Congratulations!!! If you are reading this you are either expecting or you have a new baby! Take time to embrace the cuddles and take in everything!
While you cannot expect to sleep training your new-born there are things you can do to shape their sleep and set them up for success as they grow. Before the age of 4 months their circadian rhythm is not fully formed, and their hormonal levels are all over the place leading to some unpredictable sleep patterns and no two babies will be the same! You little one may sleep amazingly at night to begin with but struggle to get enough in during the day or visa-versa. So how can install some basic strategies as a parent, to encourage healthier sleep from them?
I wish I had been given this information when I had my daughter! I can tell you now, as a new parent in 2015 I had no idea what I was doing or how much sleep she should have been getting. If I had this knowledge, I may well have prevented a whole lot of issues further down the line! (You can read about how I did everything wrong on my other blog.)
So, a simple thing to start with is to look at their environment. The environment is absolutely key and the first and most simple thing that you can use to help your baby to recognize things, to give them cues and triggers, and it will even help encourage their circadian rhythm, as well as learning the difference between night and day. So what does a good environment look like? yes, you probably guessed it…. Make it dark! I recommend 9/10 or 10/10 on the darkness scale. This is for all night-time sleep but also for any daytimes naps that you can create that for too. This will not only help the production of melatonin but will also help them to settle into a nap rhythm when the time is right. This will not be achievable for all naps! Some will be contact naps or naps on the go which is absolutely fine! But if you find yourself at home and want to have a hands-free nap, put them into their sleep space and make it dark, quiet and a bit boring for them! (No loud voices or engaging play).
White noise is fine to use and imitates the sounds they heard whilst in your tummy. If you do choose to use it then make sure it is all for the duration of sleep, not just in the settling period.
Know their sleep needs! As a new-born this can be all over the place but generally speaking a new-born should get at least 16 hours of sleep in any 24. Some little ones may have more than that! It is tiring business being born and learning how to feed and poop! The best thing you can do is to avoid long wakeful periods. Monitoring their wakeful windows will help to ensure they do not start producing cortisol as a reaction to being overtired. As a new baby, they should not be awake more than 45 minutes at a time, stretching to a maximum of 1.5 hours at 4 months of age.
Implement a simple bedtime routine. It does not need to be rigid or regimented at all. It just needs to contain a couple of simple steps that are flexible, but that you do each evening. You are setting the scene, setting the environment and to prepare them that the night-time is coming, which in time will be their longer stretch of sleep. That’s when you want it. Something like wash/bath, into dark room for pyjamas, nice big feed and a cuddle is a good starting place. It is important where they settle at this point (in their bed or on you) but that they feel safe and secure. The important part is that it’s in that bedroom and it’s in that environment. Why? Because that’s where they’re going to wake up. When they have their stirrings in the night or when they wake up for a feed, we want them to see that they have stayed in the same environment that they went to sleep in.
In the evening, that does not mean either going to bed yourself at 7pm or bathing your baby at 9pm! It is absolutely fine to settle them like mentioned above and once they are asleep, transfer them to a dim lounge so that you can keep an eye on them before you go to bed yourself. If you do want to move them to be with you, just be mindful of what you are moving them too. Can you dim the lights and turn the TV down so that it remains a calm place?
When thinking about settling to sleep, think about who is going to do it. Obviously if you are breast feeding, your little one is likely to fall asleep on you. Could you let your partner take over after the feed? Or during the day could you ask a grandparent to come over and take the baby for a walk after a feed so that you can get some rest yourself? Or just have a shower in peace? People will want to help. Take it! But be in control of what that looks like for you.
Consider implementing a routine of feeding upon waking. So what I mean by that is they wake for the day, it’s morning time, we’re going to take them out of their sleep environment, into a wakeful environment and they have their first feed. We have some activity time, and then they’re going to have a nap. When they wake up from the nap, they have a milk feed, they have some activity time, then they’re going to have another nap and so on. And this carries on all day. There will be times when they want another feed before sleep or perhaps some cluster feeds too which is fine but offering a feed when they wake up is a really good habit to install.
Bedtime is different. That’s the one time where they are going to most definitely need have a feed before their night-time sleep. However, during the day, if they are able to start going off to sleep without the need for a feed to do it for them, it will really help them in the future to be an independent sleeper. It can also help if you baby suffers from colic and reflux as it gives them time to digest their milk before laying down which can cause tummy pain and trapped wind.
For any night waking's, offer a feed when they wake (especially if breast feeding) as it contains hormones that can aid sleep. Just monitor how often they are feeding. Do they wake every 20 minutes wanting a feed? If so they are not likely hungry but using you as a comfort. Could you use a different form of comfort instead? The 5 s’s to settling a new-born can be really useful here:
-Side hold-in a laying position in your arms rather than in an upright position.
-shh-ing- As mentioned above, a great way to sooth without the need for constant contact.
-suckling- either by feeding or using a pacifier.
-swaying- gentle motion to sooth them off to sleep.
-swaddling- recreates their position from the womb and can help reduce startle reflux.
I hope this has been helpful for you. If you would like more support with your new-born why not consider one of my sleep shaping packages so that we can work together over a few weeks to install these and other soothing techniques and I can give you the knowledge of how to support their sleep as they grow and things change.
Book a free call today to discuss your families sleep needs and find out how we can work together.