Why does my baby wake in the night ?

A relatively new mum asked me this morning “why does my baby wake during the night even when she isn’t hungry?” It’s simple really, the baby doesn’t know she is supposed to sleep in her own cot all night. She actually has no idea it’s supposed to happen this way. It’s obvious that she will get tired and need to sleep, but instinctively a tiny child would prefer to sleep with her mother or in the arms of an adult where she feels safe.

Take a peek into the lives of other mammals. Mostly they sleep with their mother or in a group where they feel secure and protected. You will rarely see a baby mammal sleeping alone as they tend to hang together for safety, its instinctive. Cows park their new borns in a safe place, like under a hedge or in long grass. The mother cow waits until the tiny calf has gone to sleep and then wanders off to graze. She always has her eye on the calf, who on waking will walk straight to is mother for milk. You will usually see a group of slightly older calves sleeping together, often with a mother cow or two looking out for the whole group; it’s like an animal nursery.

Sheep do the same; lambs hang out together, frolic and play with other lambs then sleep in close proximity. Foals sleep close their mum too. Dogs and cats follow the same pattern, the mother feeds her litter, when they are sleeping soundly she will leave them for a while to eat and wash herself.

It’s not so surprising then that a human baby would feel safest and happiest in bed with its mother. Aren’t we just mammals after all? The problems arise when baby is put to bed already asleep, she wakes slightly during the night but instead of still being in some ones arms she is alone. For a moment imagine going to sleep for the night with another person beside you, then you wake to find you are alone but you didn’t see your sleeping companion leave. Wouldn’t this make you anxious or concerned?

A baby can often wake during the night because she has fallen asleep in the arms of a parent, instead of dropping off to sleep in their own bed; she woke during the night to find herself alone, not surprisingly she is in a screaming panic.

In order to drop off by herself and sleep independently (remembering mammals prefer to sleep with other mammals) a baby has to learn to go against instinct. So, if you are striving for a little more sleep, want your baby to sleep by herself and for longer stretches, you will need to teach her to that’s its okay to do so. A gentle approach that gives the right message, helping her develop a positive association with her cot and sleeping alone will work just fine. Providing its done in a calm, kind and gentle way both parent and child can achieve a good nights sleep, waking refreshed and ready to start the day.

Mel…

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