Sleep. It’s one of the central subjects discussed by pretty much all parents across the globe, and when not enough of it is happening, it can really begin to take its toll. Weary, sleep-deprived parents and fractious, unrested babies are not a good combination! And days can quickly become strained if no-one is coping, so what can you do to help your little one sleep better, longer and more deeply?
Here are my 5 top ways to gently ease your baby into the blissful dreamy slumber that she needs.
Bedtime routines should be number 1 on your agenda, to create healthy, lasting sleep patterns. Studies show that from 4 months, babies respond to predictable, reliable rhythms, so if you can do roughly the same series of activities, at roughly the same time each evening, then your baby will get to know, respond and even join in with what comes next (i.e. Sleep!)
At the end of your day, slowly bringing your activity level down to a minimum with a series of soothing, predictable cues will let your baby know that it’s time to quieten down and let go of her games and excitement.
The routines that have worked best for each of my three babies include a bath, a story and snuggles and a warm feed with the light turned low, before gently resting the baby into the cot to settle down to sleep. The idea is not to add too much interest or variety because you don’t want to enliven and excite her, you want to soothe and calm the senses, so that sleep is that much closer.
2. Baby Massage
Baby massage classes are becoming ever more popular, and it’s really no surprise! Massage for infants has been shown to greatly improve bonding between parents and babies, to help with a whole range of digestive issues (colic and reflux, for example) and of course, to improve babies sleep. As well as encouraging your baby to spend time lying still and relaxing, the soothing human touch of skin to skin is enormously reassuring and will really encourage an anxious baby to let go and release to sleep.
To learn the correct (and most effective) techniques, ensure that you attend a baby massage class or learn from an experienced practitioner, as baby massage is quite different from adult massage!
3. White Noise
White noise, gentle music or lullabies really are a wonderful and reliable way to help your baby drift off to sleep. This has been one of my go-to methods for years, especially if we’ve been staying in unfamiliar places, and it’s because these sounds will often mimic the soft, muffled tones that the baby could hear from the womb, creating instant reassurance and familiarity.
White noise machines are available to buy, but just as effective are mp3s that you can find online and download for minimal cost, or even for free.
4. Fresh Air
Ensure that your baby is getting enough fresh air during the day.
Being outside is good for everyone – access to nature will often soothe the most fractious baby (and parent!) but more importantly, it creates a contrast to the cozy comfort of home. Think about how you feel, both physically and emotionally after returning from an outdoor hike, or an afternoon in the garden. It is sooo much easier to sink in and relax! It goes without saying that you must keep your baby safe from direct sunlight, and keep her wrapped up warmly in cooler weather, but try not to let the seasons restrict how much access to fresh air you can get.
5. Tune into Your Baby’s Cues
It’s really important to realize that babies don’t come with an inbuilt an instruction book, or follow the rules you think they will! Your baby is an individual, and her needs are constantly changing as she grows. So tune in closely to what she is really telling you. What she wants you to know tonight, may be different from what she wanted to tell you last week.
When she cries, is really hunger? Or is it actually the whiney chatter of a baby who has almost fallen asleep? Does she need to be picked up and given lots of snuggles and comfort for a cutting tooth, or will a gentle back rub whilst she’s laying in the crib do the trick? Most often, your own deep connection to your little one will be the best guidance you have, so trust it.
Falling asleep with ease is a skill that can be learned, so the time that you spend gently teaching this to your baby is vital! But your immediate success is also not a reflection on you, so remember to be patient! Good luck!