Nanny Louenna is currently working as a Freelance Temporary Nanny, Childcare Consultant and Maternity Nurse. She has graduated from one of the most exquisite colleges for nannies, Norland College in Bath, with the highest award. Louenna has also launched a childcare app where she will share all her knowledge on topics such as weaning, potty training and looking after a newborn! You can download it here.
Our 'Ask Nanny Louenna' blog series brings an exclusive opportunity to get advice and tips from one of the most desired nannies out there.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice. You are the best parent for your child and only you can make loving and wise parenting decisions by knowing your child and your unique family situation.
We asked Nanny Louenna for her top tips and advice on everything sleep related. Here's what she had to say:
One of the questions I get asked the most is how to get your babies sleeping well. I believe sleep is one of the most important factors in creating a happy and thriving child. Studies have proven that children who get good amounts of quality sleep have better attention spans, patience, memory, behaviour, learning ability, mental and physical health.
Getting a good sleep pattern established in the first year is one of the best life skills you can give your baby. You will also the enjoy your parenting journey more, with a happy and content baby!
How can you ensure they get a good night’s sleep?
A safe sleeping space is paramount. Make sure there are no toys or teddies in your baby’s cot or moses basket. Always put your baby to sleep on their back, with their feet to the bottom of the bed so they can’t wriggle under any covers and remember to tuck blankets in under the mattress so they can’t get loose.
Having a relaxed routine means that your baby gets proper sleeps, full feeds and lots of cuddle time – resulting in you being able to plan your day and get out and see people. Routines are not there to be rigid, tie you to the house or limit the amount of cuddles you have with your baby! A routine is there so that if you have a bad day (and this happens to everyone at times) or a day where you just have to go with the flow, you get back into the best rhythm for your baby the following morning. Without a routine in place, it is very easy for a baby to get into bad habits and for parents to feel overwhelmed with a never-ending sleep and feed routine.
It's all about routine!
A good sleeping pattern offers huge benefits to everyone, and a good routine from day one will encourage this. I want everyone to enjoy their babies, and sleep-deprived parents don’t enjoy the first year as much as they should. I start every newborn baby on a three-hourly routine, whether breastfed or bottle-fed. Your baby will have eight feeds per 24 hours and will roughly be awake for 1.5 hours and then asleep for 1.5 hours, throughout the day and night.
To make sure your baby keeps their sugar levels up, gains weight and establishes feeding, and to stop you from becoming engorged (if you are breastfeeding), set your alarm and wake them if they aren’t already awake at every three-hour cycle.
By waking your baby to feed in the first few weeks, they learn that they don’t have to cry for food. This will really help you later on when your baby is able to sleep for longer periods through the night, because they relax and go into a deep sleep knowing that you won’t let them get too hungry! Another reason for waking your baby is because they are naturally nocturnal - so we have to make sure they get into a rhythm of having enough awake time during the day, so they aren’t up all night!
Don’t be anxious if your routine doesn’t go exactly to plan. Babies aren’t robots, so sometimes they will be hungry a little earlier, or want to go to sleep a little earlier. But if you have the routine to get back onto, you can let them sleep a little longer or keep them awake for a few minutes more and then you’re back on track.
My Golden rules for ensuring your baby sleeps well:
1 A baby’s night will reflect their day. Follow a little routine so that your baby doesn’t sleep all day and then party all night!
2 Fresh air. I love letting babies have a nap outdoors in their pram and find that daily fresh air really helps them sleep better.
3 Consistent bedtime routine. Giving babies a bath before their evening feed helps them work up an appetite and enjoy some stimulating awake time before bedtime.
4 Don’t let them get overtired. Babies have a stress response to being tired. Their brain thinks there must be a reason why they need to stay awake, so releases the hormone cortisol, which has a stimulating wake-up effect. This makes it harder for babies to sleep, leading to broken nights and tricky nap times.
