Recognizing and working with infant sleeping problems at night.
Being the parent of a newborn requires an incredible amount of energy, patience and sleep. The two former aren’t always possible without plenty of the latter. Unfortunately, your little one abides by his own agenda and pays no regard to the handy schedule you’ve prepared for him. Even if he’s a “good” sleeper, chances are he sleeps or eats about every three hours…twenty-four hours a day. If your baby has difficulty sleeping, you’re even less likely to get those precious few moments of shuteye between burping and changing. Not only is this hard on you (as you’re forced to drag yourself around the house like a robot) but it’s even harder on your baby. He’s tired, fussy and consequently miserable. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that if untreated, more than 50% of babies suffering from sleep problems continue to suffer from sleep problems through their school age years.
Recognizing disruptive sleeping patterns is the first step in being able to prevent and work with them. Your baby may experience one or more of the following:
- Night-wakings (not triggered from hunger or a wet diaper)
- Difficulty in falling asleep
- Nightmares (waking suddenly, shaking, sweating)
- Night terrors (more prevalent in toddlers—screaming, appears alert, often resists parents’ intervention)
- Breathing difficulties (shallow or eurhythmic)
- Abdominal discomfort (raised bottom or excessive moving)
- Teething (swollen gums, excessive drooling)
- Diaper rash
Numerous factors can contribute to your baby’s restlessness, including upset stomach (gas bubbles or poor digestion), stuffy nose, Colic (characterized by gas, intense crying, hiccups), ear infection (pressure when he lies down) or lactose/food intolerance. Your own irritability and impatience can also affect your baby’s sleeping habits.
There are certain preventative measures you can take to help your little one get a good night’s sleep. First, visit your pediatrician to rule out serious medical conditions or food allergies. Newborns may have intolerance to breast or cow’s milk. Older children or those on solid foods may have intolerances that are more difficult to pinpoint. When food allergies are the culprit, altering your child’s diet should do the trick. If your baby is lactose intolerant, try substituting with soy or goat milk. Keep the menu simple when dealing with toddler’s allergies. Avoid overly-processed foods and those with heavy seasonings or rich gravies. Additionally, foods containing red dye have been shown to have adverse effects like irritability and hyperactivity—neither of which are conducive to sound sleep. A good rule of thumb is to steer clear of anything containing “Red 40″ or “Yellow 5,” which produces a more golden-red. Foods in this category may include popsicles, crescent rolls and cake mixes, breakfast cereals, yogurt and pudding. Keep in mind that young babies have very sensitive digestive tracks. They cannot readily digest solid foods, expel excess gas or relieve the pain of indigestion. The result of which is disturbed sleep (often characterized by a raised bottom, moaning and fitful crying). To prevent abdominal discomfort, make certain your baby has been properly burped and don’t introduce solid foods until he or she is at least five months old.
Simple changes in routine may help combat infant sleeplessness. Keep daytime feeding intervals to at least two hours for newborns, as feeding too often can cause the infant to awaken during the night. He or she may also benefit from calm, “boring” middle-of-the-night meals. If your baby is over-stimulated from too much talking and playing, he will have difficulty getting back to sleep. Rock your baby, keeping the lights off and your voice soft.
Back vs. belly. It’s been the subject of controversy for the last twenty years. While many parents swear by tummy sleeping, some professionals claim that doing so can increase the chances of S.I.D.S. (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Evidence also indicates that children sleeping on their tummies are more likely to suffer from stuffy noses, fevers and ear infections. If your baby has an ear infection, continued tummy sleeping can increase pressure in the ear, affecting his ability to sleep comfortably. In an effort to sidestep these ill effects, put your baby to sleep on his back. If your little one has trouble falling asleep, put him into his crib while he’s drowsy, but still awake; this way, the transition will seem more fluid.
Aromatherapy is another way to help your little one sleep peacefully. This ancient practice using the natural oils contained in plants, herbs and flowers can help alleviate the stress and discomfort of Colic, diaper rash, hyperactivity and teething. Many popular retailers offer a line of products that are both gentle and effective. Incorporate a body wash containing lavender and vanilla oils into a warm, pre-bedtime bath. Sweet almond oil has been known to lessen the symptoms of Colic—rub a mixture on your baby’s gums before bedtime. Try a chamomile shampoo to help your baby relax.
It’s important to educate yourself in all aspects of aromatherapy treatment before using it on your baby’s sensitive skin. Essential oils, the key ingredient in all aromatherapy “recipes,” are very potent and can be harmful if not measured properly. Babies also have a very acute sense of smell and can be overwhelmed by strong scents, so introduce new scents carefully and note your baby’s reaction. Carrier oils are vegetable oils used to dilute essential oils; make sure you’re using at least 30 milliliters of carrier oil per drop of essential oils.
Ultimately, try to keep your baby comfortable, well-fed and take care of yourself.