Catch some ZZZs: 10 natural remedies to get your newborn to sleep
If you’re really struggling to get your little one to sleep, try some natural sleep solutions.
Young babies are notoriously bad sleepers. From birth to around four to six months, most parents are faced with frequent night-time awakenings for feeds, and variable naps scattered throughout the day. It can be a challenging time for all involved especially if your baby is fussy or colicky. There are a number of gentle, natural solutions that may help your newborn sleep better.
Regular wake-up times
A regular wake-up time will help regulate your small baby’s body clock. Generally, anchoring the day with a 7.30am get-up, feed and start the day can help adjust the body clock and open up the natural nap times. Sleeping later in the morning, especially if you have had a sleepless night, can often become a vicious cycle making it difficult to establish day-time sleep and bedtime. Getting up may be difficult, but expose your baby to bright, natural light, which will help to organise their day-time sleep, and you can both go back again within about an hour for the first nap of the day.
Adjusting the light
Try to keep the days bright and the nights dark. Babies can’t fully distinguish day and night until closer to six to eight weeks. Help them become regulated and balanced by exposing them to natural light during the day and keeping lights low at bed time.
Get plenty of fresh air and outside activity, particularly at this time of year. Studies show that young infants who get outside, specifically in the afternoon, sleep better and longer than those who do not.
Have a flexible feeding and sleeping schedule for the day time. Learn to read your baby’s sleep and hunger cues. If you operate some sort of a daytime schedule it can make reading your baby easier because the cues will coincide with what you feel should come next; it is normally either a feed or a sleep time. Very young babies are unable to stay awake longer than 90 minutes to two hours at a time. Early sleep signals may be represented by brief eye rubbing, snuggling into you and zoning out. Try to capture this moment and avoid later fussy signs that are typically too late and in turn may cause a resistance to sleep, and short nap duration.
Do your best to make sure your infant is well rested throughout the day. Don’t worry if your baby will only sleep on the go or in arms. In the short term this is a good strategy; the more rested they are, the better they will sleep at night for you. Parents can work on phasing out motion sleep when they are more robust and capable of learning if they are resistant at the start. This would normally be closer to six months.
Carrying your baby
Newborns crave close contact; they sleep better and longer snuggled up to mum or dad. Holding your baby is not a permanent sleep solution but it can certainly maximise your ability to get through the first few months when typically colic and fussiness are most common.
Keep your baby close to you. Room sharing is recommended in the first six months, but as well as the benefits of reduced risk of SIDS, studies also indicate that sleeping within close proximity to mum can regulate babies’ sleeping patterns. Further, night feeds can be done with minimum disruption too.
The sound that mimics the womb/heartbeat or general static from a radio/extractor fan or hair dryer can have an instant calming effect on baby. You can download apps or purchase CDs. Don’t turn the white noise up too loud for an extended period of time, and move the device far away from your baby’s ear. If your baby goes to sleep listening to white noise, it should stay on for the entire sleep period. Don’t worry about needing it long term; later on you can wean them by gradually turning it down.
Rhythm or motion
New babies do not always have the ability to go to sleep easily and therefore rely on the parent to jiggle, rock and roll them. In the short term, safely used swings and bouncy chairs can give mum or dad a break from constantly needing to be up in arms. Remember that this early stage will pass and your baby will become more able to find calming strategies that do not require an adult or a prop; you just need to survive this period first.
Babies who have been massaged before sleep time fall asleep more easily and sleep more deeply. Along with the sleep benefits you can also improve digestion, growth and development as well as providing a perfect bonding opportunity.
During the early months some babies will sleep better than others, but all babies can eventually become great sleepers and especially within the second half of the first year. Parents may find the early months draining and exhilarating at the same time, but don’t worry. Longer stretches of sleep are just around the corner.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie, t: 087 2683584 or e: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in Mothers & Babies magazine. To read the supplement online, click here.