Sweet Dreams Baby... tips to help assist your baby to sleep
Using researched techniques and a gentle, nurturing approach, combined with (currently 9 years) experience as a mother of two will help you to assist your little one to sleep (day AND night)....
1. Learn your baby's tired signs (cue's) - it is very important for you to know and understand your baby's tired signs if you want your baby to fall asleep easier and reduce tears and tantrums! When your baby is showing 'tired signs', you need to give him reassurance and tell your child it's time for sleep - (TIP: be firm and consistent when putting child to bed. Older babies and toddlers will often 'fight' going to bed). Many say this is the 'window of opportunity', because if you keep your baby awake through play or other stimulation, he will quickly become over-tired and it will become harder to settle your baby to sleep (especially with newborns). Some signs to look out for include:
- rubbing the eyes
- clenched fists
- jerking movements
- losing interest in toys and their surroundings
- clumsy (older baby/child)
- crying (by now your child is overtired!)
For an older baby, missing a sleep during the day e.g due to over-stimulation, does not necessarily mean he will sleep better during the night. Often it is the opposite and they may wake more during the night (see also point 11.) (TIP: even from 1 to 2 yrs of age, young children still need at least one day sleep). The secret is to put your baby to sleep when they FIRST start to show signs of tiredness!
2. Establish a soothing bedtime ritual (including a 'wind down' period in the evening) -
A bedtime ritual or routine at night is a wonderful way to relax your child but more importantly, prepare them for bed. Ideally, a soothing ritual eg using calming/relaxing music, together with the TV off or volume low, lights dimmed is a good indicator for your child that bedtime is approaching. You could also incorporate into your bedtime ritual - reading a book or two (age appropriate, pictures rather than words for young babies), whilst snuggling up together with a blankie; maybe a warm bath (more suitable for babies over 6 months. For young babies or newborns a bath can often be too stimulating; top and tail is best. Bath water can be drying on a newborn's delicate skin and strip the natural oils on their skin), breast milk or a bottle and a massage (refer to point #3 below). Routines are reassuring and predictable for babies - this helps them settle quicker to ensure a good night's sleep!
3. Massage - Massaging your baby (the earlier you start the better) has many benefits, both for you and bubs. (TIP: you can massage your baby from birth). Regularly massaging your baby on a daily basis will help establish a better sleep pattern. Nurturing touch through massage releases the sleep hormone, melatonin. For further reading on why massage is so important for babies and how massage will help your baby with sleep, see Idibidi Kids BLOG post December 2008, "Sleep problems and babies: how massage can assist your baby to sleep". Learning massage with an instructor when they are a newborn gives your baby time to learn and understand what massage is and that massage can be very relaxing for them. This way they can "grow" with the feeling of massage as you incorporate it into your daily routine. The secret to success with massage is offering it to your child on a DAILY basis for them to receive the many benefits associated with massage and positive, nurturing touch. Repetition is an important part of your child's learning and development. Please note, for newborn babies under 5 months, avoid massaging after a bath in the evening. Certain massage strokes in particular can be too stimulating for a baby under 5 months. It is best to incorporate massage time during the day after your baby's sleep, at a time suitable to both you and your baby.
5. Your diet and breastfeeding - cut down your intake of caffeine and alcohol and avoid smoking. Keep in mind that breastfeeding your child is only a small portion of their life. Maintaining a healthy diet whilst feeding your baby is important for their health, growth and brain development. Increase foods in your diet that contain complex carbohydrates, protein, iron, zinc, calcium and essential fatty acids. Make sure you drink plenty of water! (TIP: drink a glass of water each time you feed your baby).
6. Swaddling - Swaddling is, in fact, an age-old practice that first developed around 4000B.C. These days it can be done using muslin cloth or specially designed 'winged' swaddle wraps (takes the 'fun' out of wrapping yourself!). Swaddling gives your baby a sense of security, (as it was once surrounded for 9 months in utero), and promotes a sounder sleep by staying in the REM sleep period for longer. Some say it does help reduce crying. Babies tend to startle whilst asleep which may disturb their sleep and they may even cry out. Known as the 'startle' or 'moro' reflex, babies will usually fling their arms and legs out and make jerky movements. Swaddling your newborn is a practical way to help your baby through the transition stage in his new life. It can be continued until your baby becomes more active, usually around 5 months of age or when they are rolling and crawling. (TIP: experiment with swaddling techniques to suit your baby. Some babies prefer one arm out or their feet exposed). By around 5 months or sometimes earlier, it is important to let your baby move freely whilst asleep as they process what they have 'learnt' or been exposed to during the day.
7. What's the difference between day and night time sleep? A young baby (newborn in the first couple of months) cannot tell the difference between day and night. Babies circadian rhythm (their natural body clock) starts anywhere from 6 to 14 weeks old (usually around 3 months). You can help your baby by keeping the house relatively light during the day, even whilst they are sleeping (unless you have block-out curtains in baby's bedroom, it wont be as dark as it is at night time). At night it is important to keep talking and movement to a minimum, to encourage your baby to settle themselves back to sleep.
8. Mummy's scent - to help your baby settle to sleep, he may be comforted by a piece of your clothing or something that has a familiar scent on it, like your body scent. You could tuck this into the side of the cot or underneath the sheet. Your body scent will also help with the parent-infant bonding process.
10. Room temperature - babies and toddlers may wake during the night if they are feeling cold or too hot. Ensure they are dressed appropriately and try to maintain an even room temperature. Even in summer the nights can be cool, especially in the early hours of the morning. You may like to try a 'grobag' for your baby : this way, babies who roll out of the covers are kept at a constant temperature (if babies could talk they might say "thanks Mum and Dad, my very first sleeping bag"!!)
11. Stimulation during the day - too much? A newborn can be overstimulated quite easily. Usually 20 minutes is enough play time for a young baby. Forget the gyms and fancy toys; your new baby craves love, nurturing and attention. Simply looking into your baby's eyes and talking to your baby builds trust and helps form a secure attachment between you and your child. A great book I often refer to is called "Baby Play - 100 fun-filled activities to maximise your baby's potential", a Gymboree book by Dr. W. Masi & Dr. R. Leiderman.
12. A little note on crying - you can never spoil a newborn with love! When he cries, offer a cuddle, a kiss, some gentle stroking over his clothes or a massage. Your newborn needs to know you are there for him! As long as all his other needs are met (e.g hunger, nappy change, too hot or too cold) he may just need reassuring. Babies need to feel safe and loved. This is important, too, for their psychological and physiological development. Research shows babies who are nurtured, loved and attended to when distressed, grow into healthier children who are able to cope better with stress later on in life.