Rebecca Welton is a mum of two, author of Baby Sleeping Trust Techniques and a qualified sleep practitioner. Is your little one keeping you up at night? Read on for for tips from a mum who’s been there (and – literally – written the book).
Probably the most common question I am asked is: “how on earth do I settle my baby to sleep?” Before you have kids it’s easy to think this will come naturally (I know I did!) And for some lucky parents it does. But it can be a bit of a shock if your little one doesn’t settle easily and you find yourself spending your entire evening begging your baby to “pleeassse go to sleep” – often while they giggle back at you! So here are my 7 failsafe tips for settling a baby to sleep:
1. Make sure they are full
Have you ever tried sleeping whilst hungry? It’s not easy, is it? Babies will find it difficult to sleep if they’re hungry, so ensure they are getting plenty of milk or food during the day. If they are easily distracted, take them to a quiet room, with no toys and the lights dimmed, for milk feeds. If they are weaned and are too excited about exploring everything to sit and eat during the day, try having some finger foods around them while they play.
2. Prevent overtiredness
This can turn into every parent’s nightmare – having an overtired baby that gets its ‘second wind’ and cannot settle. It can take hours for overtired babies to calm down and be able to drift off to sleep, and in the meantime you are left trying to comfort a wound-up, tired little bundle. Avoid overtiredness by keeping note of their daytime naps. Don’t be afraid to bring bedtime forward if they haven’t napped well during the day, and start your bedtime routine as soon as they look tired.
3. Have a bedtime routine
Bedtime routines are amazing! A 2009 study found that after two weeks of following a bedtime routine, babies fell asleep quicker, and had fewer and shorter night wakings. Why? Because not only do bedtime routines allow babies to unwind from their busy days, they also signpost for your little one that it is nearly time for sleep. Babies quickly learn to recognise the rituals that make up the bedtime routine and when they do, it triggers the release of their sleep hormones – making them relaxed and ready for sleep. Some key points to remember:
• A bedtime routine should not last longer than 45 minutes.
• Unless there is a medical reason not to, always include a bath (as going from warm water into cool pyjamas stimulates the release of one of our sleep hormones).
• Once upstairs, stay upstairs. Taking them upstairs for a bath, and then back downstairs to a room they normally play in, can send mixed messages and confuse your little one.
• Stories are fantastic as part of a bedtime routine and a great way to have some quality one-on-one time with your baby. Nowadays there are some great touch-and-feel books available for even young babies.
• Avoid screens for at least an hour before bedtime – screens release blue light, which suppresses melatonin (one of our sleep hormones) – so no TV’s, phones, iPads, computers etc.
4. Have a special toy that smells of mum (or the main caregiver)
Ideally buy two of the same toy (making sure it is safe for your baby’s age), and have mum sleep with one overnight and your baby sleep with the other. In the morning switch them over so your little one always has one that smells of mum. The toy will help them feel safe settling to sleep at night, surrounded by mum’s comforting scent.
5. Use sleep-cue words
By saying the same words or phrase every time your baby settles to sleep, your little one will learn to associate the sleep-cue words with falling asleep. Sleep-cue words can be anything from “sleepy time now” to “sweet dreams”. The great thing about sleep-cue words is that, once they are established, anyone can use them: from grandparents to nursery care workers.
6. If your baby is over five months, use a settling technique
For babies under five months, don’t worry too much about how your baby falls asleep – being rocked, fed, cuddled or stroked to sleep best facilitates their mental, physical and emotional growth. Try, every now and again, to put them in their cot before they fall asleep, but don’t be too concerned if they don’t want to stay there. It is a phase and most babies naturally grow out of it. If your baby is over five months and you would like them to learn how to settle to sleep on their own, use a settling technique. There are various settling techniques (see my book ‘Baby Sleeping Trust Techniques – Alternatives to Controlled Crying’ for five different settling techniques, including one for co-sleepers) so you can choose one that best suits you, your baby and your family.
7. Be consistent
Babies do find it confusing if different things happen each night. By being consistent – with what happens before and after bedtime – babies learn what they are supposed to be doing. This knowledge helps them feel secure and relaxed enough to settle to sleep, and babies that feel secure and relaxed will settle to sleep much more easily. All babies go through phases of finding settling to sleep difficult: this is normal. You can help, though, by following these 7 failsafe tips, and before long your little one won’t be giggling at you all evening but will be happily fast asleep.
Rebecca Welton is a qualified child sleep practitioner and author of ‘Baby Sleeping Trust Techniques – Alternatives to Controlled Crying’. She runs drop-in sleep clinics for parents and blogs about sleep issues at trusttechniques.com/blog.
Visit baby specialist Kiddicare for cots, mattresses and all things zzzzzzz… Here’s hoping you have a restful night tonight! Got any tips for fellow mums and dads in the twilight zone? Pop a comment below and share the knowledge!