A newborn baby’s sleep schedule is so erratic that it often drives parents crazy. Sleep is something that new parents often think about, crave for and even compare notes on. In the first 4 months of your baby’s life, s/he may not sleep through the night. However, with the right approach, and especially with a good sleeping environment, you can establish the right sleeping patterns in your baby. Here are some expert recommended ways to make baby sleep on his own and also get him to sleep through the night.
1. Know what to expect
As a parent, it is helpful if you know what to expect when you bring your baby home from the hospital. A newborn will sleep on and off and will have extremely irregular sleep patterns for at least 2 months. Mothers must feed their baby as per a schedule given to them by their pediatrician. However, there are no hard and fast rules here; you can also choose to nurse as often as the baby demands. New babies will not sleep at a stretch and parents who expect them to are in for a disappointment. While this can be extremely grueling to parents and can take a toll on one’s health, know that this will soon pass. As your baby grows, your parenting skills will improve, your baby’s system and circadian rhythms will adjust and the family will eventually sleep well and have a consistent routine.
2. Walking, rocking and swaying
Babies have very excitable nervous systems that are still developing. That is the main reason why they need help from us to calm them. Rocking and swaying the baby in arms helps in the initial stages. Eventually though, your infant needs to learn self-soothing. Babies can also be soothed by body warmth. They love motion and they love your voice. So you could consider carrying your baby around in a tote or wearing him in a sling whilst singing to him. Walking outside is also soothing to infants, owing to change in environment, change of light etc.
3. Encourage your baby to grasp ‘night and day’
Here are some steps to help your baby differentiate between night and day:
- Let your baby get some indirect sunshine during the daytime. Try a 10:00 am walk or sit with your baby in the porch. Remember: avoid direct sunlight exposure.
- Make your baby understand daytime. Open the shades to allow sunlight in, sing to the baby once he awakes and let him know it is time to awake.
- Keep him in brightly lit areas or rooms with natural daylight during the day. Likewise, keep baby in dark rooms in the evening. Lower the nights at night even when baby is awake.
- Avoid computers, phones, TV screens etc an hour before bedtime.
4. Wake up baby for feeding
Gently awake your sleeping baby every 3 hours to feed him. However, as you baby grows, try not to feed him as the last activity of the day. Otherwise, he may associate sleep with nursing. Singing a song between feeding and putting baby down in his crib is a great way to make baby sleep on his own.
5. Baby massage
We have covered this topic in detail here. Massage reduces stress and gives your baby’s nervous system a fabulous path to fall asleep. Here are the steps:
- Place baby on a warm surface.
- Take a little bit of oil such as sweet almond oil in your hands. Warm the oil by rubbing your palms together.
- Make eye contact with your baby and let him know you are starting the massage.
- Place your hands around his thighs and use gentle milking motion along the length of the leg. When you get to the feet, use your thumbs to trace little circles on the soles of the feet.
- Place hands on baby’s chest and make slow outward circles. Stroke downward from chest to thighs on each side.
- Take up each arm and repeat the milking motion.
- Trace circles on baby’s palm with your thumbs and gently tug on fingers.
- Make sure you understand your baby’s cues. Older babies tend to resist massage and you might have to incorporate massage in some other part of baby’s schedule if it no longer helps your child unwind.
6. Use white noise
Babies love white noise as it helps them relax and reminds them of the womb. You can use nature sounds like wind, rain, waterfall or ocean’s waves. A low fan or a room heater can also create low or moderate volume. The use of safe fans and heaters can also mask noises inside and outside the home.
7. Adjust the light
If you wish to put baby to sleep during the day, put up shades or dark curtains in the room. A darker room will increase baby’s sleeping time and give you much needed rest. You can consider temporary darkening for windows or use black out fabrics. Other ways to darken the room include the use of garbage bags taped on windows.
Swaddling prevents startle reflex in newborns and also helps recreate a womb like atmosphere. Snug swaddles help keep limbs closer to the infants’ bodies and many babies sleep better this way. Again, you need to note your baby’s cues here; some babies can be swaddled up to 4 months. Others hate being swaddled and seem to do fine just without it.
9. Keep the air moving
A low fan or little moving air at the level of baby’s face is the best way to put baby to sleep in crib. In winters, place the heater fan with a humidifier safely near the crib. Avoid overheating the room and do not over-bundle your baby.
10. Encourage self soothing
This is an important way to help baby fall asleep each night on his own.
- Put your baby down from time to time, especially when he is awake.
- Gently remove breast or bottle while baby is still awake. This will help remove association between sleep and feeding.
- Avoid the urge to peek in if your baby’s room if he appears to be whining, grunting, or making other noises. These are ways of self soothing.
- In the first 4 months, do not let baby cry for more than a minute. However, you also need to take a call whether to let him cry a bit. For the first few days, do not run immediately to check on why he’s crying.
- Provide a transitional object such as a blanket, or a soft toy which your baby can use to self soothe.
- Tummy sleeping or belly sleeping is also great and many babies over 4 months of age associate sleeping with rolling over on the tummies. Allow your baby to sleep on the tummy as it could mean longer stretches of sleeping.
Parenting is difficult and perhaps the hardest part of it is in the early few days when the baby just refuses to sleep. We hope this brief guide helps you.