It’s no secret that sleep is important for babies. Other than the obvious benefit of having a well-rested baby, sleep also allows for proper brain development and supports baby’s physical growth by helping him gain weight and grow. Sleep also helps support a healthy, happy baby and increases the chance for good general health and emotional stability in later life. (It also makes for a happy, well-rested mum too!).
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1. Darkened room
We as adults find it much easier to go to sleep and stay asleep when we’re in a dark room, and babies are no different. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is released when we sleep in the dark as it makes us drowsy and helps us to have better quality sleep. Using blackout curtains during daytime naps can help avoid ‘cat napping’ (where babies wake after 45 minutes).
In the darkness there is nothing to stimulate them, so they easily fall into the next sleep cycle. Blackout curtains can also help with those early sunrise-waking babies as it keeps their room pitch black. Not every baby will need blackout curtains to sleep well – some can sleep perfectly in a light room, so see how you go!
Almost every ‘baby expert’ in the world recommends swaddling as a key to getting a newborn baby to sleep, and most attribute it to helping them to sleep for longer as well. Swaddling replicates the tight, secure space of the womb that helps babies feel safe.
It also helps control their ‘startle reflex’ where they suddenly fling their arms in the air, waking them from a peaceful sleep. Once your baby can roll over and is on the move (at around four months old), it is time to remove them from the swaddle and pop them into a sleeping bag instead.
A hungry baby isn’t going to sleep well. They might have trouble going to sleep, or wake before they’re ready, so make sure that you are following some guidelines around recommended milk and food intake at each age to ensure that they are getting enough.
4. Wind pain
If you have a baby who struggles to release wind and is in pain, then they are going to have trouble going to sleep, and staying asleep too. There are plenty of winding techniques and potions available to help your baby. Ask your midwife or trusted fellow mum-friends for some recommendations.You might also like to talk to your GP to find out if there’s something else going on or to discuss the benefits and risks of a visit to an osteopath or chiropractor.
Also look at mum’s diet if you are breastfeeding. Some health professionals recommend excluding certain foods such as dairy and gluten from mum’s diet and this can make a difference to baby. But only do this under the guidance of a health professional.
5. Room temperature
Baby’s room being too cold or too hot can cause sleep-time wake-ups. Make sure your baby’s room is between 16°C and 20°C, with the ideal being 18°C. Dress your baby appropriately for their sleep time with more layers in winter and less layers in summer. You can tell if your baby is too hot by putting your fingers down the back of her neck, or between her skin and clothes. If she feels hot and clammy you might need to relieve her of a layer or two.
6. General sleep guidelines
It is helpful to know a general guideline as to how much sleep is to be expected at every age. This will help you know how much sleep your baby should be aiming for and avoid your baby getting overtired. For example, the wake time of a newborn baby under six weeks old is no longer than one hour, and then they might sleep anywhere from one and a half to three hours at a time – both day and night.
By the time a baby is six months old, he will be awake for around three hours and sleep for up to two hours in the day and around 11-12 hours at night. These are only guidelines of course, but it is helpful to know what you are aiming for.
7. Nap and night-time routines
Creating nap and night-time routines are really helpful ways for your baby to pick up on cues that it’s almost sleep time. Keep daytime nap routines short.
For example, you might bring baby into his room, close the curtains, swaddle him up or put him in a sleeping bag and give him a quick cuddle, all while singing him a lullaby. In this example you are giving him a visual cue that it’s sleep time by closing the curtains, a physical cue by swaddling or putting him in a sleeping bag and a verbal cue by singing a lullaby. Babies are clever little things and learn these cues quickly. A night-time sleep routine may be a bit longer and include a bath, story etc.
8. Get help
If you are struggling with your baby’s sleep, then it’s important for their health and development, and not to mention your health too, to get it sorted out sooner rather than later. There are plenty of ‘sleep consultants’ around to help you, but before you choose one here a couple of things to keep in mind. Check their qualifications – what training do they have behind them and is it legit? It is also a good idea to enquire about their philosophies and methods to check that they align with yours.
The good news is that your baby will eventually grow up and learn to sleep on his/her own. This season won’t last forever. Keep up the great work!
Attend a Toolbox parenting course
Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.