Q&A about sleep with baby sleep expert Jo Tantum

Jo TantumWe ran a Q&A about sleep with Pampers and Jo Tantum,  a baby sleep expert on the Pampers Love, Sleep and Play expert panel with 25 years' experience. Jo answered your questions about co-sleeping, sleeping through the night and napping in the day.

Jo is the author of bestseller 'Baby Secrets', helping hundreds of families to achieve a peaceful night's sleep. She is a trusted name within the parenting sector and provides expert advice, literature and professional services to parents everywhere.

Co-sleepingSleeping through the nightSleeping in the dayStaying in bed and getting to sleep 

 

Co-sleeping

Q. CrispyCrochet: My question is around co-sleeping. My son is eight weeks and since day one the only way I've been able to get him to sleep is being held or in the car seat. I've been co-sleeping with him, essentially just breastfeeding until we both fall asleep. 

However, I don't see this as a long-term solution, especially as recently I've developed some pretty severe elbow pain which is pretty terrible while holding my son. I would just like tips on how to wean my baby off needing me to sleep. I'd love to be able to put him down during the day to sleep on his own but more importantly at night.

A. Jo Tantum: Guidelines recommend against co-sleeping and I know sometimes you are just so tired and desperate for sleep that you feel that's the only way. A lot of parents come to me asking for help when sleep starts to become an issue for everyone, and it sounds like you need to stop as you are in pain. My advice to you is that if you place both hands on him whilst in the Moses basket and gently rock him, it will mean he doesn't get upset whilst transitioning into the Moses basket.

Q. maudlucy: My daughter is two and I can't get her to sleep unless I go to bed with her and lie next to her, usually in my bed. It's my own fault as I've been co-sleeping but we need to change this as my husband is about to start treatment for cancer so we can't have her in our bed. We have turned her cot into the little toddler bed, she has a nice cosy room but just goes hysterical when we try to put her in it. Any advice would be welcome as we are desperate.

"Make sure you have a nice time in her room, for example doing puzzles, even tea parties, and all this fun activity will reassure her that she isn't being punished by being in her room."

A. Jo Tantum: This must be a difficult time for you, so here is my advice. The best way to help with this is a 'reward' programme, for example use stickers and a chart by her bed and explain that if she stays in her bed she will get a sticker. She will need lots of positive encouragement, make an effort to get her ready in her room. Once you have put her pyjamas on, read her a bedtime story all in her own room, all this will really help her get used to being in her room and her own bed. Make sure you have a nice time in her room, for example doing puzzles, even tea parties, and all this fun activity will reassure her that she isn't being punished by being in her room. 

Put a stair gate on her room so she is safe. If she wakes in the night, return her to her bed quickly and say a reassuring sentence like "it's night time, love you", but end the conversation there. If you are consistent with this it should work. 

Q. cakebaby: My son is 22 weeks old, we had a good sleeping routine (two wakes for breastfeeding) until three weeks of a virus over Christmas. During the illness we co-slept for survival, or so it felt, then the four month regression hit us very hard. Now my son will not entertain his co-sleeper crib at all, he sleeps with me, naps with me, feeding on and off, inadvertently we're now feeding to sleep to boot. 

He has no self-settling ability and has not slept more than two hours at a time since early December. I am his sleep cue and don't know where to go from here. My short-term aim is for him to fall asleep in his co-sleeper crib and stay asleep for a reasonable amount of time and longer term to move him to his cot in his own room. Will either ever happen without controlled crying or cry it out?

A. Jo Tantum: Of course you can get him sleeping better without cry it out or controlled crying, neither of which I advocate to get a baby to sleep. I use my spaced soothing technique which means you listening to your baby, responding when necessary, but taking a step back listening to what your baby is telling you.

At 22 weeks your baby is going to be tired after approximately every two hours of wake time, so watch for tired signs, and take him to where he sleeps. Blackout can really help for naps from four months. Give him a feed for a few minutes then put him in his cot. Put your hand on his chest and with your other hand pat his shoulder, gently pulling him towards you. Say "ssshh" loudly as this will help calm him.

