6 ways to help your baby sleep

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Is he a good baby?

This is the first question every new parent is asked.

Throw them off with a silly answer like, “he is already robbing banks.”  Hopefully, they will so distracted they won’t ask you, “does he sleep all night?”

It’s perfectly normal and important for your newborn to wake frequently at first – every two or three hours, day and night! Your baby’s stomach is tiny and needs frequent refills, he is establishing your milk supply by emptying your breasts and he is adapting to being on ‘the outside’.

If you are thinking that even five hours uninterrupted sleep would be a dream-come-true, there are some gentle strategies you can try to help your newborn (and you) to sleep better:

1. Know the signs – None of us like being kept awake when we are craving sleep, so rather than waiting until your baby is ‘past it’, help her relax into sleep as soon as she shows sleepy signs such as becoming quiet, staring, yawning, making ‘jerky’ movements, losing interest in people or toys and fussing. If you miss this window of opportunity, your baby is likely to become grumpy and find it more difficult to shut out stimulation and settle.

Tip: for the first three months, at least, most babies need some help to settle. Consider, your newborn has a startle reflex and enters sleep through an active sleep stage. It can take around 20 minutes for your baby to enter deeper sleep. So, if you are cuddling or rocking your baby to sleep, wait until her arm is floppy before trying to move her into her own sleep space.

2. Soothing sounds – The calming, repetitive sounds of traditional lullabies recall the ‘womb music’ your baby heard before birth (your heartbeat, and fluids whooshing through the placenta). Baby music that incorporates elements such as the rhythm of the maternal heartbeat or ‘white noise’ has remarkable soothing effects, especially if played continuously through the night on a low volume. Singing a special sleepy song to your baby or perhaps a traditional lullaby that may be part of your family’s history (what did your mama sing to you?) will be a completely portable way to help your baby relax and feel secure.

Tip: if you are feeling a bit anxious or stressed, it can help to hum rather than sing, as this will slow your breathing and help calm you, so your baby doesn’t pick up on your anxiety about him falling asleep (or not).

3. Rock a bye baby – The motion of a rocking chair or being ‘worn’ in a wrap or carrier as you walk will lull baby to sleep. So will gently bouncing on a fit-ball – hum as you rock. Or you could consider a special-purpose baby hammock – and as baby moves and arouses, her movements will start the hammock rocking.

4. A magic touch – Silent nights could be at your fingertips: Research from Miami University showed that infants and toddlers who were massaged daily for one month, for 15 minutes prior to bedtime, fell asleep more easily by the end of the study. To learn how to massage your baby, check out Pinky’s beautiful baby massage Video. This is available as a streaming online video

Tip: most babies under three months will find a massage and a bath too stimulating, so either alternate a bath or a massage on different nights or massage at another time of day and bath in the evening. A massage earlier in the day when baby is calm, will encourage longer day sleeps and help your baby stay calmer so night sleeps are better.

5. Teach her day from night – Encourage the difference between night and day by keeping the lights low and attending to your baby quietly during night feeds. Save play and animated chatter for daytime and avoid waking your sleepy baby by changing the nappy either before or half-way through a night feed, not when baby is all drowsy and milk drunk.

You can also encourage more day waking and night sleeping by ‘wearing’ your baby for periods during the day, so s/he is stimulated by your body movements and rhythms. Wearing your baby outdoors for a daily walk will also be helpful.

Tip: Remember though, that newborns can take up to twelve weeks to develop a consistent day/night pattern of waking and sleeping. This depends on neurological readiness, not only how you support your baby to develop this awareness

6. Let him suck up to the boss – Falling asleep on the breast is one of the easiest ways for most babies to settle. This is due to hormones released while your baby feeds but if you are concerned about it becoming a habit, alternate feeding with other sleep cues and please be reassured, he may like to snuggle up to a warm breast when he is twenty-one – but it won’t be yours!

Tip: If your baby is still awake — for more tips to help your baby (and you!) sleep, read Pinky’s best-selling book Sleeping Like a Baby. (Penguin Random House)

Pinky McKay is Australia’s most recognised breastfeeding expert and gentle parenting advocate. She’s an Internationally Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), mum of five (so she has had her fair share of sleepless nights) and best-selling author. See Pinky’ s books, baby massage video (this is available as a streaming download) and recordings HERE.


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