How to help your baby sleep

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Settle your baby to sleep and help them sleep through the night with these easy steps.

1. LIMIT PROPS

While it can be tempting in the early days to use sleep props – like driving around the block or rocking or patting for hours – it’s best not to rely on them for too long.

Babycare expert and author of Baby Secrets, Jo Tantum, says it’s fine to do these things at first. “But if your baby needs a drive to get off to sleep, she’ll come to expect it – and soon you’ll find yourself taking two or three drives a day,” she says.

The same goes with rocking. “It’s fine in the early weeks when your baby doesn’t weigh much, but you don’t want to be trying to lift a heavy one-year-old.”

2. INCLUDE TRIGGERS

Jo suggests giving your baby lots of ‘sleep cues’.

“Make sure she has at least one nap a day at home, so she associates her cot with sleep,” she says.

“And sing the same song, as babies love repetition.”

At night, follow a similar routine – for example a bath before bed. “This helps her connect these things with sleep, so she’ll know it’s coming when she’s taken into her room in the middle of the day, or after a bath,” Jo says.

“High-fibre foods can often result in a 5am bowel movement, which will disturb her and possibly keep her awake. Instead, give her fruit and veg at lunchtime and offer plain, carb-heavy foods – like toast fingers, pasta and bananas – at dinner.”

3. CREATE SLUMBER SCENTS

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, parenting expert and author of Baby Calm, says babies associate different smells with certain things.

“Help your baby sleep better by putting a few drops of chamomile or lavender oil on a blanket or muslin in her room,” she says.

“These have been proven to induce and improve rest.”

Try lavender bath products, like Johnson’s Baby Bedtime Bath (200ml, $5.49) to get your bub snoozing through the night. 

4. GIVE CARBS FOR DINNER

Jo Tantum says a baby who’s had high-fibre foods – like fruit or lentils – for her evening meal is more likely to wake early the following morning.

“High-fibre foods can often result in a 5am bowel movement, which will disturb her and possibly keep her awake,” she says.

“Instead, give her fruit and veg at lunchtime and offer plain, carb-heavy foods – like toast fingers, pasta and bananas – at dinner. These don’t tend to cause early poos, plus they’ll keep your baby’s tummy full all night.”

5. HELP HER SELF-SOOTHE

Babies over the age of six months who are healthy and gaining weight can have less milks feeds overnight.

“Instead, let your baby soothe herself back to sleep,” says Jo. “Rather than rush in at the first squeak, leave her for five minutes. If she doesn’t settle, go in and gently pat her and make a ‘shhh, shhh, shhh’ noise in time to a heartbeat. If that doesn’t work, give a 15 minute cuddle. If all else fails, then give a feed.”

This pattern should re-set her internal clock and she should stop waking for feeds, or at least settle back down without one.

6. IGNORE OTHER MUMS

Don’t listen to other mums who tell you their baby is sleeping through the night at 10 weeks (and wonder why yours isn’t).

Sarah Ockwell-Smith says this will cause you to become stressed, which will be counter-productive. “Studies show that an anxious mum hinders a baby’s sleep,” she says.

“So relax and trust your instincts. All babies are different and yours will get there.”

7. TRY NEW TACTICS EARLY IN THE DAY

Jo Tantum also says it’s best to attempt new sleep tactics in the morning.

“If you decide to implement a new routine, try controlled crying or are attempting something else to help your baby sleep, do it in the morning,” she says.

“In the day, you’re more alert and determined to do things right, whereas in the middle of the night, you might give up after the first hurdle.”

8. PLAY CALMING SOUNDS

Musical mobiles are a great way to sooth younger babies.

Loook for ones with light shows to help her nod off peacefully, and make sure it is on either a timer or has a remote control, so you don’t have to go in to turn it off.

9. THINK 7PM TO 7AM

Once the hazy newborn phase is over, treat the hours from 7pm to 7am as bedtime.

Keep your baby in her bassinet or cot in the dark and, if she wakes for a feed or comfort, keep everything quiet, dark and calm.

Then when she stirs at 7am, smile, chat and open the curtains to indicate the day has started.

10. DARKEN BUB’S ROOM

If long hours of daylight are hindering bub getting off to sleep, dim her room with blackout blinds or curtain lining. Blockout roller blinds are available from IKEA, or buy blackout curtain lining and attach it yourself.

When you’re away on holidays or overnight visits, try a portable blockout blind, like the Gro Anywhere Blind ($59.95, for temporary use only) which can be attached to nursery windows.

Studies show that babies sleep longer and more deeply in the dark. On the other hand, if bub can’t settle in complete darkness, buy a gentle night-light.

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