10 tips to help get your baby to sleep.
Sleep helps to keep you sane, alert and calm throughout the day, and a lack thereof can negatively affect your physical, emotional and social wellbeing. Throw a newborn baby into the mix, and you can wave goodbye to your beauty sleep.
Sleep deprivation is a common phenomenon among parents with newborns, but it’s not just parents that are stuck in the counting-sheep cycle. Tired and fatigued babies are also affected in the same way, and are often too sleep-deprived to learn the necessary positive coping mechanisms needed to deal with stress.
If you’re tired of tossing and turning and are looking for ways both you and your baby can doze off to a sound sleep, the following tips may be useful:
- UNDERSTANDINGTHE FOURTH TRIMESTER
The fourth trimester is the 12-week period immediately after you’ve had your baby. It’s a time characterised by great physical and emotional change as your baby adjusts to being outside the womb, and you adjust to your new life as a parent. The human newborn is very immature when compared to any other newborn in the animal kingdom, and only truly becomes a ‘baby’ after about three months. It’s therefore very important to help babies make a gentle adjustment to their new world outside the womb during this period.
The sleep environment for your newborn baby should mimic the womb environment. It should promote a sense of calmness and quiet, and simulate the rhythmic movement of the foetus in utero without too many bright lights and distractions. This can make a huge difference to how the baby sleeps, feels and reacts to everyday events and stimuli.
2. SLEEP CYCLES
Understanding your newborn’s sleep cycle can assist you in having a clearer appreciation of their behaviour. During the light sleep cycle, your baby will tend to wake easily from noise, while during the deep sleep cycle they will sleep heavily. Most babies’ sleep cycles last for about 45 to 50 minutes as they go from a state of drowsiness to light sleeping and, finally, into a deep sleep. The period of deep sleep is vital for the recuperation of their bodies and their growth and development.
By creating boundaries for your newborn, you give your little one a sense of security similar to what he or she experienced in the womb environment. Nesting cushions or swaddling are beneficial ways to create such boundaries (mimicking the fourth trimester). If your baby needs to be swaddled, swaddle them in a stretchy cotton blanket before you put them down to sleep. This will keep them snug and contained, and prevent them from waking due to their body’s own jerking movements when falling into the deep sleep cycle. A weighted soother may also be useful for babies that require or seek stronger boundaries.
Encourage self-regulating sleep for your baby by offering a sleep soother. A sleep soother can be anything your baby learns to associate with sleep. For example, a nesting cushion or dummy, or even a security object or blanket. This will limit separation anxiety from the mother, which usually starts to occur between four to six months old. This in turn encourages independent sleep, whether co-sleeping or sleeping in their own crib.
- FEEDING & SLEEP PREPARATION
- Before bedtime, make sure your baby is not hungry, and that their nappy does not need changing. In other words, ensure that their basic needs are met.
- It’s recommended that the environment where your baby sleeps is dark (use blockout curtains), and that you keep any other form of stimulation away out of this space (such as a mobile over the sleep area – rather have this over the changing table).
- Ensure that your baby is not too hot or too cold.
- It is advised that your newborn is dressed in 100% cotton, and has 100% cotton covers (cotton is breathable).
- BATH & MASSAGE
At night, bathe your baby close to bedtime and massage their whole body with a soothing baby oil. The heat of the bath and the deep pressure of the massage have a calming effect on babies and make them drowsy, which will help them to fall asleep quicker.
Holding your baby while humming softly and rocking them rhythmically will encourage sleep (mimicking the fourth trimester). This is part of the calming reflex, and mimics the movement your baby experienced in utero. When you are putting your baby down, remember to put their bottom down first and then their head, otherwise they may wake from an innate reflex.
- SLEEP ROUTINE
Try to establish a sleep routine for your baby from early on. This will prevent an overload of stimulation, which can affect their sleep. Introducing a sleep association assists with establishing appropriate sleeping routines. But ultimately it is important to be realistic, adopt a flexible approach and accept that you will have ‘bad days’ from time to time.
Make sure that your baby gets enough movement during his or her wake cycles. Activities like going for a walk in the pram or in a kangaroo pouch or sling are great for getting your little one moving. Try rocking and communicating with them while in the upright position, and remember to support your baby’s head if it still appears slightly floppy.
- RAISE THE HEAD
Reflux can contribute to lack of sleep in babies, and it’s advisable to consult a medical practitioner in this regard. To assist your baby with reflux, try to keep them in a more upright position during and after feeding.
By Jennifer Spiro
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Spiro is a dedicated mom, medical professional and co-founder of nurtureOne, manufacturer of specialised nesting cushions and other natural baby essentials. She holds a B.Sc OT and a B.Soc.Sc Social Work from the University of Cape Town, and is specialised in working with newborn babies and children with learning difficulties. She believes that providing the correct environment for your baby is of the utmost importance. For more information or to get in touch, visit www.nurtureone.co.za.