the sleep cycle. Every child has his own way of showing you that he is tired – and you have to learn how to read the signs. they can yawn, rub their eyes, suck their thumb or touch their earlobes. Sometimes the arches of their eyebrows go red. Or they get excited and can't calm down. Or they just withdraw completely. As soon as you see these signs, put your baby to bed immediately.
Helping your baby to fall asleep
- Rocking your baby will reproduce exactly the same movements that they became accustomed to inside your tummy: doing this often helps very young babies to fall asleep. If your baby does not calm down by himself, rock him in your arms or put him in a proper cradle that you can gently rock to help him fall asleep. If possible, try and end the rocking before your child is completely asleep. This way, he will gradually learn to fall asleep on his own and get back to sleep after the inevitable night-time interruptions between two sleep cycles.
- Moms often give pacifiers to their babies as an automatic reflex. Unfortunately, this will result in you being woken up many times during the night – the child takes several months to learn how to put it back in when they lose it. Whenever possible, avoid getting into this habit with your baby so as to avoid being woken up too many times.
- Once your baby is sleeping in his own room, decorate it with familiar objects that he will enjoy seeing every day (posters, mobiles, teddy bears, etc.). This will help him relax and fall asleep easily.
- A security blanket, teddy bear or a piece of cloth with your scent on it will also help your child separate from you, eventually helping him to fall asleep on his own.
- After the first few months of your child’s life, adopt a going-to-bed ritual involving cuddles, a story, gentle singing, etc. These habits will quickly become associated with an essential transition between day and night for your baby, helping him to prepare for the long night of being apart from you. But make sure that this ritual does not last too long: otherwise if you appear to have difficulty leaving him, you may end up making your child think that the night is a period of danger.
Managing night-time interruptions
- Over the first few months, if your baby wakes up frequently crying during the night, twisting around painfully after a bottle or breast feed, and unable to stay lying down, it may well be that he is suffering from infantile colic or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): these painful conditions are very common among very young babies. Talk about it with your paediatrician. There are a number of ways to quickly soothe your child and get him sleeping properly (raising his mattress, using a thickening milk, etc.)
- At 1 year-old, your baby's sleep may be disturbed by nightmares. If he wakes up crying and frightened, turn on a soft light and reassure him, rocking him and gently speaking to him to bring him back to reality. If necessary, you can stay next to him until he falls asleep again.
- You should not confuse night terrors, which are similar to sleepwalking, with nightmares. These can sometimes be very upsetting: the child sits up or stands on their bed, shouts, opens their eyes, and seems very agitated and afraid. And yet… they are still asleep! If this happens, don't wake your child up. Instead, establish physical contact with him, reassuring him and gently stroking his head or shoulders. Remain next to him until he calms down. Don't worry: night terrors do not present any danger for your baby.