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Mother and Baby

The Secret Diary Of A Night Nanny

Meet M&B sleep guru Tina Southwood: the woman with all the answers to getting your baby to love her Zzzs. Yep, we’ve found the holy grail of parenting, people

Before you had a baby, your biggest sleep issue might have been getting woken by next door’s builders once a year during a lie-in. Now you’re a mum, sleep has become a daily obsession as your baby is a regular wake-up call, often throughout the night. So, it’s no wonder that some new parents turn to Tina, a night nanny of nine years, for expert help with their little one. ‘I see children from birth until 18 months for around five nights, with the aim of getting them into a healthy bedtime and sleep habit,’ she says. But how exactly does she work her magic?

Client: Rosie and Ben Cresswell
Baby: Sophie
Age: Six months
Weight: 16lb
Sleep problem: Parents don’t  know how to settle her without  feeding, which she now relies on

7pm

So that I can help with Sophie’s bedtime routine, I arrive before she goes to sleep. In this case, Sophie is still waking every few hours and her parents don’t know how to settle her without feeding her to sleep, which she has now come to rely on. At her age and weight, she doesn’t need to be fed, as she’s eating solids and drinking a good amount of milk during the day.

'She’s eating solids and drinking a good amount of milk during the day, so she doesn't need to be fed at night'


I explain that I’ll try different ways to soothe her without resorting to a feed. One thing I find is that lots of new parents don’t know how to read their baby’s sleep cues – yawning isn’t the most important indicator (especially that first yawn after a feed, which is often a reflex).

In the first year, we should look for other cues, such as rubbing her eyes, arching her back, staring into space and nuzzling into you more. Missing these can mean your baby gets overtired, which then makes it harder for her to drop off.

 7.30pm

Sometimes parents will go to bed and leave me to settle their baby, while others stay and pick up some tips. After a final feed, I lay Sophie in her cot and sing lullabies – she soon drops off. You might think a baby over three months would struggle being settled by someone other than her parents, but I’ve never had a problem.

I find staying calm keeps a baby relaxed. Keep lights dim, too, so if you need to turn them on during the night, they won’t disturb your baby. If your child is under three months and in a Moses basket, I like swaddling, but I make sure her hands are relatively free, so she can self-soothe.

 8.30pm

After settling myself in Sophie’s room, I go to sleep. My bed is generally in the baby’s bedroom but, if not, I’ll have a monitor next to me all night.

10.30pm

Sophie wakes and starts to grizzle. I sing a lullaby, but she’s still crying, so I turn her on her side in her cot and pat her back. For a baby under six months, I’d suggest a dream feed (when you nurse her while she’s asleep), but I want Sophie to settle without milk.

'Sometimes it’s simply about solving a key problem you hadn’t thought of'


Sometimes it’s simply about solving a key problem you hadn’t thought of. In Sophie’s case, she’s used to waking between sleep cycles and needs her bottle to get back to sleep. This time, after 10 minutes of patting, she drops off and I roll her onto her back.

1.15am

I hear Sophie grumble, but I don’t want to disturb her, so I wait a few minutes to see what happens and she just goes back to sleep. If she did need soothing, I’d leave her in her cot at first, perhaps stroking her forehead to encourage her to shut her eyes. I’d also feel her chest to check her temperature, removing a blanket if she seemed clammy.

I’ll try different techniques for half an hour and, if they don’t work, I’ll feed a baby if I know that will settle her (either by bottle or taking her in to see her mum, as agreed). If I’m certain a baby’s needs have been met, I allow five minutes of crying to encourage her to self-soothe and fall asleep on her own.

4am

Sophie wakes again and, this time, I don’t manage to calm her in her cot, so I bring her out. I cuddle and rock her, making a shushing sound. I return her to her cot asleep and go back to bed.

Generally, the second stretch of the night is more disturbed than the first, which is usually to do with having a lack of structure in the day. Or it can be trapped wind, especially in younger babies. In addition to a dummy, my remedy is gripe water (suitable from four weeks), mixed with some cooled boiled water in a bottle.

 6.30am

Sophie is still asleep when my alarm goes off. I wake her at 7am by turning on the lights and removing a layer. By six months, it’s good to have a morning wake-up time to start the day and keep your routine in place. I take her to her parents, with a cup of tea. If they had an older child, I’d look after him or her while everyone else gets settled. Then I’ll head home at 7.30am for a quick nap of my own…

How did you encourage your baby to learn to self-settle? Tell us in the comments box below.

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