Let’s face it, learning how to settle your baby is one of the most important skills as a new parent. I am quite happy that babies are not born with an innate ability to do it. If they were, I would be out of a job and would not have had the experience of helping thousands of new parents teach their babies how to sleep!
Sleeping is a skill and one which, in most cases, needs to be learnt. Your baby may appear to be a good sleeper (feeding before blissfully drifting off to sleep for hours at a time) within the first few weeks, but he/she will wake up to the world by around four weeks of age. This is when unsettled behaviour can peak and your baby will cry more when affected by stimulation. You may witness your baby behaving like he/she is sleepy but when placed into bed the unsettled behaviour can start. This is normal.
This can be very daunting to a new parent. We, as adults, perceive crying as a response to pain, sadness and loss. When our baby cries it is human nature for us to want to stop it. We will try anything to stop the crying and have our baby settle. Sometimes we can, as a result, try too much. Preparation and consistency is the best combination when teaching and encouraging your baby to settle.
Arm yourself with the appropriate facts regarding your baby, their age and stage of development. Knowing why your baby behaves the way he/she does and what to expect can really empower you. It will help you to remain consistent, knowing that the way he/she is responding is normal and, perhaps, not as a result of what you are doing. The rest is about consistency.
Follow my nine settling tips and boost your confidence as you learn to settle your baby.
Put baby down, awake. . .
During the day change your baby’s nappy before putting him/her to bed. Young babies have short sleep cycles and if they are asleep when you put them down they will wake up during their light sleep and wonder where you went and what they are suppose to be doing. Think of it as going to sleep on a moving train. You almost always wake up at the station!
Dark room. . .
I do not advocate a pitch black room. (I.e. no masking tape needed on curtains.) Your baby needs to learn to sleep with some light as they have a lot of sleeping to do before they stop their day sleeps! However, it makes it easier for your baby to learn to settle in a room that is not too bright. Very young babies are particularly susceptible to stimulation. Always draw the blinds or curtains during the day to assist him/her to settle.
Music. . .
Have your favourite radio station or music playing when your baby is in bed. In the early days this keeps your baby company and will shift his/her focus from ‘that’ noise they are making (crying) long enough to relax and settle. Littler babies love it at night time also. They really don’t like things being too quiet. Older babies will listen to the music instead of focusing on you outside the room trying to get you to come in. Try it, it really works!
Wrapping. . .
All babies love to be wrapped. In first few months they have a strong startle reflex and cannot control their movements. When awake or merging in and out of deep and light sleep their arms automatically move. This often wakes them up and makes it hard for them to settle. Your baby should be firmly wrapped with his/her arms down, away from the face. They will settle better and will sleep for longer periods.
Tilt the bed. . .
To help with digestion following a feed, safely prepare your baby’s bed so their head is always slightly higher than then his/her feet. This will keep regurgitation of milk or reflux to a minimum. Make sure to have your baby’s feet placed right at bottom of bassinet or cot, even placing a rolled up towel along bottom to stop your baby from wriggling down under the covers.
The check list. . .
You will boost your confidence if you tick off your check list. Has your baby been, fed, burped, changed and cuddled? Also was he/she calm when you put them to bed? If you check off all of these things you will know your baby’s unsettled behaviour is more than likely normal when settling. Babies rarely go straight to sleep when put to bed. They may cry and be unsettled for a while (sometimes up to 40 mins – one hour) before going to sleep or lie quietly before drifting off. There may even be a combination of this.
Consistency. . .
Babies are creatures of habit and they live in the moment. If you try too many different settling techniques, too often you can unsettle them even more. Whatever settling techniques you decide to use, whether it be rocking, patting, etc, keep it consistent. Remember that babies don’t often go straight to sleep and you may need to use the chosen technique for some time before he/she settles. If you remain consistent with your settling techniques and don’t expect it to always work you will begin to see consistent results. Your baby will become aware of his/her surroundings and familiar with the cues you are giving for sleep. They will not learn to sleep well if they are patted, rocked, then patted again, picked up, carried around, walked in the pram, driven around the block and had a dummy put in his/her mouth at differing times. This will only lead to confusion, over stimulation and unsettled behaviour.
Patience. . .
This is the hard one. It is difficult to remain patient when your baby has not slept well for some hours. Be patient and remember that it is normal for baby’s to find deep sleep difficult sometimes. They will sleep eventually. If you remain consistent, sleep will come. I encourage new parents to follow a ‘windows of time’ concept to help. Remain consistent and patient for approximately 1 hour regarding settling your baby. If they still don’t sleep remain patient and start your feed, sleep cycle from the beginning, or give baby a cuddle in a pouch or in your arms for 30 mins and then start feed/sleep cycle again. Your consistency and patience will help them to sleep next cycle.
Acceptance. . .
You are a new parent, not a miracle worker. You cannot force your baby to sleep, you can only encourage them. It is normal to expect your baby not to sleep very well (to nap) for the first few months. The trick is to remain consistent in directing your baby to sleep when they need to be sleeping and in time they will start to get better at it. If you accept unsettled behaviour in the first few months, but remain consistent with your techniques, your baby will become a good sleeper. He/she will become familiar with sleep times and will gain the ability to sleep. It takes a lot for their little undeveloped nervous system to get used to this stimulating and wondrous world. Give it time, you are doing a great job but you may never get it perfect!