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A guide to good sleep - for both parents and babies!!

Q: My nine month old baby is not sleeping. He cat naps for 20 minutes at a time throughout the day and is up through the night four or five times for formula bottles. Isn’t he meant to be sleeping more than this? I’m exhausted. HELP!!

Isn’t motherhood wonderful? All that fatigue and all enveloping weariness? Bubs around the nine month mark are notorious for their uncanny ability to disrupt EVERYONES sleeping pattern. At this age, they live be the motto “If I’m up, we’re all up.”

When babies aren’t sleeping, it’s generally one of three things: they’re uncomfortable, they’re hungry or they’re over stimulated. I’m going to break it down into pieces like a Duplo castle.

Is baby uncomfortable? This can include wet nappy, a nappy that is too tight/loose, too warm, too cool, too much space, not enough space. Think about your own bed and sleeping patterns. What makes you uncomfortable? Try to make bub’s room as sleep conducive as positive, ie. dark, cool, quiet with limited stimulus.

Is baby hungry? Babies are amazing little creatures. Their little stomachs go from being the size of a cherry (yes, seriously, a CHERRY – and not even a very big cherry!) on day one, a walnut (in the shell) by day three, an apricot by day seven and an egg by one month. So we’re talking tiny little tummies. The funny thing is, by the time bub is nine months old, they’re certainly not winning any eating competitions, but they will have a tummy about the size of their fist. A stomach this size will easily hold enough food to keep your boy going for a while. At this age, babies should also be consuming majority solid foods. Fruit, protein (eggs are really good and very easily digested by bub’s digestive system), grains, vegies and meat. And the other really cool things about babies at this age, they will only eat until they’re full. So if he’s eaten most of his vegemite finger sandwiches and watermelon cubes but doesn’t want his yoghurt, don’t force it; he’s full! He should still be having a bottle or breast milk, which ever, but there should definitely be an emphasis on eating a predominantly solid diet. So, follow those guidelines and bub shouldn’t be waking up due to hunger.

Is baby overstimulated? This one is kind of a no brainer. A baby’s life is like living in a nightclub: it’s loud, it’s colourful, there’s lots of interesting and probably poisonous things on the floor, there’s lots of unknown faces and smells and there’s a new adventure at every turn. Remember how pumped (not to mention tired, uncomfortable and a bit zingy) you felt the last time you left a night club? So prior to putting bub to bed, we need to take him out of the mosh pit (the lounge room) and take him into the chill out zone (a soothing bath is a good idea). Drop that adrenaline a few notches before we try to coax his brain to slow down.

Okay. Now that “the big three” are addressed, let’s look at the generally accepted facts about babies and sleep. Between nine – 12 months, babies should be sleeping about 14 hours a day. Sounds incredible doesn’t it? Fourteen hours of unadulterated YOU time… to catch up on everything that has been falling behind… the mopping… paperwork that your boss has been sending you emails about… paying bills. Does the fun ever stop? Anyway, this fourteen hour sleep quota should include a few day sleeps, lasting for an hour or two. Luckily we all have textbook babies!

However – there’s always a “however” – bub will more than likely start suffering from sleep disruptions at about nine months old. This is primarily due to the face that they are going through this period of enormous growth in terms of cognitive ability and motor skills. It’s around this age that they are learning to walk and talk. They’re finding independence, they can get from point A to point B! They’re learning to express themselves. Can you imagine how exciting that must be? Unfortunately, we return to the over stimulated brain with this sudden influx of new skills and abilities. It’s very hard to sleep when he keeps reliving that amazing little foot stomp he did before lunch!

It is also at this age that your baby will start developing actual separation anxiety. His emotions are starting to mature. He is becoming attached to you as a person, he’s attached to the way you make him laugh, the cheese cubes you provide and the way you tickle his belly when you change his nappy, as opposed to being attached to the familiarity of smell and sound, like a newborn.

Now for the good news. Trust me, there is good news. Nine months of age is a perfect age to start developing solid sleeping patterns. Yes, sure, it’s uncomfortable while its happening but it will set you up with a good sleeper from now until he becomes a teenager… let’s not even discuss the sheer joy that is having a teenager just yet… and no, it’s not like controlled crying. At nine months, you’re dealing with a little person, as opposed to a newborn.

So. Let’s start developing some good sleep practices.

  1. Develop a regular routine during the day. Waking up, play time, nap time, lunch time, bath time… keep it regular. Try waking bub up at 6, eating at 6.30, go for a walk for a while (good for you and bub), morning tea, play time and down for a nap at about 9.30 or 10. When he wakes at lunch time, repeat the process. Lunch, play, activities, dinner, bath then bed at about 6pm. The goal is to train bub’s body clock to expect a certain activity at a certain time. And that includes sleeping.

  2. Avoid cat napping. If your boy is tired enough to take cat naps of 20 minutes, chances are he’s already over tired. Unfortunately, these little power naps are not helpful. They’re not allowing enough time to slip into REM sleep mode and consequently, not allowing the body to make the necessary “repairs”, so to speak. So, how do you avoid catnaps? Keep your son awake for a few hours – not many, remembering the 14 hour sleep quota – if he starts falling asleep, wake him up. Provide him with toys, activities, anything to keep him alert.

  3. Watch for signs that he’s tired. And work with it. Eye rubbing. Becoming irritable over the small things. Not being placated by his favourite toys or activities. This is the time to put him down.

  4. Develop a night time routine. With my two, we had the same routine every night: bath, dinner, book, bed. Having twins, bath time was a social and very exciting event. There’s splashing, squealing, toys, water… FUN! So we would use that as a last hurrah of energy. Then it was dinner. Calm, full bellies and family time. Then would come the last, and for us, the most important step. A good indicator that it was time for bed. The twins would pick a book (the same book every night as it happened), they would lay in their bean bags with a bottle and I’d read the book. After a few weeks, they knew instinctively that when the book was finished, it was time for them to be put in their beds for sleep.

These steps will take time. They aren’t easy and they take a great deal of dedication on your part. When you’re as tired as you are, it will be a hard slog. However, once it’s in place, you won’t even remember the bad ol’ days back when bub didn’t sleep. And let’s face it, you probably won’t remember as it is because you’re probably delirious with exhaustion! Follow these steps and I promise you, your quality of life and your son’s quality of life will improve exponentially.

In the meantime, remember that mums aren’t expected to be super human. If you need help, reach out. If you need to a day to just sleep, ask someone to take bub for a day. If you’re stressed, talk to someone. There is no shame in asking for assistance. You’re doing the most important job in the world; it can’t be done on coffee and left over cheese cubes from Junior’s lunch. Treat yourself well and everything just flows.

Anxiety is contagious… so is a sense of calm.

Until next time,

Kelly x

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