One of the most asked questions is how you can get your new baby to do the very best they can with their sleep.
Now, we all know that newborns aren’t going to sleep through the night. In fact none of us do, but what’s the best they could be doing and are they doing that? And more importantly, how can we instill some really basic strategies as a parent, actual parenting techniques, to encourage healthier sleep from them as they develop and they grow and as they’re ready? This is a really exciting topic and something I wish I knew when I had my first baby, in fact this should be in the New Baby Bible that we need to be given when we have a baby for the first time.
Now, it’s not really sleep training. Sleep training is something that I would reserve for the six month age bracket and beyond, maybe just before that. But when we’re talking about new babies and newborns, lots of people use the idea or the phrase, sleep shaping, and I think that’s more appropriate. I like to call it sleep prep because we’re just preparing them to become a good sleeper.
So we are going to do some sleep prep. And this isn’t about the baby really doing anything. This is parenting strategies that are kindly and lovingly going to just set the scene and show them the way and really just create that space and that environment for them to do the very best that they can with their sleep, which brings me nicely on to my very first point, which is environment.
The environment is absolutely key and the first and most simple thing that you can use to help your baby to recognize things, to give them cues and triggers, and it will even help encourage their circadian rhythm, which is their body clock, which will help them recognize night from day, sleep-time from awake-time. In time, they’ll get this, but by showing that from the beginning, that’s really going to help them get there sooner.
So how can you do that with night and day? Well, obviously you’ve got light and dark, so we want lights on or daylight coming in when it’s daytime and we want to black out the daylight or have all the lights off and have it nice and dark when it’s nighttime; that is a simple day/night differentiation. But also with naps, it’s fine when they’re having their daytime sleep to make it a little bit darker. If they’re in their cot or in their sleep space, in a bedroom, I would absolutely close the curtains and make it nice and dark because darkness promotes the production of melatonin, which is the sleepy hormone. And light is actually going to interfere with that a bit and make it a little bit harder.
Of course, they will still produce melatonin and they will still have a sleep in the light, new babies do. You’ve seen that, they’ll sleep anywhere. They’ll sleep in a pram or in a noisy restaurant. They will sleep anywhere, but by showing them this and by helping them along with those rhythms, it will help to create that rhythmicity in their body of sleep-time, wake-time, sleep-time, wake-time, rather than relying on things like the motions of prams or the bottle or the this or the that, to get them to sleep, so it’s just really good practice.
The other thing that is a factor in the environment is you. You are a part of the environment around them. When you are fully animated, making eye contact and directly engaging, that’s what I call daytime mode, full voice comes out and you might be sing-songy and you’re cheerful with your child, and you’re just all expressive; that’s a daytime version of you.
The nighttime version of you goes to just whisper. No voice comes out and just really bland and boring, trying to keep your facial expressions pretty neutral. You’re not cross or grumpy, but you are also not all animated and engaging. Think “Nothing to see here,” Zen-zone and quiet and calm. And I say bland and boring, because I think that’s the best way to explain it because as your baby grows, and as they become more aware and alert and into what’s going on, taking all these signals in, they’ll start to recognize that this animated, awake you is associated with awake-time, versus the bland and boring version of you that is associated with sleep-time. Bland and boring, nighttime you will mean that they won’t feel compelled, or you won’t be engaging them and stimulating them with that engagement from your awake mode. So if you can adopt those two modes, daytime mode and nighttime mode, you’ll find that that will actually pay off massively over the coming months. So do it from the beginning, get in that practice.
Second, bedtime routine. Now, you can start a bedtime routine with a baby right from the beginning. Once those initial couple of weeks have passed and things have settled it’s time to start thinking about what your daily routine at home will look like.
Now, routine at this age, babies, newborns, does not need to be rigid or regimented at all. It just needs to contain a couple of simple steps that are flexible, but that you do each evening. You are setting the scene, setting the environment and to prepare them that the nighttime is coming, which in time will be their longer stretch of sleep. That’s when you want it.
