I expected our baby to be sleeping through the night by now, and I am exhausted - is there anything we can do to help him get into a better sleep routine?
My first recommendation is to have a routine. The most ideal is the sleep-feed-wake/sleep-feed-wake routine. This is because it is good for your baby to get used to settling itself off to sleep when awake rather than feeding your baby to sleep before putting them to bed. The reason for this, is that they will often stir during their nap time, and if they have not learned to settle themselves off to sleep, they make wake prematurely, getting insufficient sleep.
Most parents agree that this is easier said than done! It is true, it does take some determination on your part, and the older your child gets, the more ingrained habits become (such as feeding your baby off to sleep) and the more difficult it is for you to change that habit. So it’s important that you get onto this routine as early as possible. There are two ways that I would recommend getting your baby off to sleep. The first is recommended by the Baby Whisperer which is called the Pat-Hush technique, which is quite self-explanatory. It means standing by your baby’s bedside soothing them while they remain in bed, until they drift off to sleep. The other technique is recommended by Plunket, which is that you allow your baby to cry, but you go in to soothe them (not picking them up and taking them out of their cot) every ten minutes, letting your baby know that you are still there and have not abandoned them - but it is time for bed! Your first day at this your baby may cry for up to an hour (if they are used to other ways of getting off to sleep, eg. being fed), with ten minute intervals of relief from your comforting/soothing them! But if you persevere, your baby will learn and you’d be surprised at how quickly this becomes a new pattern for them. The crying reduces and they fall asleep within ten minutes, then their crying becomes grizzles or even happy noises, and eventually your baby goes down in their cot quite happily. Of course, some parents may not agree with allowing their baby to cry, so in that case, they may prefer the Pat-Hush technique.
I would discourage you from getting into other habits such as rocking your child to sleep, as this causes an enormous burden for you - suddenly you have this baby that will only go to sleep if they are rocked. I have known parents who tell me their baby will only sleep if pushed in the pushchair, or driven around in the car! Usually these are desperate measures for very tired parents, who have stumbled across something that has actually worked and their baby has gone off to sleep - and therefore, they’ve found it “easier” to continue this habit. It is so important - for your sake, and your baby’s (so they get sufficient sleep) that you work through this process of teaching your baby to settle themselves off to sleep. Otherwise when you are out and about, visiting friends or family - you will have an overly tired, grumpy baby on your hands, which will make you and your baby miserable! Suddenly your life will completely revolve around your baby’s sleep issues - and this could carry on for the best part of your baby’s first year of life!
Another important aspect of routine is doing the same thing every night before bed. This might be a last feed for the day, a warm bath (relaxing baby bath oils are helpful), perhaps a story as baby gets older, kisses and cuddles, then bed. And try to keep your baby’s bedtime roughly the same. He/she may not know that it’s 7pm, but their body will get used to being awake for so many hours, and they will fall into a pattern of feeling tired leading up to that time and will recognize the signs that it is bedtime with a routine such as the above.
To read more about the Baby Whisperer’s advice on helping babies into a sleep routine - click on the following link: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/02/20/earlyshow/living/parenting/main1330940.shtml