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I am currently in the process of applying for funding in conjunction with Durham University to conduct research into parental experiences of decision-making in relation to infant sleep.
The main points are: (Click here for handout with more detail)
- Every baby sleeps for different amounts! There is very wide variation in how long babies will sleep for at night: 8-22 hours out of 24. There are also different expectations about what sleeping through the night means (in many studies this is midnight to 5am!). Diurnal (day & night patterns) aren't established until 3 months so it is not common for babies to sleep through until at least then and a third won't be at 1-2 years.
- Current policy advises that babies sleep in the same room as you for the first 6 months - that means daytime naps too. (They are not likely to be disturbed by household noises, but you are able to keep an eye on them.)
- Some babies do not sleep for longer stretches whatever their parents try. If your baby sleeps 'badly' please do not be made to feel that you are doing something wrong. Read the booklet below for tips, and try discussing the situation objectively with a friend for ideas, but ultimately it may just take time. Your baby's sleep will improve with time.
- There is a lack of evidence that changing the mode of feeding has any effect on baby's or mother's amount of sleep. Although it is normal for breastfed infants to wake regularly to feed in the night, and for their mothers be woken more often than those of formula fed babies, periods of wakefulness are longer in formula fed babies and the net outcome in terms of sleep duration is the same.
- There are different infant sleep techniques described in books and on-line. Research studies have trialled many of these, but there is no 'one size fits all' solution and therapeutic methods (e.g. controlled crying, gradual withdrawal) have not been shown to work below 6 months. The approach needs to be realistic in your personal situation (taking account of other children, shift working, support available, feeding approach etc). Consistency is important.
As I come across useful resources, I will post them here:
There is a lot of information available on www.isisonline.org.uk (Infant Sleep Information Source)
This site has free clips and a DVD to purchase on how social your baby is, with tips on how to help them sleep: www.socialbaby.com. There is a video on how to swaddle your baby.
Tips on Infant and Parent Sleep booklet - This has some useful facts and tips about sleep. It contains good general advice, but may not fit with an attachment parenting approach. It doesn't describe how breast milk at night contains more fat, which is good for your baby's development, and there are mixed views about the composition of breast milk through a feed (i.e. where it is talking about getting the hind milk).
'Supporting parents who are worried about their newborn's sleep' by Prof Helen Ball, editorial in the British Medical Journal - This article describes how many health professionals do not realise the variety in infant sleep patterns and reinforce the concept that 'sleeping through the night' is normal. This message also works against evidence that night-time feeding is very important in establishing breastfeeding.
Cry-sis offers support for families with excessively crying, sleepless and demanding babies.
Helpline open 9am to 10pm 0845 228 669
Or find tips at www.cry-sis.org.uk