Remember though, at first it won’t happen like that. To start with we’re just showing them that this is nighttime now, this is different. I would highly recommend that whatever happens in terms of whether you are bathing them or not, or a quick wash or whatever you do in the bathroom, you then go to the room they are going to sleep in for the night, which is typically parents’ room. And you finish off your bedtime routine in that room. So that’s probably going to be the last daytime feed, because then they’re going to be night feeds. So once the last daytime feed is done, maybe you have a little lullaby and that they settle to sleep there either there in your arms or in their crib it’s not important where they settle at this point.
The important part is that it’s in that bedroom and it’s in that environment. Why? Because that’s where they’re going to wake up. When they have their stirrings in the night or when they wake up for a feed, we want them to see that, “Yep, this is where I was last,” and it will really help and create that nighttime sleep environment.
Now I know you’re probably thinking, “Well, yes, but Lucy that’s 6:00 PM, 6:30 PM. I’m not going to just stay in the bedroom all night long, all evening.” That’s okay. If you want to settle them into a carry cot or Moses basket or mobile sleep carrier that you can, then once they’re asleep, you can then take them to the sitting room or wherever you’re going to be, and I would keep it reasonably dim and not too loud and lairy, but being respectful that little one’s sleeping and have them close by so that you can obviously be with them and monitor them and keep a close eye on them. It’s just that going to sleep in the bedroom is really good practice right from the beginning.
Keep your nighttime mode that I talked about, keep that going through the night, so for example if you are changing a nappy, you’re doing it in nighttime mode. You’re very shush. You’re very boring. It’s matter of fact, it’s duh-duh-duh, nappy changed. Keep it as dark as possible, enough to see what you’re doing and then done. Don’t be all, “Oh, we’re going to change your nappy,” and then let’s have some fun. Even if they seem quite wakeful or playful, we want to show them, “Yeah, that’s lovely but it’s nighttime now,” okay? So keep your nighttime mode up because then when it’s morning, so when it’s beyond 6:00 AM, you then can respond to them and approach them with full animation, the lights can be on, and then you’re going to help again to encourage that circadian rhythm and that wake up time. It’s daytime now.
The final tip I want to give you, and this is a big one, and this is really important, is to try to get into a rhythm of feeding upon waking. So what I mean by that is they wake for the day, it’s morning time, we’re going to take them out of their sleep environment, into a wakeful environment and they have their first feed. We have some activity time, and then they’re going to have a nap. When they wake up from the nap, they have a milk feed, they have some activity time, then they’re going to have another nap and so on. And this carries on all day.
Then at bedtime, that’s the one exception. That’s the one time where they are going to have a feed before their nighttime sleep. That’s the one exception that is a little bit different because we’re preparing them to go for that longer stretch. But the reason that this really helps is firstly, that they feed upon waking, then they’ve got that food in them, they’ve got time to digest it. They’re going to move around, which is good for digestion. And they’ve got that energy to use up from eating.
Secondly, they’re going to settle to sleep without milk putting them to sleep, without there being the milk-drunk concept of knocking them out with milk. That’s not good for digestion and it can lead to a sleep onset association of milk and then almost like needing milk in order to get to sleep. There’s so many reasons why it’s not great for them to feed right before sleep during the day. It’s okay at bed time. Milk does contain – breast milk especially – really lovely sleep inducing hormones, and there are loads of benefits in that respect. But when we’re talking about a newborn, they’re only awake for about 45 minutes anyway, this is definitely a good rhythm to get into for them for lots and lots of reasons. So feed upon waking if you can, through the day, last feed at bedtime and then nighttime mode all night long.
I hope this has been helpful for you. Once they get a little bit bigger, you can follow my next level strategies that will help them even more to get into great sleep patterns and routines for really, really healthy sleep.
Take care, sleep well and if you want help with getting a good night’s sleep why not book a FREE Sleep Discovery Call today.