When encountering brand new parents, people’s first reaction always seems to be, “Well I bet you are getting absolutely no sleep.” For some odd reason, this is mentioned with a tone of humor, but there is actually nothing funny about it. Sleep is the number one issue for newborns and their parents. You brace yourself for it during pregnancy but it is not until you are continually denied a good night’s sleep that you realize how vital it is to your health and well being. Exhausted parents become a hazard to their newborn as they throw safe sleep practices out the window in exchange for the chance to rest.
You will be responsible for teaching your child everything they will need to know to survive in this world. Your first responsibility is to teach your child how to sleep. Having a solid plan and sticking to it is always your best bet. We have gathered some tried and true tips to help you develop a routine that will promote a good night’s sleep for your baby which will result in well rested, safe, high functioning parents. Isn’t that the best gift you can give your newborn baby?
1) The 5 S’s
Dr. Harvey Karp, the author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, is one of our favorite resources on the subject of calming a fussy baby. Dr. Karp has developed the 5 S’s, a practical routine that mimics the soothing sensations of the womb. The 5 S’s, when done correctly, are a great addition to your pre-bedtime routine. They will help calm your newborn baby in preparation for a good night’s sleep.
Wrapping your baby in a blanket to its shoulders (swaddling) helps to recreate the snugness of the womb and does wonders for calming a newborn baby. As soon as a baby begins to move around freely or shows signs of trying to roll over, it is recommended that you cease this practice.
Side or Stomach Position
Although placing him on his back is the only safe way to sleep your baby, it is not the greatest method of calming him while fussy and tired. holding a fussy baby on their side or under the tummy while facing down works wonders while soothing.
The sound of blood flow inside a mother’s womb is louder than a vacuum cleaner. Your baby is used to this constant loud sound so recreating the shushing noise could be just the ticket to calm them and lull them to sleep.
Your baby is missing the constant movement she experienced while in the womb. A great way to recreate the movement is to safely hold the baby in the side or stomach position while swinging yourself from side to side from the waist.
Sucking on a pacifier triggers a calming reflex in your baby. This self-soother has also been shown to lessen the risk of SIDS if given to a baby at bedtime. As long as you plan to be vigilant about removing the pacifier at the correct age, there is no reason to not allow your baby to indulge.
Work on perfecting each of the 5 S’s to your baby’s liking and when you reach pro level, combine all 5 at once for the ultimate calming experience.
2) Ah…The Great Outdoors
Routinely exposing your baby to the outside world will actually do wonders for their sleep. Studies have shown that babies that are subjected to fresh air and plenty of natural light sleep longer at night. One theory is that high levels of natural light help a baby to develop their biological clock which encourages the natural release of melatonin, a known sleep aid. Our ancestors seemed to have been well aware of this practice. Walking a baby in a pram and sitting in the garden with the baby in the afternoons were common daily practices. Moms can obviously benefit from the fresh air and sunshine as well. Establishing a daily walking routine is a great way to exercise while healing and can aid in easing the effects of postpartum depression. You will begin to feel like your pre-pregnancy self in no time.
3) Keep it Cool
Cribs for Kids recommends that a baby’s room is kept between 68 and 72 degrees. Overheating may increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in babies up to one year of age. Avoid overdressing a baby when placing them down for the night. Always look for signs of overheating such as flushed cheeks, unusually restless sleep, or a sweaty head. In cold weather, we recommend a zippered sleep sack as an additional layer over light pajamas if you feel that you need an extra layer of warmth.
4) Fading Works!
When your baby is four to six months old, sleep training becomes an option. Getting serious about sleep training takes a real commitment from everyone involved. Uncomfortable with the thought of usuing the cry it out method? Fading is a softer method that you can employ to coach your baby into sleep. The ultimate goal in sleep training is to promote self-soothing, teaching your baby that they don’t need your help to be able to fall asleep. With fading you position yourself in their room very close to the crib and use only your voice to soothe them, never picking them up. Each night you will move a bit farther away from the crib. Eventually, your baby will recognize your pattern of behavior and begin to self-soothe while still being calmed by the sound of your singing or speaking voice. You will find that it takes less time for them to fall asleep as the training proceeds.
5) Avoid the Quiet Zone
A common mistake that new parents frequently make is insisting that the house be completely silent while the baby is napping or attempting to go down for the night. While exploring the 5 S’s, we learned that your womb was never silent, actually, it was quite the opposite. Insisting that your baby suddenly sleeps in complete silence is akin to having them learn a brand new way to rest. Keeping the noise and activity in the house at its normal level will not only seem natural to your baby but will also be practical for the rest of the family. No one should be tiptoeing around the sleeping baby while experiencing anxiety about the dog barking or an unexpected visitor ringing the bell!
Keeping the cone of silence up throughout toddlerhood will add an unnecessary amount of stress to your family’s daily routine. Trust that training a baby to sleep while experiencing normal noise levels will truly pay off when your toddler can get a great nap in on the way to the zoo or can easily lay down for a nap while at a family gathering.
6) Routine, Routine, Routine
The importance of establishing a consistent sleeping routine cannot be overstated. Your baby is craving this and will adapt quickly. Be aware of your baby’s signals indicating that she is sleepy and always attempt to put your baby into her safe sleeping space while drowsy but still awake. This will encourage self-soothing and familiarity with her bedtime surroundings. Falling into the trap of allowing your baby to fall asleep in your arms is unsafe and will disrupt your routine, derailing your sleep training efforts.
Establishing a set bedtime and sticking to it is crucial to your ultimate success. Work on creating a soothing sleep ritual that begins an hour before bedtime. You can start with a warm bath, give your baby a light massage and move onto quiet bonding time in a dimly lit room. Singing to your baby and reading a book before bed are great bonding activities. Your baby will soon learn that this is her wind down time and that this routine means that it is time to sleep. Remember to be clear and concise while explaining your baby’s routine to caregivers. One night of disruption normally means that you are back to square one with a newborn.
7) Keep Calm and Carry On
While it is not always easy, keeping yourself as calm as possible during sleep training is a must. Your baby will easily pick up on your tension which can result in a cycle of agitation that leaves no one happy and rested. Employing the tag team method can be a lifesaver while establishing your bedtime routine. Involving your partner in the routine not only gives you a time-out period to breathe through frustration it also encourages family bonding. If you are alone, the first few weeks during bedtime is a great time period to ask family and friends for help. Always placing your baby back to sleep in a safe sleep environment will give you the peace of mind to walk away briefly and collect yourself before continuing.
Establishing a safe and consistent routine will set your child on the correct path to becoming a healthy sleeper. This will pay off through toddlerhood and into the school-age years when a good night’s sleep will prove crucial in helping your child with education, socialization, and general good health. Having a child that is a consistent sleeper will also be beneficial to your own wellbeing and relationships. Remember that this chaotic period will not last forever and every effort you make toward sticking to your routine will help your baby become a champion sleeper.
Keep up the good work!