Top 10 Tips to Creating an Effective Sleep Routine for New Parents
By Kasia Dudziuk, co-founder of 'The Goes to Sleep' book, blog post originally written for Baby Names co.uk
With over 10 years experience as a Designer and Illustrator, Kasia recently launched new publishing company Little Creatures, where the team created the personalised children’s book ‘Goes to Sleep’.
Wanting to help parents address some of the biggest challenges of childhood – like sleep, here, Kasia shares the key insights she’s gained from working alongside health professionals and The Children’s Sleep Charity to help new parents create a sleep routine…
1. Develop a repetitive sleep routine
From just 3 months, it’s important to develop a repetitive and predictable sleep routine with your baby. Babies are creatures of habit and it’s a good idea to take advantage of that.
Try to start winding things down (not getting them too excited) after around 6.30pm or 7pm. First give them a bath, change their clothes into a sleepsuit/babygrow with hand covers (so they don’t scratch themselves in the night) and read them a short story before feeding.
Try to read the same story each bedtime, so they also associate this story with going to sleep. When they are older you can get them to choose which story they would like read to them.
2. Identify signs your baby is tired
Just like mummy or daddy, a baby will not want to go to sleep unless they are actually tired. Look out for these cues from baby: – eye rubbing, yawning, slowed activity, whining and fussing, loss of interest in people and hugging their head against your chest. Don’t bother trying to get them to go to sleep unless you see these signs – since both you and your baby will get frustrated and annoyed.
Once your baby is displaying at least two of these, it’s time to go and feed them in the
room where they will be sleeping. At bedtime, it’s important to feed them where they sleep, as it will help your baby associate this time with winding-down in preparation for going to sleep. If baby falls asleep straight after feeding (which is quite common) you will also be closer to the crib where you can lay them down with minimal disruption.
3. Create the right bedroom environment
Not getting a good night’s sleep might be down to something as simple as your baby’s bedroom environment. Make sure the crib is located away from the window (not too noisy and cold) and not next to the radiator (too hot).
If it’s a nap during the day, make sure the sunlight is not shining directly into the crib. At night, the room should be dark with a dim night-light without any distractions on the wall within eyesight. Pastel colours help soothe and calm babies – so perhaps try to avoid bright or bold colours on the walls.
4. Put them in a swaddle/baby sleeping bag
When they’re very small, try and wrap your baby in a swaddle for sleeping. They are proven to keep your baby from being disturbed by their startle reflex and it also helps keep them cosy before their internal thermostat kicks in.
The constrained feeling of a swaddles helps your baby stay calm.
When they get a little bit older (3 months old+) swap the swaddle for a baby sleeping bag. Babies have a tendency to move their hands and feet around when trying to get to sleep which quite often results with their blanket being balled up near their face or by their feet. As a result, they might be adequately covered and that could cause them to get cold. A baby sleeping bag zips up nice and snug, can’t slip and keeps them warm all through the night.
When they wake up during the night (and if they don’t need a nappy change) you can keep them in the sleeping bag whilst you feed them.
5. No playing at night
Whenever your baby wakes in the middle of the night, for whatever reason, don’t be too playful or overly smiley. Be loving, take care of the problem (change nappy or feed your baby), but be careful not to give your baby the wrong idea.
Otherwise, they might wake up next time wanting to play – in the middle of the night (and no-one wants that).
6. Nappies, feeding and burping
When your baby wakes in the night and you need to change their nappy, try and do this first before feeding. It’s much harder to get them back to sleep after disrupting them with a nappy change, so you need the feed afterwards to help wind them down again. I’m sure you wouldn’t like your legs being lifted over your head just after you’ve had a feed.
If you ‘dream feed’ (feeding whilst their eyes are still closed) your baby, you won’t need to force a burp out of them.
Babies are usually so relaxed during these night feeds that they don’t gulp any air. Just gently place them back into their crib after slowly moving their lips off the boob or bottle. If they do still have air in their tummies they will let you know by whining and continuously raising their legs to their chests.
7. No naps 2 hours before bedtime
Babies need a lot of sleep and in the early days, sleep is more important than anything else. Many people don’t realise that babies need parent’s help and guidance to establish proper sleep habits.
A good routine for your baby is a morning nap (45 mins to 1 hour) and then a good lunchtime nap (around 1.5/2hours long). There is also an opportunity to have a nap around
4/4.30pm, if they are particularly tired. If they miss this window and it’s less than 2 hours before the start of the bedtime routine, don’t force this last nap as it will affect their night-time sleep. They will not be sufficiently tired for their bedtime.
It’s better to encourage them to miss that afternoon nap, and then make sure they start their bedtime routine on time.
8. Use a dummy/pacifier
When your baby is tired, has had their nappy changed and been fed, and is still finding it hard to fall asleep in their bed – try giving them a dummy to aid sleep.
Sucking is wonderfully soothing for babies. A dummy is particularly brilliant during the first three months when you are establishing a sleep routine because it saves mum from becoming the human pacifier (your nipples will thank you!).
At the same time, don’t turn the dummy into a crutch by using it all the time.
Only use it when other things fail otherwise baby will become overly dependent on it. Try to also not use it during the day or when they whine, ideally, it should only be associated with aiding sleep at naptime or bedtime. When used correctly, babies will suck ferociously for about 6/7 minutes, then start to slow down, eventually, they will spit/release the dummy out and there is no need to put it back into their mouth.
9. Share the load
Make sure both parents are involved in helping your baby go to sleep. Even if daddy isn’t particularly good at calming your baby, he needs to learn how to do it and it will get easier with time. If avoided there is a tendency for your baby to become completely dependent on mummy – and that can become difficult to deal with. By dividing the workload both parents are more relaxed and therefore the baby is more relaxed, making it easier to put your baby to sleep.
Consider buying a cot with wheels, which you can move into a separate bedroom, allowing parents to alternate night-time responsibly. Mummy should express milk, if breastfeeding, before going to bed, thus ensuring she also gets a full night (6-7 hours) every other night.
10. Tend to your crying baby
Finally, well there are varying opinions on this, I would say it’s never advisable to just leave a screaming baby. Your baby needs your help – check if the nappy needs changing (if it’s been longer than 3.5hours), if your baby is hungry (if it’s been longer than 3.5hours), if your baby is too hot (red cheeks and face), if your baby is too cold (cold hands) or needs burping.
Once you’ve tended to your baby’s needs, hold it in your arms swaying gently from side to side until their eyes close again. Then it’s ok to put back down into the crib.
NB: Before lifting them out from their crib when the baby is moaning (not crying) check if they are actually awake (eyes open)– some babies make noises when they are still asleep. If they are just being vocal sleepers it’s ok to leave them if they are not crying.
Kasia is the co-founder of www.goestosleep.com ~ an award-winning personalised children’s book that helps children go to sleep faster and makes parents happier. It was developed in conjunction with The Children’s Sleep Charity and a number of leading children’s sleep specialists.