There are so many reasons why your baby could be fighting sleep at naps and during the night.
Here are a 5 reasons why your baby is fighting sleep and some suggestions to help them to sleep more soundly.
1. Your baby doesn't know how to put themselves to sleep and therefor resettle when they wake.
This can happen at any age, but is particularly common under 6 months old.
When babies are born, they are totally reliant on being close to their mother to keep them safe, fed and alive, and they naturally sleep most soundly when close to or on you.* To begin with, this is lovely and most mothers enjoy it and get on with it, at least in the early days. But eventually there comes a time when you need to do other things and you can't have your baby sleeping on you all day and all night. This is the point that a lot of parents find that their baby starts to "fight" sleep. The thing is, they aren't fighting it, they just haven't yet learnt to sleep in the way you want them to!
The solution is to make sure your baby is in the right routine for their age and size and then help them to learn to calm down (self-soothe) and put themselves to sleep. You can work out your baby's routine by spacing their feeds out to 3 hours at 4 months, then 4 hours by 6 months, so that you can fit weaning meals in too, and then slot naps in based on how long they are happy to be awake for, ensuring the nap doesn't start or end with a feed. When your baby is on the right routine, they won't be hungry and shouldn't be too windy when you put them down to sleep, so it will be easier to help them to learn to sleep independently.
2. Your baby isn't on the right routine, so they're not tired enough or full enough to sleep.
If you are resisting following a routine, you are probably making your life with your baby harder than it needs to be. Not all adults like routine, but ALL babies need some kind of routine so that you can meet their needs for sleep and feeding.
Once your baby is over 3-4 months old, they no longer need to be fed on demand in the way you were feeding them in the first few months. If you read their feeding cues accurately, you will probably find that they naturally fall into a 3-4 hour feeding pattern, taking longer or bigger feeds than if you feed them every 1-2 hours. When your baby is feeding little and often, they may never be fully satisfied and this will stop them from falling into a deep sleep. If this is happening, and they may be taking short cat-naps which take the edge of their tiredness but don't make them feel fully rested. However, once they wake after 30 minutes, they are still tired but unable to go back to sleep due to a lack of melatonin in their system. Putting them on a routine that spaces out feeds and sleeps will allow them to sleep for longer because they aren't hungry and are tired. The routine also allows their body-clock to regulate the release of their melatonin, making it easier for them to fall asleep.
3. Your baby is overtired and therefor full of adrenaline and startling a lot.
When your baby is tired and ready to sleep but they aren't in a safe place where they can sleep, their bodies have to release adrenaline to fight their sleep hormones so that they can stay awake until they are in a safe sleep place. This often happens when tired signs are missed or misread. It's an easy mistake to make, especially when your baby doesn't give clear cues.
The solution is to put your baby on the right routine for their age and size so that they won't get over-tired.
4. They haven't yet formed a positive relationship with their cot or crib.
If your baby has been sleeping in your arms or in your bed, they won't have had a chance to get to know that their bed is a safe space for them to sleep, which is why when you put them in it they instantly ping awake and start howling.
Help them to get used to their bed by putting them in it when they aren't tired and stay close so you can chat to them and play with them. Let them build up some positive memories so that when you put them in it when they are tired, they have positive feelings about it.
5. They are in the habit of needing help to settle, but as they get older they up their game.
Most babies need help falling asleep in the early days. This is 100% totally normal and absolutely fine! Babies under 3 or 4 months are highly unlikely to put themselves to sleep, will need rocking or feeding to sleep and shouldn't be expected to do anything else.
However, once they become more aware of their place in the world, and are more awake and responsive, you can start to encourage them to calm down and fall asleep with less and less support. If you don't do this, they tend to up their game and need more and more help to get to sleep. The more you give, the more they take. This is particularly common with older babies and toddlers who haven't learnt to self-soothe, or who have been "good sleepers" but have become the opposite.
The solution is to make sure that they feel secure and then gently start to encourage them to start sleeping independently, using a gradual retreat or similar. Tougher sleep training methods aren't good when a baby is regularly fighting sleep as they can make them feel more insecure which could make their sleep worse.
And if you are still struggling, reach out to us for more support on 07977 462252.
*If you are co-sleeping or letting them sleep on you, please make sure you are doing it safely.