If you’re expecting, you may think your baby will be born a good sleeper or a bad sleeper, and there’s little you can do about it. Luckily, that’s not true. You can create the conditions for good sleep by following a few simple steps. If your little one’s already arrived—and has picked up some bad habits—take heart. You can reverse the tides!
Establish good sleep habits from the start
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The very first day of your baby’s life is the best time to introduce healthy sleep habits. Your job is fairly straightforward. Just follow safe sleep guidelines, use natural sleep cues and give your baby early “practice” falling asleep independently.
First, make sure your baby is sleeping in a safe location and position. That means always on the back and no bulky bedding/toys, no smoking in the house and have the baby right by your bed for the first six months. It is also important to avoid bed sharing and falling asleep with the baby on a sofa. These are both associated with a major increase in the risk of infant sleep death.
Those are things not to do, but there are also lots of things to do to help your baby sleep safer … and better!
You’ll want to introduce natural sleep cues that mimic the calming sensations of the womb. Safe swaddling, shushing (white noise), swinging (rocking) and sucking—all part of the 5 S’s method—help babies fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. These “good” sleep cues are ones that your baby enjoyed 24-7 up to the moment of birth; that require little effort on your part; and that are easy to wean by 3-6 months, once your baby is more developed. (Note: Safe motion means only letting your baby sleep on a fully flat surface. Paediatricians warn parents that deaths have occurred when babies were left to sleep in rockers/swings that seat them enough to allow their heavy heads to roll forward on their thin necks.)
You may have heard the saying “never wake a sleeping baby”, but actually, I recommend you do it … every time you lay your baby down! I’m a huge fan of a counter-intuitive little technique called wake-and-sleep .
Here’s how to do it:
Before the last feeding of the night, swaddle your baby and put on strong, rumbly white noise. Then, feed your baby and let them drift to sleep in your arms. Then, with the sound still on, transfer them into bed and gently rouse them until their eyes open. (If she or he fusses, you can jiggle the crib a bit.) After a few seconds, they’ll drift back to sleep. In that brief moment of drowsy waking, your baby is practicing the ability to fall asleep independently, a skill that will benefit them for years to come.
Undoing bad sleep habits
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If your baby is sleeping poorly, you’re not alone. A large poll of new parents found that:
- 60 percent of infants are rocked to sleep by their parents
- 75 percent of infants fall asleep every night nursing or drinking a bottle
- Only a third of parents use independence-building sleep cues.
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The key to avoiding these frustrating problems is often pretty easy. Here’s what I suggest:
- Wake-and-sleep (described above). In addition to helping newborns form good habits, this technique helps older babies get back on track. I advise using wake-and-sleep for allnights and naps. Repetition helps new habits sink in.
- Swaddle snugly, arms down. For young babies, swaddling—arms down—is essential for good sleep. When left unwrapped, babies often startle themselves awake and whack themselves in the face. If your swaddled baby is still waking a lot, it’s likely because she or he can wriggle their arms free or because you are not using the right type of white noise. Click here for my favourite little trick for keeping babies perfectly wrapped all night. Paediatricians currently recommend that parents stop wrapping once the baby can roll. (Note: Smart sleepers, like SNOO, prevent accidental rolling and allow you to swaddle your baby with total confidence.)
- White noise. White noise is a super helpful sleep cue through the entire first year and well beyond. It drowns out external distractions, like TV sounds from the next room or passing trucks, as well as internal distractions, like mild teething and hunger. That’s why it often helps babies wake less often.
- Dummies. Sucking is a wonderful comfort to trigger your baby’s calming reflex. And, offering your baby a binky at bedtime. And, as a bonus, the dummy also lowers the risk of SIDS. It’s a win-win!
- Massage. For new babies, touch is as nutritious as feeding! A lovely five-minute massage one or two times a day with some warm oil is a brilliant way to show your love. I promise it will become one of your favourite baby memories.
- Loveys. These cuddly little blankets or soft toys comfort babies in their parents’ absence. Loveys are safe for babies over nine months (before that, nothing but a dummy should be in bed with your baby) and can help your baby fall asleep confidently and sleep more soundly through the night. Just make sure the lovey you chose is small (about the size of your hand), has no bits like plastic eyes or strips of fabric that can be pulled off and become choking hazards.
You’ll still want to cuddle and hold your baby as part of your bedtime and naptime routines, of course. Your quiet time together is perfect for bonding and sharing your love. Adding in steps that nurture independent sleeping will begin to grow your baby’s belief in his own abilities, which is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give to a child!
This article was first published on KidSpot and was republished on theAsianparent with permission.