Tips and tricks to get your baby snoozing
We asked parenting expert Catherine Defty for her advice on how to create the perfect sleep environment for your baby, whether you’re mum-to-be Kate from Kent or Kate of Kensington Palace (who incidentally slept on Tielle linen the night before her wedding. Possibly the last great night’s sleep she had?).
It’s never too early to introduce your baby to good sleep habits. Although your newborn baby will have little concept of day and night, there are many things you can do to encourage ‘sleepy time’ and give yourself a well-earned rest.
Your baby should sleep in a cot or Moses basket in your room until six months. There’s no rush to get your baby sleeping through the night, indeed studies show that babies establish good sleep habits at a slightly older age tend to be better sleepers in the long run. Baby’s bedding can also affect his or her sleep. Get into the habit of putting baby in their cot or basket before they fall asleep and once they’ve finished a feed. All of us, babies included, wake regularly throughout the night. If your baby wakes in a different place to where they fell asleep it can be scary and disorientating for them. Gently supporting your baby to fall asleep independently can take a long time (six weeks or more) but it is an investment well worth making for them and you. See The Lullaby Trust for safer sleep advice.
Your baby isn’t used to silence. In the womb, he or she will have been exposed to plenty of reassuringly familiar white noise that you can use to encourage sleep in the early days. There are plenty of white noise apps and toys on the market – I particularly like the MyHummy range. White noise is most effective if used from birth and weaned off before six months.
Darkness triggers the brain to release melatonin, a key sleep hormone, so although a baby doesn’t have an established circadian rhythm (e.g. day = active, night = quiet), it’s worth developing good sleep habits from the start. Keep baby’s sleep environment as dark as possible and beware of devices that emit blue light as they may disrupt sleep. I especially like the Grolight nightlights that provide an adjustable soft flow sufficiently bright enough to check on baby.
While an adult may struggle to sleep in the heat, a hot baby can be at an increased risk of sudden infant death. Cold babies will wake and cry but when babies get too hot they can fall into a very deep sleep that can carry risks. Try and keep baby’s room temperature 16-20°C and lay off the layers – modern houses are relatively draft free. Don’t worry if your baby has chilly hands and feet. Babies keep their circulation centrally and if the back of their neck or tummy feels warm, then they are warm.
Massage is a great way to help your baby feel loved and relaxed before bed. It also releases oxytocin – a powerful hormone that’s released during breastfeeding and other life-affirming activities such as hugging a loved one. Try massaging before bath-time – baby’s often too tired afterwards – using a cold-pressed organic oil. I use grape-seed, but most oils are acceptable, except olive oil which is high in oleic acid. You should also avoid mineral and fragrance oils.
it’s never too early to enjoy books with your little one. He or she may not grasp the story but the mere sound of your familiar voice will help comfort and soothe, especially if you read aloud to them while pregnant. Reading to your baby early on will also help to make reading fun and encourage a reading routine, which has good links with language development.
Pacifier, soother, binky – whatever you call yours, comforters work to help reassure baby and can play a useful role in helping baby associate it with sleep. While a baby’s cot or Moses basket should be kept clear, you can encourage sleep by placing a piece of fabric that smells of mum or dad or a used breast pad discretely under the mattress. Babies love reassuring smells, which is why we don’t use fragranced massage oils.
Everyone’s stomach is about the same size as their first so while a could of teaspoons of milk may fill your baby’s tummy, it’ll soon be hungry again. It’s therefore normal for babies up to nine months to a year to wake and want night feeding. Research also suggests that responding to a crying baby prevents the baby’s cortisol levels from rising, which can benefit the developing brain. Babies over six months sometimes sleep for longer if they have more protein in their diet.
Many people refer to the ‘witching hour’. That’s the grumpy time from dinner time to midnight when nothing seems to comfort your baby. Teething and colic often fit into these hours, possibly because baby is most tired then and least able to cope. No-one knows the reason for colic and there’s no cure, but rest assured it will only continue for 12-16 weeks so keep going, and keep going out! A teething baby may benefit from teething granules. You could also try massaging their gums with a baby toothbrush which helps soothe teething and gets them used to having a toothbrush before their first tooth arrives.
Catherine is an IAIM trained massage instructor and the owner of Tactile Tots. A qualified health visitor, children’s nurse and nursery nurse with a decade of experience delivering massage courses within children’s centres, family homes and group settings, Catherine completed her MSc dissertation researching infant colic.