Do this for a few minutes then leave the room and listen, there will be quiet gaps and sleep noises, "aarrr" and "mmmm" - this is him telling you he can sleep himself, he may cry out once, but if there is a "mmmm" sound at the end again then leave him. Wait for five minutes and if in that time he is upset then go back in and soothe for two to three minutes. If he responds to the soothing then you can pat to sleep for all naps that day. This will help him get used to sleeping in the cot and you can use this in the night too. Try and use this instead of feeding, just for 15 minutes, then feed if you need to. If you continue this for seven days and nights there should be huge improvements.

 

Sleeping through the night

Q. AbigailsMummy13: I have a four-month-old little girl who until just after new year was sleeping virtually through the night with possibly one wake up. Since she hit week 15 it has been a nightmare, she is waking every few hours in the night and whilst I am sure she cannot be massively hungry, the only way to get her to sleep is to feed her. I have tried leaving her to cry it out, rubbing her back/belly/forehead, and I've shushed her for hours. Yet 90% of the time I have to feed her. Naps in the day are all fine and so is feeding, she goes every three hours.

"At four months old babies become more aware of light and sound, so they will nap less if there is no blackout."

A. Jo Tantum: This is a normal four months sleep regression and the good news is that it is only a phase as long as you stop the feeding. This is because the feeding will become a habit and she will expect this when she wakes. At four months old babies become more aware of light and sound, so they will nap less if there is no blackout. As your baby is in your room, they will start to sync their sleep cycles with yours, so you start to disturb each other. Try to remedy this by putting some wave sounds on when they are sleeping in the day and at night. This should work as the brain will connect to the consistent noise rather than anything louder.

Try to soothe your baby by patting her shoulder with your hand on her chest for 15 minutes, and if she doesn't settle then feed her. This helps as she doesn't get fed straight away and starts to learn to resettle herself back to sleep.

Q. jaybirdsinginginthedeadofnight: My 20-week-old son is generally good through the day but not so much at night. We can't get him into a set predictable bedtime and he wakes overnight every two to three hours.

On a typical day he will take bottles every four hours. He sleeps 7am to 8am then 9am to 10am, 12pm to 2pm and then a nap at some stage usually 40 minutes before his 6pm bottle. He'll then sleep at 7.30pm but always wakes 45 minutes later with a bottle at 9pm and into his Moses basket for 10.30pm, waking frequently thereafter.

Is there a way to get him into a bedtime routine at a set time, and what's the best way to tackle the night-time wakings?

A. Jo Tantum: At 20 weeks your son probably needs to progress to a cot, as he will be banging his arms on the side which will be waking him up. Set a bedtime of 12 hours after his morning wake up time so if he wakes at 7am then he will be ready for bed by 7pm. Do wind down time, nappy off, bath and feed in a calm and dark environment. He will be waking at night as he is hungry. I would advise that he shouldn't be on a four hourly feeding routine yet. This should be reached at five and a half to six months once they are ready to be weaned. So try and have feeds every 3 hours 45 minutes and wake him for a feed at 10.30pm to 11pm for his dream feed, if appropriate.

Q. cogitosum: My son is six months old. During the day he mostly naps in the sling. He was a really good sleeper and from about six weeks he'd do four to six hours from about 10pm to 4am and then he'd wake every hour until we got up. By four months he'd do up to eight hours but would always wake every 40 to 80 minutes after the long stretch.

The four month regression hit us badly but he came out of it and was doing well until solids. Now he's back to four to five hours then every 80 minutes. He self-settles initially but when he wakes up at night will usually need to feed or he won't settle. He goes to bed at 8.30pm and I wake him at 7.30am. The earlier he goes to bed the worse it is but if I keep him up later he's grouchy during the day.

A. Jo Tantum: It sounds like you need to stop the naps on the move, because as this becomes a habit he won't be able to settle at night as the cot isn't moving. Make sure he is getting enough milk and solids in the day, he should still be having four feeds a day, every four hours, with solids in between. That way he won't need to wake for a feed in the night. Naturally babies' sleep cycles are a 12 hour day and a 12 hour night. So try doing a 7.30pm to 7.30am routine. Take his nappy off, then bath and get him ready for bed. Then feed him in a room with no direct light, with just the landing light on.

Good luck, it sounds like your baby is just over-tired at the moment.

