A Gentle and Natural way to Help Your New Baby to Sleep Well
In my opinion there is far too much emphasis placed on getting very young babies established onto excessively strict feeding and sleeping regimes. Whilst this advice is well meant and for some babies can be successful, there are many new parents who feel a sense of failure if their baby doesn’t feed and sleep “by the clock” even in the very early weeks. The fact is, that no outside advice could ever be better than a mother [or father’s] natural instinct to love and to nurture their new born baby.
The three most important ways to help your new baby to feel contented and settled:
- To feed on demand
- To allow their sleep patterns to develop naturally [no waking them up during a nap or in the night- unless they are tiny and haven’t fed for a long time.]
- Through holding, handling and gazing at your baby, to allow the lovely process of bonding to take place.
In these early, precious but exhausting weeks, sleep is very closely involved with feeding. Your new baby will tend to live life in a milky, dozy state, and believe it or not, few babies really settle and sleep well. If you are breast feeding, it is quite usual to feed every 2-3 hours…….and sometimes even more in the evening. During the latter part of the day and in the evening, breast milk contains the sleep hormone, tryptophan. So “cluster feeding” at this time, not only allows your baby to stock up on food for the night, it also helps to improve the quality of their sleep.
It might not seem like it, but babies of this age sleep for 14-18 hours in a 24-hour period. If you think that your baby isn’t getting this much sleep why not keep a simple sleep diary? This will give you a clearer picture of their sleep habits and will enable you to see if any pattern is beginning to emerge. Remember though that at this age babies’ sleep is very light and even fidgety. New babies have nearly double the amount of REM sleep than adults do, and this kind of sleep is often called “active sleep.”
To encourage your baby to settle into a good sleep pattern they need:
- Enough milk. If you are breastfeeding this means feeding on demand. For formula fed babies, follow the guidelines on the tin or allow 2 ½ oz [75 ml] in a 24 hour period per pound [0.45 kg] of their body weight. If you are at all unsure, you should ask advice from your health visitor.
- A cosy and safe place to sleep. The ideal room temperature should be around 18 degrees C. Clothing and cot covers should be made of natural fibres such as cotton or fine wool.
- During the night, when they wake for a feed, keep the lights down low and speak softly. Settle them back into the cot after feeding and winding.
- Do not change your baby’s nappy during the night unless it is very wet or soiled. A Thermos with warm water for cleaning them will save you crashing around in the bathroom in the middle of the night.
- Introduce a familiar gentle song or spoken ritual that your baby will come to associate with bedtime.
- Allow them to experience fresh air and light during the daytime, and darkness at night. This will encourage the development and production of Melatonin – one of the most important sleep hormones.
By this stage many babies are beginning to sleep for longer periods and to feed less often. It is usual for a baby of about 8 weeks old to sleep for 6 hours at night without waking for a feed, although many babies have managed to do this earlier and some will be a little later.
Your baby is now bigger and stronger, even though they are not yet be taking solid food.
Their total sleep requirement may have dropped slightly, to between 14 and 15 hours in 24 but night sleep will be becoming deeper and lasting for longer periods. They may not yet have an early, set bed time and it is not unusual for babies of this age to settle for the night at the same time as you do.
To encourage good sleeping habits at this age, keep up with the first 6 steps and in addition try to encourage your baby to sleep without falling asleep on the bed time feed. Do this by giving the final feed with the bedroom light kept on and preventing them from dozing. [A “split feed” might help here.] Once they start to get sleepy and/or you think they have had enough; take them off the breast or bottle and hold them upright against your shoulder. Move gently from side to side whilst humming, shushing or singing. When they calm, try placing them in the cot and if you need to, continue to soothe by stroking, singing etc.
Breast fed babies often find this more difficult than babies who enjoy formula milk – but stick with it and it will get easier. There is no need to prevent your baby falling asleep over every single feed. Try at first, just for the one closest to your baby’s bed time.
12 – 16 Weeks
At this lovely age, your baby is becoming much more active in the day time and may even begin to sleep through the night for between 6 – 12 hours at night, with 3-4 daytime naps. This should total about 13-14 hours.
To encourage good habits at this age you need to establish a bedtime routine.
A good bedtime routine incorporates a set of ‘sleep clues’ which tells your baby that sleep time is coming. If repeated consistently, it will help them to feel safe, comfortable and sleepy.
As a guide, try the following steps:
- A final [short] day time nap at around 5 PM.
- Tidy up the daytime things and prepare all that you need for the night.
- Turn off the T.V, radio etc. and take your baby’s bottle/blanket/dummy and whatever else they require to the bedroom.
- Bath at around 6.30 PM. Even if your baby is clean, it is good to bath them as the experience serves as a very powerful sleep clue. It also allows them to expend reserves of energy. Introduce an ‘action’ song in the bath, you will both enjoy it and it will serve as another [highly portable] sleep clue.
- After the bath, go directly to the bedroom. Don’t be tempted to take them back into the main living area, or you’ll find that rather than making them sleepy, the bath has left them ready to play!
- When you’re in the bedroom, keep the atmosphere calm, with soft lighting etc. If you normally give a massage, now is the time to do it.
- Give your baby a bottle or breastfeed [still with the light kept on] and then afterwards, look at a little baby book together, sing a familiar lullaby or repeat a consistent goodnight phrase. Then place them in the cot – ideally, whilst they are still awake. If your baby struggles to settle, you may have to stay with them until they are calm enough to sleep. It is better to gently ease them into falling asleep independently rather than opting for the famous ‘controlled crying’ technique.
- If your baby wakes for a feed during the night, make sure that you put them back in the cot afterwards [no matter how exhausted you are!]
- The sequence of your routine is more important than the time at which it is done. If 7 PM is too early for your child, just follow the routine a little later.
You are the best person in the world to decide what is right for your child. Use this as a guide only to support your own instinct. Be loving, consistent, resolute and above all, confident!
Copyright Andrea Grace