I remember looking down into Hector’s Moses basket and wondering if this squirming, grumbling little creature was ever going to let me get some sleep.
It took time and lots of experimenting but eventually he did begin to settle for a few hours at a time, falling asleep at around 7pm and only waking a couple of times to feed in the night.
And then he started to wake up less and sleep more and suddenly we had our nights back. Albeit with no lie-ins ever, ever but this is a loss I can cope with so long as I’m allowed to sleep at night.
By deploying the same tactics, the subsequent babies have settled more quickly, although they’ve both had their quirks… for a long time #3 was most insistent that he would only sleep in my bed but then maybe I’ve gone soft.
Here are a few things that helped me:
A bedtime routine
Sounds obvious but once we’d started doing bath time at around 6:15pm and feeding just before 7pm the nights started to go a bit better. It was a few weeks before any of my three started to settle in their cots for any meaningful length of time after their bath but it was definitely good groundwork.
nb I didn’t go in for controlled crying or dream feeds but these definitely work for some people. My little schedule, inspired by Alison Scott Wright’s book, was that I fed more or less every three hours between 7am till 7pm and then left baby to sleep from 7pm until they woke for a feed, which gradually became a decent stretch of time.
A cosy bed
Maybe it’s just my babies but they’ve never slept well in Moses baskets. With the first two a couple of rolled up blankets (and eventually one of these Red Castle positioners) seemed to provide the comfort they needed to drop off to sleep; for spoilt number #3 it was a Chicco Next to Me cot with a Sleepyhead mattress.
Some people disapprove but my babies have always slept much better wrapped up (until they were about three or four months and they began to escape).
It was baby expert Rachel Waddilove who showed me how to do it and she also suggested I try positioning baby on his side, wedged between two rolled up blankets. The result was that finally we started to get more than 20 minutes’ sleep at a time.
Marloe London makes soft, enormous muslins that are just perfect for the job. You can read up about swaddling including the pros and cons on the NCT website.
If your baby isn’t settling, there is a chance they are still hungry – even if you’ve just fed them. I went through a stage with baby #3 where I’d put him down for the night knowing that I would be feeding him again within half an hour.
It was as if he didn’t have the energy to take a whole feed at once and in the end I just went with it. He’d usually settle for a good slug of time after that second burst of milk.
Winding them (again)
With their tiny, immature digestive systems babies need help to bring up wind after a feed. If your baby is wriggling and writhing in his cot and definitely isn’t hungry, it could be wind.
There are so many different ways to burp a baby – you’ll have to experiment to see which one works for yours. I found holding baby over my shoulder and rubbing their back usually produced an enormous great burp although it sometimes took a while, along with sitting them on my knee and supporting the front of their neck/ jaw with one hand while rubbing their back with the other.
Remember your baby might need to do a couple of loud burps before they’re content or they might not do one at all – sometimes the rubbing/ patting seems to make them comfortable again without any kind of audible sound.
Give them some space
Sometimes your baby can’t sleep because they are overtired and overstimulated.
This happened to me a lot in those early days of Hector when people came over to meet him. By the end he’d be screaming blue murder, thrashing his arms and legs about and completely unable to settle to sleep.
In these awful situations I found that swaddling him and putting him in his cot, even if he was still screaming, would be the only way he’d settle.
He couldn’t cope with any more physical contact but after a couple of minutes shouting about the injustices of his life in his own bed, he’d fall asleep and all would be well.
It’s easy to confuse over tiredness with excitement: the telltale signs are pumping arms and legs and wriggling and writhing bodies!
Check nothing else is bothering them
If none of the above help and they are more than three months old, there’s a chance your baby could be teething. If you think this might be the case, read this amazing blog on the subject by Lucy Denyer
And if it’s not teething, it could be colic or reflux. My first baby has terrible reflux but once he’d been prescribed medication he started to sleep (and feed) a lot better.
According to sleep expert Alison Scott-Wright, babies cannot vocalise through words and therefore the only way they communicate any upset or distress they feel is by crying. “They will only cry for a reason and any continual and prolonged bout of inconsolable crying should be investigated,” she says.