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Getting enough sleep with a newborn at home is a great challenge. Experts offer parents advice on techniques that will lead to more shut-eye for everyone - By SUZAAN HAUMAN
WHEN we asked moms on our Facebook page if they use sleep training their reactions were divergent. "No, my children sleep between Daddy and Mommy until they're ready to go to their own room," Milay Botha says.
But Theresa van Zyl reckons sleep training "works like a bomb". 'After the fourth night my baby daughter fell asleep without crying," she says. "Every night she cried less."
We asked experts what sleep training involves and what dangers it could hold.
Why is sleep important?
If babies and toddlers get their required 10 to 12 hours' continuous sleep at night they'll awake rested and happy, says Jacqui Flint, a sleep expert and owner of Baby Love, a company that gives parents guidance on routine and sleep. "They meet their milestones, eat well and their awake time is quality time in which they're open to receiving stimulation and learning," she says.
Parents also need their sleep. "Because parents are well rested they're happy, less impatient and can function at work, and as partners and parents."
Why do babies have trouble sleeping?
Colic, reflux and illnesses can play a role. Babies who associate sleeping with breast-feeding or rocking can have difficulty falling asleep without it. Sleep could elude a baby who's too cold or too hot, lying uncomfortably or has consumed too many stimulants such as sugar, caffeine or preservatives.
What is sleep training?
Sleep training is teaching your children to lull themselves to sleep without help, and joining their sleep cycles together so they don't wake intermittently, Flint says. To achieve this children must be given the building blocks of good sleep. "It's a combination of changes in feeding, routine and environment."
It doesn't begin only at bedtime but with a day routine suited to their age, says Petro Thamm, director of child sleep counselling service Good Night and regional director of the International Association of Professional Sleep Consultants.
At bedtime ensure your, child has had enough to drink, create a restful environment and remove sleep "crutches" that your child depends on to fall to sleep, such as a bottle. A blanket or teddy bear is a good sleep association.
Once they've learnt to manage without a crutch they'll be able to fall asleep again on their own when they wake, Thamm says. Two hours before bedtime ensure the child isn't exposed to blue light from TV sets, lap-tops or cellphones.
"Set the stage for sleep - five minutes of quiet time before putting your baby down in his cot," Flint says. "Remove him from stimulation, drop your tone of voice, say his name and avoid eye contact. Give him his sleepy-time object, a dummy, for example."
Sleep training must be approached holistically without stressing any single factor, Thamm says. Many misconceptions about sleep training arise because people incorrectly apply common sleep methods, such as leaving a child to cry, without having the understanding to take a holistic perspective. "Leaving a child to cry won't by itself help him sleep any better; Thamm says.
What are the dangers?
A baby who wakes up and starts crying must know he is not alone - this applies especially to children less than 18 months old, says Professor Astrid Berg of the University of Cape Town's department of child and adolescent psychiatry.
"If sleep training means you establish a rhythm and routine then that's fine. But if it means leaving your child to cry for pro-longed periods the practice is questionable, especially for very young children," she warns. "It becomes stressful for the infant and if repeated may lead to too many stress hormones being released, which isn't good for brain development."
Parents need to take note of their feelings and respond instinctively, she says. "It goes against nature to let an infant cry without the presence of the parent."
When soothing a child don't do anything that may be stimulating, such as playing with him. The soothing could he a gentle pat on the back, giving him a dummy, singing or giving him a teddy bear or blanket - whatever is familiar and calming. Try as far as possible to do the same thing every time the child wakes.
For advice on sleep training, there are various experts you can consult. Some will come to your house and show you how to get your baby to sleep. Go to babylove.co.za and goodnightbaby.co.za for more information or a private counselling session.