When I visit a new Mum one of the most asked questions I get is ‘How can I get my baby to settle in his/her cot at night?’ Most babies will be happy to be put down after feeding, changing, winding etc. during the day but at night the minute you tuck them up all peaceful and seemingly fast asleep, a few minutes later they’re wriggling around and building up to crying and wanting feeding again (bottle or breast). Exhausted parents often resort to half dozing whilst their baby sleeps on their chest, or try repeatedly to put the baby down and then feel like they’re doing something wrong when the baby doesn’t ‘comply.’ There are all sorts of gadgets and gizmos you can buy to help with this problem – I’ve listed some at the end of this post – but we need to understand why they do it, and remember that it’s not necessarily an issue that needs solving, more that we need to learn how to adapt to it.
Firstly why do they do it? Picture yourself as a newborn: weak, underdeveloped organs, poor sight, unreliable temperature control, sensitive skin just to name a few things, but with a fierce instinct to survive. During daylight hours it feels safer, there’s lots of people around, possibly a fire burning to keep predators away and lots of reassuring background noise. At night an ancient circadian rhythm kicks in, the temperature drops and there’s a scent of danger in the air. Our instinct is to feel the warmth of another, with a reassuring heartbeat sound and even better, milk. The act of nursing is a huge comfort and a source of vital nutrients. The levels of the hormone Prolactin are higher at night, and breastfeeding at night time will help establish a good milk supply. Being close to you will help regulate their breathing and temperature. It is normal baby behaviour to wake frequently and want to stay close.
Some families choose to co-sleep or bed share to get more sleep as a family. This is not for everyone and must be practiced safely. The La leche league (LLL) have produced an infographic entitled ‘The Safe Sleep 7’ which I find highlights how to co-sleep perfectly:
However, co-sleeping isn’t for everyone, so how can we gently coerce our newborns to stay in their own space? The safest place for a newborn for their first six months is in a crib near your bed.
My Top Tips for settling your baby at night:
- Swaddle or wrap the baby, not too tightly but enough for them to feel secure.
- Keep the baby swaddled during feeding and don’t disturb unless they need a nappy change.
- After the feed gently wind the baby.
- Try to ensure the feed is of good quality and quantity.
- When you’re ready to transfer the baby to their bed, try to do it from a horizontal position. Keep the baby the same level during transfer to avoid the falling reflex.
- Keep their bed warm by using a hot water bottle wrapped in a blanket or muslin inside the moses basket until your baby is ready to go in. Then remove it but place the warmed blanket over the baby.
- Use a rolled up cellular blanket either side of the baby to make them feel secure, taking care to place them below their head height.
- Keep the room warm, but don’t let the baby overheat.
- Place an item of your clothing or something with your scent on in the baby’s bed.
- The same toy or comforter in the crib each time baby sleeps will eventually help them associate that toy with sleep
- Play baby’s music mobile/ lullaby music when putting down for a sleep. Use the same one each time so they begin to associate it with sleep and feeling secure.
- Try using a white noise maker or CD.
- Don’t change your baby at night unless soiled, keep disturbance to a minimal.
- Keep the lighting low if you need it.
- Avoid TV or computers and phones as the blue light can affect sleep patterns. If you use your phone, use a red light filter app.
- Keep noise to a minimum.
- If your baby starts waking a few minutes after being put down, reach over and place a hand over their body to reassure them – if their movements and sounds are escalating, tilt them onto their side and gently pat them on the back whilst making a shhhh shhhh sound. If they don’t re settle with 5-10 minutes then they will need to be fed/soothed back to sleep again!
- Don’t be tempted to leave baby to cry, they still need you and regular feeds and night waking is normal for babies. As they get beyond 6 months there are gentle sleep training methods you can use, but if your baby or toddler doesn’t sleep, they aren’t bad or naughty or trying to manipulate you, it’s just their natural behaviour
Remember this phase will pass, it feels like forever right now, but it doesn’t last forever and you’re doing a great job – pick the method or methods that work for you and your family and you will sleep again!
Sleep aid Products that may help your newborn settle
It folds down at the side and can be attached to your bed
I hope this list is of some use to you, remember babies do not know how to manipulate you, nor should you worry about making ‘habits’ in the early weeks. They need your love and nurturing day and night and this phase will soon pass. Accept help where you can and grab sleep when possible. Look after yourself and don’t beat yourself up. If well meaning people are asking how is baby sleeping, reply with ‘Like a baby!’ I’d love to hear what works for you and if you have anything to add to this list.