5 Full tummies! Babies sleep much better when their tummies are full so concentrate on big feeds throughout the day.
6 Put your baby down when awake. This ensures that they know where they are when they stirs through a lighter sleep cycle. If they have fallen asleep on you and been put down asleep, they will panic when they realises they’re in a different place and wake up crying.
Don’t worry if it doesn’t always go to plan!
While everyone makes their own choice, I don’t encourage co-sleeping with babies. I think it is dangerous, especially when you are sleep-deprived and tired in the first few months. Babies sleep much more soundly if they have their own uninterrupted space from the beginning.
And remember to be fair to your baby. I find it hard when I get asked to sleep-train toddlers who have been allowed to sleep in their parents’ bed from birth, but who are now bigger and taking up too much room, or a new baby is on the way. That’s all your child has ever known, and it is traumatic to separate them from your bed when they haven’t done anything wrong. They find it hard to understand why it was fine before, but not anymore. It’s much kinder to put your baby to bed each evening in their own bed. That way, their bed is a nice place, not a punishment.
Learn to understand your babies sleep cycles
Don’t assume that if your baby wakes after a short nap, they have had a good sleep. Understanding your baby’s sleep cycle will help you assess the quality of their sleep. Learning to be a good sleeper can take time, patience, the continuity of a daily routine, and a happy sleeping space. None of us falls into a deep sleep and sleeps like that all night. We all sleep in cycles.
When falling asleep we go into a light sleep, then into a deep one, then we go into an even deeper sleep, before coming out into a deep, and then light sleep. The light sleep stage is called REM (rapid eye movement), and this is when we dream. It’s also when we are much more likely to wake. During REM sleep you might see your baby’s eyelids moving or fluttering.
Sometimes you could play a trumpet and a sleeping baby wouldn’t stir, and other times the opening of their bedroom door wakes them. This is because they are in either a deep or REM sleep. A baby’s complete sleep cycle is roughly 40 minutes, but this gets longer as we move through childhood and into adulthood. If your child is disturbed by noise, feels cold, is hungry, wakes up in a different place to the one they fell asleep in, or doesn’t feel secure, then they will wake during REM sleep.
This is why it is so important for babies to have good feeds, and children to eat well during the day. It’s also why I swaddle babies and tuck children in at night and why I don’t always cuddle babies to sleep. It’s also important for babies and children to have dark, quiet spaces in which to enjoy their sleep.
My favourite sleep aids:
Swaddles - I believe newborns can sleep up to an hour longer in those early months if they are swaddled at every sleep. They love the security of the swaddle and will settle much quicker, as it mimics the feeling of the tight space they have just come from - the womb!
Babies are born with a natural startle reflex. This means that when they are disturbed by a noise or a feeling of falling they jerk their arms and legs out. If your baby is swaddled they just re-settle because the movement is minimal, whereas if they aren’t swaddled they often hit themselves in the face and start wriggling until they wake because they need the reassurance of being snug.
I also see that babies who are swaddled every time they sleep, learn to know that swaddling means it’s time to sleep and by three months old you see them turning their heads and snuggling into their sleep position before you’ve finished putting the swaddle on!
Blankets - In winter months, tuck your baby in with a blanket to keep them warm and secure. I couldn’t sleep without a blanket on and babies are no different.
Blackout blinds - Keep your baby’s bedroom dark to stop them waking with the early birds!
White noise - If you live in a noisy household, perhaps because you have a newborn with older siblings, or live by a busy road, using white noise helps to drown out sounds that could disturb your baby. There are white noise machines that you can have set up in your baby’s room. Some of these will stay on all night, or you can simply use your phone to play a waterfall noise for 20 minutes to help a baby fall asleep.
Dummies - While dummies can help a baby fall asleep without crying, they can often cause other problems. When babies go through their lighter sleep cycle, they will cry out and wake up if the dummy has fallen out of their mouth. You end up going to them just to put the dummy back in. I prefer to put them down and have a few minutes of crying and then a more solid and restful sleep throughout the night.