How to know when to ask for help

Having a new baby generally means you will have less sleep. So how do you tell the difference between being tired or recognising there might be another issue?

Babies have their own schedules especially when they are very small. So how do we know when they can follow some more structured routines or guidance? It is important to know that all babies are different. Some will need more sleep than others and some will need more assistance around sleep than others. In the early days I always recommend going with the flow. It is totally okay to feed your baby to sleep, or hold and rock your baby to sleep so try not to get too hung up on creating bad habits in those lovely early days. Being close to your baby is very important for building attachment to you.

By about 8 to 10 weeks you should notice a bit more of a pattern to your baby’s wake and sleep cycles. You should be experiencing a similar start to the day and similar end to the day with your baby. Babies, around this age should also be sleeping in their beds for most of the day sleeps and overnight, except for when you are feeding. By 12 weeks you would want to be in a bit more of a pattern. Remember babies can’t really put themselves to sleep before this age so you might still have to help them get off to sleep but try and work towards having the fall asleep in their beds rather than on you.

If your baby isn’t doing this or waking a lot more than your friend’s or mothers’ group babies should you get some help? Tiny babies can require a bit of settling to get off to sleep but they generally should sleep until they are due to be fed again. If I see a young baby (under 8 weeks) who is not sleeping between feeds, or who is desperately upset or unhappy most of the time something else is going on. The baby could be hungry or they could have some kind of pain from reflux etc., or they could be very overtired. All of these things can really affect the way a baby sleeps and you may need to get some help to work out what is going on.

What about the old saying, “Never wake a sleeping baby.” Is this really true? I generally agree with this unless your baby is sleeping waaaaay too much during the day. Babies who are only being milk fed shouldn’t really go more than 4 hours without a feed during the day. So if your baby is sleeping and it has been 4 hours since their last feed then I would wake them. If you don’t, then your baby could wake more overnight to catch up on the missed feed and you don’t want that to happen!

Older babies can also have too much sleep in the day. So, if they are taking hours to go off to sleep in the evening, or waking very early in the morning, then just check that they are not having too much sleep during the day. This is another time you may need to wake them.

Babies also need to sleep overnight in between feeds. If your baby is waking too much, (for example more than twice a night and they are over 6 months of age), then it might be time to get some help. It is very hard when you are a sleep deprived parent to see what is going on or to tackle the problem but there is a whole range of services available to help mothers deal with sleepless babies. A great place is to start is with your maternal health nurse who can recommend a variety of options to you that can help you start to address the issue.

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.