The Number One Key Ingredient to Help your Baby Sleep Through the Night
By Lucy Fitzgerald
You will no doubt have tried many ways to help your baby sleep. Car drives, cuddles, rocking, swaddling, white noise, pram walks and so on... Some work really well. Others can create long term sleep problems that have tired mums and dads waking throughout the night in response to their babies.
Studies have shown that babies who don't have enough sleep struggle to relax, learn and even physically grow. Healthy sleep patterns are essential in supporting the continuing development of your baby's brain.
You know how it feels when you're tired. It's hard to concentrate, you're more easily irritated, anxious and restless. It's the same for our babies. The difference is that they're right in the middle of the most accelerated learning and growth period they will ever experience.
So how do we teach them healthy sleep habits from an early age? It doesn't have to mean painful cry-it-out sessions, or that you sacrifice your own sleep to ensure they sleep well through hourly night feedings. In fact, all you have to do, is teach your baby to learn how to transition from awake to asleep by herself.
In the first few weeks, your baby will fall asleep whenever she needs to, often staying awake for just 20 minutes. A nice long feed, followed by a warm cuddle and she's off. Enjoy these early weeks.
Every now and then, even in the early days, put her down awake and you might be surprised to find she can go to sleep by herself. And as you grow in confidence and start to know your baby, begin to gently teach her how to fall asleep by herself at every sleep time.
There are three main ways to do this - routine, environment, and consistency.
From as early as you feel ready, start a bedtime routine. This is key in helping your baby to know what is coming next. In a world where language means nothing, your baby will learn through action and, in particular, repetition. In the early weeks, it won't mean much, but as the days go on, your baby will start to understand that sleep time is about to follow.
You might start with a bath, followed by sleep suit, sleeping bag, lullaby and milk. I always use white noise as it helps babies to transition between sleep cycles.
A shorter version of the night time routine will work during the day. Your baby may also need you to darken the room for her during the day.
The key is that everything happens in the same order and that you put your baby down to sleep when she is still awake. Drowsy is good, awake is essential. She may protest. She may ask you to help her. Be there, comfort her, help her to get drowsy again, and put her back down awake. After a few days of this, it will get easier and easier.
Create an environment that relaxes your baby and lets her know that it's sleep time. This may include a space to sleep away from noise and disruptions, a darkened room, white noise, comfortable sleeping clothes, something nearby that smells like you, and a familiar place to sleep.
If your baby goes to sleep in the same place at night time and nap time, it will help her feel relaxed and calm.
This is often the hard part. Because parents think they have to put baby down awake and leave the room and baby to cry. But if you've done the work described above, created the place and environment and followed a relaxing sleep time routine in the same order for about a week, your baby knows what's coming next.
She will feel safe in an environment that's familiar to her. She can smell you (baby comforter, muslin, anything that you can attach to the place where she sleeps), and she knows that when she wakes, you're always there to pick her up.
If she does cry when you put her down, don't worry. You don't have to leave her to cry. You could give her a cuddle, reassure her, help her to become drowsy again, and then put her back down while she's still awake. It will be a very short time before your baby starts to sleep all night if you follow this strategy.
Think about it. If you fell asleep in the car and then woke up in your bed, what would you do? Go straight back to sleep? Or find someone to tell you what had happened? It's just same for your baby. She's fallen asleep during a feed, or when being rocked in your arms and then you've put her down.
She may wake straight away because something feels different (in the same way that you would wake if someone took the duvet away!), or she may wake after a few hours. But when she wakes, she'll call for you because she doesn't know where she is.
So use the sleep time routine to tell her she's going to sleep safely and give her a familiar and comfortable environment to do this in. It will be very little time before she learns, with your support and consistency, how to fall asleep on her own. And you will all have peaceful nights so that your days are full of the love and joy you deserve.
Lucy Fitzgerald is a
Director at Sleepytot, <http://www.sleeptot.com> where they develop and distribute award winning
products to help babies sleep.
You can claim a FREE baby sleep CD, Sounds of the Sea, at Sleepytot