It’s the wee hours of the morning and everyone is asleep—except you and your baby that is. Despite the fact you’ve fed, changed and burped your infant, sleep is eluding the both of you. Plagued with exhaustion your frustration is mounting—as is your baby’s.
The trouble is, the very fact your child is overtired will likely prevent him/her from getting to sleep, says Ruchi Shetty, a naturopath and clinical director at Yorkville Naturopathic Clinic based in Toronto. “It seems counterintuitive but when babies are overtired they resist going to sleep,” she says.
Some sleep issues are related to your baby’s stage of development and will likely get better as they grow. But before you resign yourself to months of sleep deprivation ahead of you, Dr. Shetty says there are effective strategies to try that could help both you and your baby in finding some much-needed shut-eye.
Rule out a digestive problem
“Anything in the realm of gas or constipation is going to affect a baby’s sleep,” says Dr. Shetty who regularly treats parents and their infants who are seeking better sleep. “Often if we address the digestive issue, the sleeps seems to improve.”
Cues to watch for that could suggest a digestive problem include crying shortly after eating or a lack of crying after a bowel movement. In addition to over-the-counter medication that your pharmacist or physician could suggest, Dr. Shetty says an ounce of cooled chamomile can also soothe the baby’s digestive tract. She says it’s also important for nursing mothers to check their own diets to ensure they’re not contributing to their babies’ tummy troubles. She points to some patient cases in her own practice where infants were intolerant to the milk or wheat consumed by their moms.
Keeping a food diary can help you see what foods you’ve eaten before breastfeeding that could be causing bouts of crying or discomfort in your child. Also consider drinking some soothing teas yourself, made from fennel or chamomile. [See recipe option below]
Check if baby’s nose is congested
While there’s no cure for the common cold and it will pass eventually, if you baby’s nose is congested it could be preventing him/her from eating and sleeping properly. Try all-natural salt water nose drops or a saline nasal spray to help clear congestion. Using a rubber suction bulb before sleeping (or eating) is also useful to draw the accumulated mucous out of your baby’s nose and promote better breathing.
Keep the noise and lights down
While you want to get your baby accustomed to some noise, there are infants who are particularly sensitive to light and sound. If sleep is eluding your infant during the day, try placing him/her in a quieter place with the shades drawn low. An air filter can also provide a soothing hum and tune out other distractions.
Set good patterns from the start
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the number one tip for good sleeping habits in children is to follow a routine. Even if your baby is getting up several times in the night to feed, aim to get him/her to bed early enough and at the same time every night to prevent overtiredness. Engage in regular bedtime rituals like a soothing bath and short story, and avoid any activities that are loud and too stimulating.
Forget the housework and get help
Of course there is always something to do, but experts say trying to sleep within an hour of your baby going to sleep will do wonders for your well-being. “If you’re not rested, dealing with a crying baby is so difficult,” says Dr. Shetty who is a mother of two herself. “And babies feel when their mothers or fathers are stressed.” Be sure to ask and accept help from your spouse, other family members and friends. Sharing the load, especially when you’re feeling exhausted, can make life seem a lot more manageable.
Finally, keep in mind that there could be an underlying problem that is preventing your baby from sleeping that a professional healthcare provider can address. If the above strategies aren’t having any effect, seek advice from your physician or naturopath about other effective remedies to solve sleep issues.
A tea for sweet slumber
Here’s a soothing—and sleep-inducing—tea for your baby and you from Toronto-based naturopath Ruchi Shetty.
Mix 1 tsp dill seeds, 1 tsp fennel seeds and ½ tsp cardamom seeds in 2 cups of water. Boil for 30 minutes, then cool and strain.
Give your child a few teaspoons at a time throughout the day up to an ounce. You can also mix a few teaspoons with breast milk or formula and give it to your baby in a bottle. And don’t forget to save some of it for yourself; for mothers, Dr. Shetty suggests drinking it while it’s still warm.