Newborn sleep: How to get more of it (part two)
Baby Sleep Consultant, Emma Purdue, shares her top sleep solutions to help your newborn get more sleep in part two of our two-part series...
Timing is important for good sleep habits, but routine in the first six weeks is about starting your day in the morning, finishing your day in the evening, and offering your baby a nap every 45-90 minutes, depending on their tired signs. The first six weeks are not a time to try to establish a strict nap routine. You might even find your baby is very sleepy in the first three weeks as they carry a lot of maternal melatonin from being in your uterus. This makes them sleepy and gives you a false sense of security before they “wake up.”
Settling a newborn for a sleep can be tricky, especially if they appear colicky or they suffer from reflux. The good news is that your baby has a calming reflex, and you as the parents have the magic ability to turn on your babies calming reflex, which then enables you to help them drift off to sleep with less stress. This calming reflex is triggered by five key strategies. Dr Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, refers to these as the “five S’s”.
Shushing near your baby’s ear mimics the sounds they heard in utero and is calming to your baby. Before they were born, they were exposed to around 90 decibels constantly, so this quiet world they are born into can unnerve some babies. You’ll find they respond remarkably to shushing or white noise pitched at the right volume.
Holding a baby on their side either across your chest, or in their bassinet can, in combination with shushing, swaddling, sucking and swinging help your baby to calm down and prepare to sleep. If you do hold your baby on their side in their bassinet, it is very important to note this is just to settle them, they must never be left unsupervised on their side in the bassinet as this would be a SIDS risk. Put your baby to sleep on their back for all sleeps.
I love swaddling newborns, and after working with thousands of them, I haven’t met one I couldn’t calm down with a good, snug swaddle. I prefer the arms down technique as this ensures your baby is protected from their own startle reflex which can startle them awake as they fall asleep. If your baby fusses when you wrap them, I promise you they don’t hate it. They might just be a bit overtired already. Try playing some white noise as you wrap them, and pop in a dummy.
Offering your baby the breast or a dummy to settle is for most babies a sure-fire way to trigger that calming reflex and allow your baby to go to sleep. You can try wrapping your baby, turning on the white noise, then either holding them against your skin on their side with a dummy, or feeding them. Both of these strategies will help your baby fall asleep quickly and without tears.
Swinging is a general term for any kind of movement that helps your baby calm down and fall asleep. You might find swinging in your arms works best, or patting their bottom is another favourite of mine. Patting, swinging and bouncing all need to be vigorous enough to trigger that calming reflex while still supporting baby’s neck and body. We’re swinging not shaking!
Experiment with the five S’s. You’ll find you only need one or two of them in order for your baby to fall asleep, or it might be all five. Every baby is different, and every day will be different. Don’t be surprised if on Monday your baby is happy with their swaddle and dummy, but by Wednesday they also need a good bottom pat, and the white noise. Try to consider the five S’s as tools in your newborn toolbox, and you are free to pick and choose which ones you need on any given day.
In the first three weeks, you might find your newborn will nap easily in the lounge in broad daylight. This helps them learn the difference between night and day, and you get to have them close by for frequent feedings. But after three weeks, most babies tend to sleep better in a darker sleep space, such as their nursery or your bedroom with the curtains drawn. This creates a sleep-inducing environment, which again helps make falling asleep much easier, and encourages your baby to stay asleep for longer periods as light and sleep don’t mix well. Overnight, the safest place for your newborn to sleep is in their own sleep space, such as a bassinet or cot, but in your bedroom. Room sharing lowers the rate of SIDS and allows you to be responsive to your newborn’s night-time needs.
Wonderful things happen to your newborn while they sleep. Firstly, they grow while they sleep: their cells repair themselves and multiply. When your baby sleeps, their short-term memory is transferred to long term memory and new skills are solidified as synapses grow. Babies’ immune systems strengthen and develop as they sleep; their appetites regulate and stress is reduced. Sleep is just as important as food for our development and survival but just as it takes time to establish and become comfortable with infant feeding, it takes time to learn how to put your baby to sleep. Be patient and ask for help if you’re struggling.
Are we expecting too much of our newborns?
This is the information age. We carry a pocket-size computer with us at all times, which brings with it the ability to tap into expert knowledge at the press of a button. But it can also create unrealistic expectations, especially in the world of parenting.
Parents see a snippet of their friends rose-tinted lives on social media, and then wonder why their four-week-old baby doesn’t sleep through the night and take three two-hour naps every day. At Baby Sleep Consultant, I’m seeing an increase in clients coming to us wanting to try “crying it out” to establish routines and teach their newborns to self-settle. This is completely unnecessary as your newborn has no ability to self-settle and might not take structured naps until they are 12 weeks plus. We’re all busy and parents are struggling with the time it takes to put a newborn to bed. Sometimes we can be settling for 20 - 30 minutes just to achieve a 45 minute nap. Whilst exhausting, this is totally normal for a newborn baby. Hang in there. The first 12 weeks will fly by and your baby’s sleep will get easier the bigger they get.
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