Are you getting enough sleep? If not, I’m here to help. After completing my residency at one of the busiest paediatric medical centres in the world, The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, I realized that our culture goes about infant sleep training completely backwards. First, we allow bad sleep habits to form and then we go to extremes trying to break them. Once I realized this dreadful mistake, the solution was clear: Encourage effective sleep habits right from the start and you wont need to break bad ones down the road. Here are the bare essentials of my lull-ababy sleep plan:
Take advantage of the window of opportunity (W.O.O.) to encourage healthy sleep habits.
Initially, when a baby comes into the world, he (or she) keeps his eyes closed tight in order to limit the sights and sounds that threaten to overwhelm him. However, around six to eight weeks of life, a tiny baby comes out of his shell, and begins to enjoy his world. He stares at lights, appreciates his hands, gazes into your eyes, and flashes a heart-melting smile. Its at this precise moment that your baby’s big smart brain is busy forming and filing away memories. This is huge! It means at this precise moment, the sleep habits your infant is exposed to are the ones that will stick. This is the window of opportunity to nudge your little guy towards healthy sleep habits. The true beauty of this method is that a young baby is primitive and sensitive, which means only gentle and loving nudges are needed. Wouldn’t you rather peacefully instill effective sleep habits than be forced to break bad habits with strong arm techniques? I’m deeply disappointed when a family misses the W.O.O. because I know sleep training is going to be that much harder on everyone.
Create feel-good bedtimes
When you surround a new baby with womb-like conditions, hes able to relax,let go, and fall asleep. Heres how (think wow):
- White noise
- Oral ease
After sleeping in surround sound for nine months, babies crave noise. White noise helps lull a baby to sleep as it inundates the ear with so many tones that the brain simply cant distinguish one sound from another, so it surrenders to its calming nature. There are plenty of sources of white noise around the house that work well. For instance: radio static, scrambled television station, fan, vaporizer, treadmill, vacuum.
Every baby is different. Some infants sleep better with white noise cranked up high, while others prefer just a hint in the background. Start quietly and turn up the volume as needed. Don’t be surprised if your baby prefers it blasting; many do. Initially white noise should be used overnight. However, once your baby nods off effortlessly and sleeps for satisfying stretches, you can stop.
Sucking makes babies feel good. In fact, studies show that sucking releases chemicals in the brain that decrease stress, heart rate, blood pressure, and pain. Whether you give your baby a pacifier, finger, or nipple, sucking is your baby’s number one calming tool. If you choose a pacifier, offer it after breastfeeding is well-established.
Theres a reason why swaddling has been around for centuries. It helps a new baby feel at home and this in turn triggers contentment. According to a recent study in the prestigious Journal of Paediatrics, a swaddled baby sleeps for longer stretches.
My Favorite Swaddle Is The Baby Burrito:
- Pick a lightweight slightly stretchy blanket that will create a snug fit.
- Place the blanket down with one of the corners on top. Fold the top point down one-quarter of the way.
- Lay your baby on the blanket with his shoulders resting on the fold. Talk to your baby as you’re wrapping him so he enjoys the process.
- Flex your baby’s arms over his chest and hold them in place. Many babies prefer this position compared to having their arms restrained at the side.
- Wrap the right corner of the blanket over your baby and tuck it under his lower back and buttocks.
- Bring the bottom corner straight up and tuck it in at the neck as you would a bib. Now, about a hands width from your baby’s left side, turn down the blanket and cover his left shoulder.
- Lastly, holding down the piece you just folded, wrap the remaining strip of blanket around your baby like a belt.
Charm your baby into sleepy contentment. Heres where you wrap your baby in words and lull him to sleep. After you pop your baby in bed, stay by his side and use your voice to help him feel safe and serene. Some babies prefer you to speak like Mr. Rogers, while others settle to a more upbeat tone. Most babies like repetition Mommy loves you, Daddy loves you, Kori dog loves you, Bubby loves you.Others are more valley girltypes Its so-o-o-o-o nice to sit by your side, its like totally great. But Mommysso-o-o-o-o-o tired. Do you think you could fall asleep so-o-o-o-on? Soothing sounds work wonders too Hushhush- hush, Hush-hush, hush…
What if your baby fusses? Stroke his head, pat his tummy, or hold his hand. And if he just cant settle, pick him up and give him a cuddlebut, please, please, please, put him back in bed awake, and try again. Let Dad try. Babies associate Mom with milk and this makes it trickier to fall asleep when mom is nearby.
8 worst sleep mistakes
Here are some of the common but disastrous sleep mistakes that many parents (unknowingly) make:
- Encouraging unhealthy associations, such as rocking or nursing baby to sleep
- Confusing Im so-o-o-o unhappy! with Im so-o-o-o hungry!
- Putting a baby into the crib already asleep
- Setting bedtime too late
- Falling prey to new-parent anxiety, which may override common sense
- Misunderstanding sleep cycles
- Encouraging pacifier dependency
- Feeling guilty about wanting more sleep for yourself
Until your baby is four months old, if he wakes up in the middle if the night, conserve your strength and encourage breastfeeding by nursing the little guy back to sleep (hell be so groggy, he wont remember a thing). Use the lull-a-baby method at naptime and bedtime and as he becomes more adept at self-starting sleep, hell naturally begin to sleep for longer stretches. No tears, no screams.just sleep…Good night and sweet dreams.
Cathryn Tobin, M.D., is a paediatrician, trained midwife and a member of the Canadian Paediatric Society and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Tobin paediatrician, mother of four, and author of The Lull-a-Baby Sleep Plan, shares her advice on how to help your new baby sleep through the night.
Published in March 2007.