One of the biggest challenges by far when bringing baby home is getting him/her to sleep. As a maternity consultant, I get many questions from new parents about sleep. They often want to know “When should my baby nap and for how long?”, “Should I let my baby cry it out?”, or the always famous, “Why is my baby waking at night?”. Unfortunately, sleep is a topic that will continue to resonate well into the toddler years, but that doesn’t mean a parent can’t reduce or eliminate sleep issues. Here are a few simple steps that have worked for my clients and (still do) for me to get baby to sleep better:
1. White Noise As a city mom with a nursery in close proximity to other rooms in the house, I had to find a solution to drown out exterior noise. I couldn’t be tiptoeing around my house after 7 PM to prevent my baby from waking up. White Noise solves this issue, but also a bigger one. Babies spent nine months in the womb where they became accustomed to white noise. Playing this for all sleep: naps and at night, is comforting and prevents waking from sudden sounds. No need for high-tech white noise machines, either: just an iPod dock with a White Noise app (they all work: static, rain, ocean waves). Soon baby will associate sleep with these soothing sounds and know it is time for bed. Added bonus: when you have two kids sharing a room (as I do), this blocks out noise from one child that could arouse the other.
2. Room-darkening Shades Never underestimate the power of darkness. When a baby is put down in a crib in a nice sun-filled room they can see everything and become stimulated by the tiniest thing. If they wake up in the middle of a nap they will immediately want to play or see mommy or daddy. When a room is dark there are no distractions and it sends the signal that it is time to rest. A money-saving tip: buy blackout shades that stick onto windows behind your window treatments. You do not need to invest in fancy blackout curtains. When traveling, never leave home without them! Baby should always be sleeping in a dark room. Yeah, it is nice to snooze in the stroller on the beach, but that dark, cool room will probably get you and baby those extra hours.
3. Elimination of Sleep Associations Sleep associations are your best friend and worst enemy: pacifiers, the breast or bottle, rocking, shushing, the entire Beatles lullaby collection – choose your poison. Every new parent has their formula to get that baby to sleep. These are fine in the beginning, but they will come back to haunt you when their ten-hour stretch of sleep suddenly is interrupted with night wakings. My advice is to try to eliminate or reduce these habits as early as you can. My daughter loved her pacifier and would not go to sleep without it, but at six months she was unable to replace it herself without our assistance. I had to choose: replace it so she goes right back to sleep or eliminate it all together and chance no sleep at all? Well, we went cold turkey no pacifier and after a few challenging nights she got the idea. The same has followed suit with gradual elimination of her night nursing, nursing to sleep, and rocking until she falls asleep in my arms. I make sure she is fed, changed, and showing drowsy signs. Then I hand her the comfort object and cuddle her on the glider for a few minutes. She usually gets quiet and then I transfer her to the crib. She occasionally will protest, but then I leave and she knows what to do. She understands this means sleep, but does not rely on an association to achieve it.
4. Comfort Object This is a new discovery of mine (for older babies) and has worked wonders for my 12-month old who has some separation anxiety. After I weaned her from nursing at 12 months, I wanted an attachment object that would comfort her if she awoke at night so that I could wean her from night wakings as well. The Fisher Price Ocean Wonders Soothe & Glow Sea Horse has been a lifesaver. Rather than just a basic attachment object like a teddy bear, the belly gently glows and plays over 5 minutes of music and ocean sounds when cuddled. The music is comprised of 8 gentle lullabies and classical selections along with soothing sounds of the sea. After 5 minutes the sounds and lights gently fade out so as not to disturb baby. I often walk past her room and hear Bach and it makes me smile knowing that she has her little buddy in her arms. I have not had to go to her for a night waking since.
5. Swaddling For the first few months after baby’s arrival, swaddling is a lifesaver. I recommend swaddling for as long as possible for all sleep. Yes, this means your baby is a perpetual burrito, but it will definitely pay off. I am a big fan of the velcro swaddles and now there are so many options with different sizes, materials, etc. Gone are the days of having to wrap baby in a traditional swaddle blanket, which usually comes undone a few minutes later. They even make muslin versions of this now so babies can be wrapped tight, but don’t overheat. Swaddling is a tried and true way to get baby some extra zzz’s.
I hope these tips help your baby (and you!) get more sleep. A rested baby is a happy one.
Lauren Deneroff is the founder of Wife to Mom Consulting (www.wifetomomconsulting.com), a maternity consulting and baby planning firm in New York City. Wife to Mom Consulting offers services to expectant and new moms such as new parent coaching, registry guidance, nursery design and preparation, baby gear education, and organizational services. Lauren lives in Manhattan with her husband, Joe, and their two children, Brody, 3 & Harper, 1 and is happy to share her consulting and mommy advice on Kidz Buzz!