Q. GuntherandRockysMummy: We have a delightful 10-month-old son who is great during the day but at night times he goes down for bed at around 7.30pm after bath, story and a bottle and falls asleep with his dummy. Then, from about 1am, he is awake every hour or so either for his dummy putting back in or another bottle-feed meaning that neither my husband or I get a full night's sleep. 

A. Jo Tantum: Unfortunately this is what happens when babies have the dummy as a sleep prop as they can't put it back in themselves. Now it's too late to try and stop the dummy so pat him back to sleep. Leave him for five to 10 minutes in the night to see if he will resettle himself, as often when they wake they are still half asleep and have their eyes closed and are just trying to get back off to sleep. Try and teach him in the day to settle himself for naps in his cot, as he will put this into practice at night.

Q. StuntNun: My 15-month-old son still doesn't sleep through the night, waking one to three times almost every night. Is this normal? We have had a bedtime routine for a year. We put him down to sleep drowsy but awake and he self-settles, then we don't go in at every noise etc, but nighttimes are an unpredictable nightmare. I feel that I've done everything I can to encourage him to sleep but nothing works. Do I just have to wait it out?

"Babies don't just automatically sleep through the night, they need to learn how. The good news is that with your help you can absolutely get him sleeping better. It is always better to start sleep training in the daytime at naps, this is when they learn."

A. Jo Tantum: Babies don't just automatically sleep through the night, they need to learn how. The good news is that with your help you can absolutely get him sleeping better. It is always better to start sleep training in the daytime at naps, this is when they learn. At 15 months he should still be having two naps a day, around every three and a quarter hours of wake time. If he can self-settle at 7pm then he should be able to do that in the day for naps and night too. Ensure you have a blackout room for daytime naps.

Try reading him a story, then cuddle and settle him. Listen to him nodding off in the day and at night and if there are quiet gaps, or sleep sounds – "aarrr" or "mmmm" then he is trying to settle himself. If he gets upset then go in and pat his shoulder, back and bottom, depending on his favourite sleep position. Continue this for seven days and nights and if you are consistent you should see great results.

Q. sharond101: My 20-month-old son was a reasonable sleeper until two months ago when he started waking in the night and taking a long time to settle back to sleep, he also has been waking really early. He normally naps from 12.30pm to 2pm, I cut his nap down to an hour and a half from two hours, three weeks ago to see if this helped, after one week it seemed to help but after two days it went back to as it is. Any suggestions?

A. Jo Tantum: Just to re-assure you, it sounds like a normal development phase. At 17-19 months your toddler starts to become more independent and starts pushing boundaries. The best way to help this is to offer lots of reassurance, but make sure his routine doesn't change as this will make him feel more insecure! Your son will really need to know that everything is still the same. Try and let him have a long sleep of two to two and a half hours in the day, because then he won't go to sleep overtired, which means more light sleep cycles and therefore waking more frequently.

Because waking up has now become a habit, wait for five to 10 minutes while he is nodding off and listen for quiet gaps and sleep noises such as "mmmm" and "aarrr", this is him trying to settle. Then go in and pat his bottom and say "ssshh" for a few minutes to reassure him if he is getting upset. If he's not upset and moaning then leave him to settle himself.

 

Sleeping in the day

Q. gubbinsy: My son is 12 weeks old and co-sleeps with me. In the day he naps, but only in the sling. It's OK at the moment but I'm starting to worry about how to get him to sleep on his own both day and night, day would be the start for me I think as my shoulders are starting to hurt. 

Any advice or do I need to bite the bullet and keep him in the cot until he falls asleep during the day? He will occasionally sleep there but no more than 30 to 40 minutes whereas in the sling he'll do a good 2 hours in the morning then shorter naps the rest of the day. He also doesn't really sleep between 7pm and his night sleep at 10pm, we've tried a basic bedtime routine but it's not seeming to work, my husband and I would like an evening!

A. Jo Tantum: Start trying to introduce naps in the cot, rather than the sling, as this will get harder as he gets older and heavier. If your shoulders are hurting now, as he gets heavier this will get worse. He will naturally be tired around every hour and a half of wake time. So watch out for tired signs and then take him to his nursery. At 12 weeks he will still have his startle reflex which is why he is waking after 30 to 40 minute sleep cycles rather than the 2 hours in a sling.

