Sleep – we all need it, and most parents say they need more of it. Infant sleep is one of the most argued about parenting topics, right up there with immunization and time out.
Below are some time proven ideas that have been shown time and again to improve baby’s sleep habits, most of which will work just as well for a little baby as they will for a toddler.
Getting a newborn to sleep can be one of the most frustrating things you will ever have to do. (Until your baby becomes a toddler with sleep issues, then you may look back at their babyhood with fondness, I have been there!)
There are so many baby sleep techniques, most of which require some form of cry it out, controlled crying or encouraging self soothing. Sadly none of these methods work well with a baby’s or a mother’s natural instincts. Our instinct is to go to baby when she cries, and baby is hard wired to cry when she is left alone.
Is your current attitude towards infant sleep realistic?
You can’t force a baby to eat, you can’t force a baby to poop and you sure can’t force a baby to sleep. The best you can do is to create a secure environment that allows sleep to overtake your baby.
What you can aim for is a healthy attitude toward sleep: that it is a pleasant state to enter and a secure state to remain in. In the same way that daytime parenting is a long-term investment, so is nighttime parenting. There is no quick fix (sorry!).
However, relaxing about sleep will make it a whole lot easier. Don’t panic about getting your baby in to a routine. Let baby sleep when she is tired and don’t waste hours each day trying to get them to sleep, all it does is make you crazy.
Invest in a good wrap or front pack, stick baby in it and let them nap (or not) while you get on with your day. You will find that at about 4-6 months of age, your baby will start to settle in to their own routine, without you making too much of an effort. Before that time, any amount of routines and schedules are very hard work, and quite frustrating to try and implement for most babies. Some babies slip in to a simple routine right from day one, and others start being great sleepers and fall off the wagon later on.
You can console yourself with the fact that studies have shown that wakeful babies are more likely to be “bright” and have advanced learning from a young age (2).
Where does your baby sleep best?
There is no right or wrong place for babies to sleep, as long as it is safe. Wherever all family members sleep the best is the right arrangement for you and your baby.
Some babies sleep best in their own cot in their own room, some sleep better in their own bed in the parents’ bedroom, other babies sleep best snuggled in the parents’ bed. Realistically, most parents use various sleeping arrangements at various stages during baby’s first two or three years.
What is safe Sleep?
A safe sleeping position and environment for baby are all of the following:
- On baby’s back – they sleep best in this position, and they are less likely to choke if they vomit as their breathing tube sits above the swallowing tube in their throat in this position.
- Face clear of bedding, pillows, toys or anything else
- Bed sharing is only OK if the parents are smoke-free, drug-free and alcohol-free
- Co-sleeping should never occur on a couch or chair
- Baby needs a firm, flat surface to sleep on without duvets or thick blankets
- No pillows, cot bumpers or soft toys
- Warm (but not hot) room temperature
Never place a swaddled baby on it’s side or front to sleep.
A note on Sleep Training
There are many different ideas and styles of sleep training but these sleep-training techniques are just variations on the old cry-it-out method.
Use your inner parent voice to screen the advice:
- Does this advice sound sensible?
- Does it fit your baby’s temperament?
- Does it feel right to you?
Don’t get into a baby sleep technique that doesn’t sit right with you. If you can’t stand to hear your baby cry, you are doing no long term damage cuddling them instead! In fact recent studies conclude that the raised cortisol levels in babies left to cry, don’t go away when the baby stops crying (1). Chronically raised levels of cortisol have been linked to cancer, obesity, auto-immune dieseas and heart disease.
Sleep training techniques seldom work on high-need babies with persistent personalities (like 2 of my children).
Tips to improve infant sleep
Over the course of teaching your baby to sleep you need to stay flexible. Develop a night time parenting style that works for you. No one approach will work with all babies all the time or even all the time with the same baby.
If the chosen “sleep program” isn’t working for your family, stop it and move on. And, be prepared for one style of nighttime parenting to work at one stage, yet need a change as she enters another stage.
Follow your heart rather than some stranger’s sleep-training advice, and you and your baby will eventually work out the right nighttime parenting style for your family.
Give baby plenty of sleep cues, make yourself a routine and stick with it.
Dinner -> Bath -> Massage -> Pajamas -> Sleep-sack/Swaddle -> Story -> Final feed/bottle -> cuddle/rock/sing/mobile.
