One way to keep your baby happy and healthy is to make sure he’s getting all the sleep he needs. But (as any frazzled parent will attest) this is often much easier said than done. This Morning’s sleep expert, bestselling author of Baby Secrets and creator of the acclaimed ‘spaced soothing’ sleep technique, Jo Tantum is on hand to share her top tips for better sleep for you and for baby, along with a few other childcare and sleep experts to complete our expert guide to help your little one settle.
1. Let him self-settle
If your baby learns to settle himself at bedtime, he’ll hopefully manage the same if he wakes during the night.
‘Using the gradual retreat method helps,’ says sleep expert Wendy Dean. ‘Make sure your baby is awake when you put him in his cot, but maintain contact, such as a hand on his chest, until he falls asleep. Over time, you gradually distance yourself, sitting further away until your baby is able to nod off when you’re outside the room.’
2. Recognise his sleep cues
You can save your baby (and you) some unnecessary tears if you recognise the signs that he’s ready to sleep. These include eye rubbing, yawning, crying or turning his head away from you when he’s tired. ‘This is when you should try putting him in his cot with minimal fuss, and let him settle himself,’ says childcare expert Rachel Waddilove.
‘Other sleep cues include rubbing ears, staring into space and, with newborns, rooting for a feed. Also write down the times your baby has a nap, so she won’t be overtired,’ adds Jo Tantum.
You can save your baby (and you) some unnecessary tears if you recognise the signs that he’s ready to sleep
3. Do not disturb
Rush to your baby at his first whimper, and you could be making him more dependent on you for sleep.
‘All babies naturally wake up in the night as part of their sleep cycle, so give him a moment to see if he’ll settle again,’ says sleep expert Andrea Grace. If he continues crying, check that he’s OK. ‘Try to avoid lifting him out of his cot, though. Use the gradual retreat method (above) instead,’ says Andrea.
4. Set a sleep routine
‘Having a different bedtime every day is not conducive to a healthy sleeping pattern,’ says health visitor Philippa Forsyth.
‘Babies thrive on knowing what to expect and when, which is why routines are ideal.’ If you want your baby in bed by 7pm, start with your first sleep cue, perhaps a warm bath, at 6.15pm. You could then follow with a massage, story or lullaby and cuddle in a low-lit room. Repeat this routine every night and he’ll soon recognise that it’s time to sleep.
‘Having a good bedtime routine is proven to help babies settle better at night,’ adds Jo. ‘So for an hour before bedtime, have a quiet time without noisy toys, TV or screens. Then have a nappy off time (aged from six weeks to six months). After that comes a bath, massage and into pyjamas. Make sure the room is dimly-lit, with soothing sounds. Then feed.’
5. Ban your bed
You’re knackered and you know your baby will relax if he’s in bed with you – tempting, isn’t it?
‘Bringing your baby into bed with you is a bad habit you don’t want to encourage,’ says Wendy. ‘Instead, make his cot as comfortable and welcoming as possible with a musical mobile that plays a soothing song. This way he’ll see it as a safe and permanent sleeping place.’
6. Avoid props
‘Help your baby learn how to fall asleep without a sleep prop, as this will interfere with their sleep. Sleep props can be feeding, rocking, patting, prams and car seats,’ says Jo.
7. Know their rhythm
Babies work on a natural sleep cycle of 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. So make sure your baby is going to bed 12 hours from waking, otherwise they will be overtired.
‘Babies who don’t have enough naps in the day will wake often in the night and be awake for up to an hour at a time. At three months they need a nap every hour-and-a-half after waking, and at six months every two hours,’ adds Jo.
8. Dream feeding
‘A dream feed can really help a baby to start sleeping longer stretches at night. Babies can only sleep one long stretch per 24 hours so it makes sense if it’s when you’re having your long stretch from, say, 11pm to 7am,’ Jo continues, ‘Lift your baby, change their nappy, feed, then resettle.’
9. Encourage that extra hour
‘Babies have a light sleep around 5am to 6am, so encourage them to go back to sleep. Treat it as night time. That means no noise, talking, lights, nappy change or feeds. They will soon start sleeping longer,’ advises Jo.
10. Create a good sleep environment
Your baby needs to have several triggers before going to sleep. ‘I suggest blackout, wave sounds, a comforter, swaddle or sleeping bag and a story. Once your baby has these things they will sleep anywhere: on holiday, at their grandparents’ house and with friends,’ says Jo.
11. Comforter tips
‘From four months old babies love to grab and hold things, because they are just realising that their hands belong to them. So having a comforter can really help them settle for nap times and in the night. I always use a muslin square as this is the lightest material you can get and is breathable. Knot it in the middle, so it’s safe,’ Jo adds. ‘You can also put it down your top before you give it to your baby, so it smells of you, as it will comfort them.’
‘Use blackout for naps as well as early mornings,’ says Jo. ‘Blackouts help a baby to de-stimulate and calm. They don’t yet understand that they need to close their eyes to shut out the light like we do. Use blackout for naps in the pram and at home and your baby will sleep better.’
7 baby sleep tricks that real mums swear by
You may have read hundreds of books on baby sleep, but sometimes the advice that actually works comes from other mums – take your pick from the following…
1) Find their settling song
‘I always sang Love Me Tender by Elvis to Harry. After I put him down, I’d hum it by the cot and continue until I made my escape. He was sleeping through at 18 weeks and, if he ever woke, I’d do the same and he’d instantly settle.’
Rachel, 35, from Surrey, mum to Harry, 19 months
2) Warm the cot
‘Maisie would wail when put in her crib, but was happy to go down after a night feed. A midwife suggested it was because her bed was cold. So I placed a warm hot-water bottle in while she fed, so the sheet was at body temperature, and took it out before putting her in.’
Katie, 29, from Lincs, mum to Maisie, three months
3) Replicate a heartbeat
‘Keep a ticking clock in the nursery. The repetitive sound is similar to a mother’s heartbeat when she’s in the womb, and I’m sure my daughter was reassured and came to associate it with sleep. She was sleeping through at 12 weeks.’
Stephanie, 26, from Wilts, mum to Florence, six months
4) Phase out unnecessary feeds
‘Once Sacha was 14 weeks, my health visitor advised me to dilute his 4am feed with water as he was a good weight. She said he’d quickly drop it, especially as he was having a “dream” feed at 11pm. After a week of taking his diluted feed, he stopped waking up for it.’
Jules, 36, from London, mum to Sacha, two
5) Discourage power napping
‘If your baby sleeps 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there throughout the day, he won’t think anything of doing the same at night. Make sure he has an extended sleep in the day to help him to sleep for a longer period at night.’
M&B sleep expert Tina Southwood
6) Stroke their nose
‘Dion used to scream at bedtime, which made me feel helpless. Then I read how stroking a child’s nose in a downward motion can be soothing and encourage her to close her eyes. Now, even if I have to go to Dion in the night, the process takes under five minutes.’
Michelle, 21, from Cheshire, mum to Dion, 21 months
7) Make the room calm
‘We used to have a cot bumper, mobiles, cuddly toys and a light show in George’s room, but he still screamed at bedtime and in the night. My mum pointed out how manic his nursery was, so we removed most of the gadgets. Yep, he slept better.’
Lucinda, 24, from Bucks, mum to George, 10 months old
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