He isn't going down at 7pm because he is overtired, so start by taking his nappy off at 6.15pm, then bath and get him ready for bed. Then feed him in a room with no direct light, with just the landing light on. This way he should settle much more easily and you and your husband can get your evenings back!

 

Staying in bed and getting to sleep

Q. A99Sing: How to get my two and a half-year-old daughter to stay in bed and go to sleep? We've tried cuddling, gradual withdrawal, bribes, talking to her, shouting, door-locking. We have her running out to us saying the lamp is on, I've done a wee (still in nappies at night time), I'm sad my daddy is at work, Nana is gone, what are we doing tomorrow, an endless list of excuses to drag out bedtime.

A. Jo Tantum: Toddlers are great at asking for countless things so they can go to bed later. My advice is to be firm, try not to get engaged in conversation with her but instead you could just use one sentence such as "it's sleepy time, love you". Get a stair gate at her door, so she is safe and can't get out of her room and wander about.

To help with the withdrawal process you can try saying and doing things like "I'm just going to the toilet" or "I am just going to check on dinner" and then go back. What I have found can work really well is to start a reward programme, using stickers on a chart next to her bed and explain that if she stays in her bed she will get a sticker, make sure to praise her lots. I have used a lucky dip box, this is a small box filled with very cheap presents that she gets as a reward for staying in bed. Toddlers sometimes need to have an incentive to stay in bed, rather than the reward of attention for messing about.

Q. babybouncer: We have a four-year-old brilliant sleeper, but our 22-month-old has never been that great at it. In the past, she has had spells of falling asleep without assistance, but for the past couple of months she has asked for another beaker of milk to have in her cot and although she sometimes drains them, sometimes she clearly doesn't actually want the milk. It is not unusual for her to wake during the night, sometimes she just needs patting back to sleep but sometimes it takes two to three hours and more milk to resettle her.

"Your little one needs boundaries and to know that you are in charge, as this will make her feel more secure. So just read her two books and give her one cup of milk, as otherwise she will become overtired and overstimulated and will be awake more in the night."

How could I get some more consistency? All the advice I can find seems to be aimed at babies or children and not really suitable for a toddler.

A. Jo Tantum: Your little one needs boundaries and to know that you are in charge, as this will make her feel more secure. So just read her two books and give her one cup of milk, as otherwise she will become overtired and overstimulated and will be awake more in the night. You may find she gets cross, because she wants to have her way, but you can remedy these tantrums by teaching her that there are rules.

Try your best to be consistent and don't give in, use one sentence when talking to her in the night, such as "It's night time! I love you". Try hard not to spend hours patting and going in and out. Wait five to 10 minutes then go in if she gets upset, pat for a few minutes then leave. You can also sit by the cot but with no interaction, she will gradually get used to being further away from you, until you are out of the door. Be strong and it will get better.

Q. Dolallytats: My daughter (six months) slept beautifully in her cot until she was five months old. I have no idea why, but she then started screaming when I tried to put her in it to sleep at night and she's never slept in it during the day. I was very silly and let her sleep in my bed because I was just too shattered to deal with it. 

However, I didn't want to co-sleep and would love to get her settled back in her cot. She cries when I leave the room in the evening before bedtime and also if I just walk across the bedroom to turn the light off when she is in the bed because she thinks I am leaving her. How do I painlessly get back on track?

A. Jo Tantum: It can be frustrating when your little one is sleeping well and then this stops, that is when you really miss your night's sleep! This is all due to development stages in your baby. When your baby reaches four to five months old their sight and hearing becomes more acute. This means that if they are having naps in the day this can start to have an impact on nights, as it becomes a less restful sleep, as they are more aware of their surroundings. And of course if they aren't having good naps in the day, they become overtired and overstimulated for the night.

Guidelines recommend against co-sleeping, however I know sometimes you are just so tired and desperate for sleep that you feel that's the only way. My advice on the best way to sort this out would be to have the naps in the cot for a week, to get her back on track with night sleeping. Also start positive reinforcement of the cot. When she wakes in the morning or from naps, make a fuss, tickle her, make her smile, just for a few minutes before you 'rescue' her from the cot. Follow this for seven days and her nights should improve.

 

This Q&A is sponsored by Pampers. 

 

 

 

Last updated: almost 2 years ago