Fill baby up your baby during the day.
Babies need to learn that daytime is for eating and nighttime is mostly for sleeping. Feed your baby at least every three hours during the day to cluster the baby’s feedings during the day time.
Re-look at your day routine.
Is your day restful and calm? “A peaceful daytime is likely to lead to a restful night. The more attached you are to your baby during the day and the more baby is held and calmed during the day, the more likely this peacefulness is to carry through into the night.” – Dr Sears
How to get your baby to sleep
There are different ways to help your baby get to sleep. If one isn’t working after a while, move on and try something else to avoid getting tense and frustrated. Babies are very intuitive and will pick up on your feelings and get tense too.
Contrary to popular belief helping baby to sleep when they are young, does not mean you will have to do it forever. They will eventually work out how to get to sleep themselves.
1. Feed to sleep.
Nestle next to your baby and breastfeed or bottle feed him off to sleep. The smooth continuum from warm bath, to warm arms, to warm breast, to warm bed is a recipe for sleep to soon follow. This is natures most natural and best way of getting a baby off to sleep without fuss.
2. Daddy cuddles.
Put baby up on your shoulder and hum or sing while pacing. The vibration of the deeper male voice lulls baby to sleep very effectively.
3. Rocking or walking.
Try rocking baby to sleep in a bedside rocking chair, or walk with baby, patting her back and singing or praying.
4. Nestling down with them.
Sometimes Baby just doesn’t want to be put down to sleep alone. After rocking or feeding baby to sleep in your arms, lie down with your sleeping baby next to you and nestle close to her until she is deeply sound asleep.
5. Baby wearing.
Some babies are so revved up during the day that they have trouble winding down at night. Place your baby in a baby sling and wear her around the house for a half-hour or so before bedtime. Baby wearing is particularly useful for encouraging naps when baby is not keen.
If you’ve tried all the above infant sleep techniques and baby still won’t fall asleep, jump in the car and drive around until she falls asleep. When you return home and baby is in a very deep sleep, transfer her to her bed. Do not leave baby asleep in a car seat as they are not in a safe neck position and risk suffocation.
Tips for keeping infants asleep
While nothing is a sure thing with babies, these things will all help contribute to keeping baby asleep.
In the early months (and sometimes much later), many babies like to sleep securely swaddled. A baby who gets too hot or too cold may become restless. Adjust the layers of clothing according to the temperature of the room and the sleep habits of your baby.
2. Quiet bedroom.
While most babies can sleep through very loud droning noises, some babies startle and awaken easily with sudden noises. For these babies you need to think carefully about the sounds that may wake them. Oil the joints and springs of a squeaky crib or squeaky door, put out the dog before he barks and mute your phone. White noise in the bedroom can help mask these noises, you can get a great gadget like this that works a treat.
Keep the room dark even for day sleeps, you may find that they sleep longer without the light waking them. Total darkness is a good signal to the brain to stay asleep, and it helps to regulate hormone production, even in adults.
Try a continuous recording of your baby’s favorite music, this works similarly to white noise.
5. Leave your scent.
If you have a separation-sensitive baby, leave a breast pad or your worn t-shirt in the bed. I know it sounds a little cray-cray but it really does help some babies!
6. Full tummy.
Tiny babies have tiny tummies, a bit bigger than the size of their fist. So, your baby’s digestive system was designed for small, frequent feedings, which is why, in the early months, babies feed at least every 3 to 4 hours at night and more often during the day.
7. Lessen physical discomforts.
Clear their nose so they can breathe. Relieve teething pain. Change wet or soiled nappies. Pre-warm the bed with a wheat bag. Keep the room at a comfortable temperature.
Some hope for parents struggling with a baby that won’t sleep
At the end of the day, your baby will eventually sleep through the night. How often do you see a teenager needing rocked to sleep?
Some people by nature just aren’t great sleepers, and that’s OK too. As parents we can encourage good, healthy attitude toward sleep and create patterns and routines to train the babies brain that it is time to settle down and relax.
Whether you co-sleep, feed-to-sleep or let your kids work it out for themselves, getting a baby to sleep well can be HARD. I hope these infant sleep tips will help you find something that works for you and your family. And remember, it’s only a phase, this too shall pass.