Questions asked by mums
In the first few months, you can place the bed close to you if you are willing to risk disrupting the few hours of sleep you might manage to grab, or put it in the bedroom next to yours, so that you can hear the baby when they wake up and to make night feeds and changes easier.
It is up to you to decide if you want to be right next to your child, especially just after birth. Later, as soon as they begin to sleep through the night, it is best to get them used to sleeping in their own room. As the months go by, they will react more to noises and movement around them: their sleep will be more easily disturbed if they are in the same room as you.
Your baby will be calm and safe in its bed, as long as you take a few basic precautions:
- Lay your child on their back and not on their tummy. This position is now known to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
- Choose a mattress which is firm and matches the size of the cot so that there are no gaps around the edges.
- No pillows, sheets or blankets: the best option is a sleeping bag or one-piece suit. No duvets before 36 months. Also avoid cramming cuddly toys into the bed, especially large ones, or attaching a cord to the dummy in order to reduce the risk of suffocation.
- Control the temperature of the room, ideally at 19°C.
- No pets in baby’s room, in the interests of both hygiene and safety.
When baby is awake, you can turn them over onto their tummy to strengthen their back muscles and allow them to see the world from a different angle.
Other than when breastfeeding, baby usually sleeps deeply in a rhythm interspersed with intensely awake periods. Baby will wake up every 3 to 4 hours and feed 6 to 8 times per day. In other words, their sleeping and waking patterns are very different from yours.
As of 2 months, they will begin to understand the difference between night and day. Their environment influences their phases of waking and sleeping.
They will fall asleep suddenly and more and more deeply until they reach the short but intense period of REM sleep, during which they dream.
They may give the impression of not sleeping much, but they are able to recharge their batteries with brief naps of between 30 minutes and an hour. However, they are beginning to get through the night without hunger.
Their patterns are changing and they are sleeping less and less during the day. Their naps are becoming shorter. Some of them are disappearing.
They are beginning to assert themselves and protest when you put them to bed at night. Warn them a few minutes before it is time to go to bed, so that they can finish their activities and prepare themselves for sleep.
Your child needs habits and routines around going to bed: songs, little stories you read to them, kisses – anything you can think of which does not overexcite them before bedtime.
Giving them their favourite cuddly toy, using a night-light and leaving the door ajar are some of the little reassurances you can provide to make them feel that they are not alone at night.
As they grow up, you can allow them a little time to get calmly settled in bed (which means no screens) before going to sleep.
Waking up during the night disturbs the child as well as their parents and the entire family. It is important to address this issue gently but firmly so that they learn to get back to sleep by themselves.
Some children get frightened when they go to bed: they are scared of the dark, of being alone in their room, of knowing that life is continuing without them in the next room, and of monsters under the bed or behind the curtains. A change of routine, a tense family atmosphere, moving house, a TV programme or their overactive imagination can have the same effect.
If an anxious child calls for you during the night, try to find out what they are scared of, reassure them by talking gently to them, chase away the monsters, and give them a cuddle. A basic night-light will often be enough to overcome fear of the dark.
If their fear turns into a phobia of the dark, talk to their doctor about this rather than letting your child join you in your bed.
As your child grows up, they may have trouble sleeping, and even wake up a few times during the night. On each occasion, they may call for you to help them get back to sleep. The first few times, reassure them and explain that it is important to sleep well in order to feel good the next day.
To calm them down and get them back to sleep, you might like to establish a little ritual which they will then be able to repeat without you: they could cuddle their favourite toy, turn the other way, look at the night-light, and so on. For the next few nights, you will have to resist the urge to go comfort them and wait until they get back to sleep by themselves.
All parents have experienced their child waking with a start, soaked in sweat, terrified and crying.
Your calmness will reassure them most: explain that it was only a bad dream and help them get back to sleep.
Get them to talk about their nightmare in order to identify what it is about: understanding what has caused it will help you to soothe your child.
If night terrors persist, consult your child’s doctor.