How to Settle Your Baby to SleepAnn
When I was pregnant with my first daughter, Amelia, I knew that my baby would possibly wake up during the night for a feed. And I started to imagine dim light, soothing lullabies and Amelia would slowly drift off to sleep. But when my little girl came home from the hospital, those sweet nights that I envisioned quickly vanished. She would wake up, cry out loud in the middle of the night while my husband and I did everything to stop her crying as quickly as possible. Yet she would only cry.
Being a newbie mum, how little I knew about baby’s sleep! If your baby’s sleep habits are keeping you up at night, making you feel like a zombie the next day, I’m with you. And I am excited to share with you my experience on how to settle my baby to sleep. Coping with your newborn’s sleep patterns is by no means an easy task and there’s more than one “right” way to do it. Read on and perhaps you might pick up some new inspirations along your path to calmer and more restful nights.
1. Emphasise the Difference between Night and Day
I remembered during the first 2 months, sleepless nights seemed like a small price to pay as I watched my baby girl growing day by day. Guess what? By the time Amelia was three-month-old, sometimes I would pretend to be asleep, hoping that my husband would get up first and fetch a bottle. How I wish Amelia understood night-time was for sleep and day-time was for being awake! But after spending nine months in relative darkness inside the womb, it’s hard for babies to understand the difference between night and day. So how?
That was when I realised I needed to help my baby girl learn how to get in sync with the natural 24-hour day. Here is what I did to encourage my baby to make the eventual adjustment to more sleep at night-time.
- Have plenty of light and fresh air in the afternoon: When the weather was nice and cooling, I loved taking Amelia for a leisurely walk around our neighborhood or to the nearby park. But if the weather didn’t permit, then enjoying the view from a large window or letting my home be filled with natural sunlight and fresh air were both good options to encourage the early development of the biological clock for my little one1.
- A dark room and minimal noise at night: During the night, I tried to make sure the room was dark and the noise was kept to the minimum. Even if Amelia woke up for a feed at night, dim light with little to no talking is my rule because I want my baby girl to learn that night-time is for sleep and being quiet.
2. Start a Bedtime Routine
What do you usually do before going to bed? Personally, I love a quick 10-minute meditation and a warm shower before slowly drifting off to sleep. And believe it or not, babies also need some kind of bedtime routine as parents do. According to research, consistent bedtime routine contributes to improvements in multiple aspects of infant and toddler sleep, bedtime behavior and maternal mood2. After all, we are all creatures of habit. Therefore, I started doing things in a certain order, though I must admit things didn’t always go according to plan because Amelia’s sleep cycle wasn’t mature at that point yet. But at least such routine relieved some of my panics because I know exactly what to do to make bedtime less stressful and my baby also learns what to expect. Here is what my routine looked like.
- Offer her a feed
- Check her nappy
- Cuddle and sing: Rock-a-bye Baby and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star are my baby girl’s favourite songs.
- Put her back down for sleep when she starts yawning
3. Watch for the Baby’s Sleep Cues
Have you ever thought that it was possible for babies to be overtired and seem hyper-alert when in fact they are craving sleep3? The first time my mum mentioned it, I thought, “How is it possible? Shouldn’t a tired baby fall asleep more easily?” It turned out that my mum was absolutely right. When Amelia was overtired, she cried lots, fussed more and was super difficult to settle to sleep. Even if I managed to get her to sleep, she would wake up after 30 minutes and began to wail inconsolably. Sounds like a nightmare, right?
Luckily for us, babies always try to communicate in a way they could to parents. For example, when Amelia started rubbing her eyes and yawning, I knew she was telling me, “I’m getting sleepy!” This meant it was time to bring her to a calmer environment and let her sleep. Although each baby is different, below are a few common sleep cues according to raisingchildren.net.au that you might want to watch for.
- Pulling at ears
- Closing fists
- Fluttering eyelids
- Staring into empty space
- Arching backwards
4. Put your Baby to Bed Drowsy but Awake
When my cousin had her first baby boy, Bradley, I remembered seeing her rocking, bouncing and soothing her newborn baby to sleep every night. When Bradley turned 4 months, she started doing something very different: putting him to bed when he is awake. It definitely took Bradley a while to learn how to fall asleep on his own without all of the usual soothing habits. But by the time Bradley was 6 months old, if he woke up in the middle of the night without the need for feeding or nappy changing, he usually didn’t need my cousin’s help in getting back to sleep at all.
I tried “drowsy but awake” with Amelia when she turned 4 months as well but it didn’t work out very well. Perhaps she simply wasn’t developmentally ready for that. So I stopped and only gave it a try again when Amelia was 6 months old. Every night, I would begin the bedtime routine about 30 minutes before Amelia’s ideal bedtime. Usually, after the feed, nappy change, cuddles and songs, Amelia will go to her crib, awake and I would comfort her with gentle ‘ssshhh’ sounds and some patting or rocking. After two months, as I gradually stop the patting and rocking to soothe her to sleep, she also slowly learned to self-soothe, fall asleep and more importantly, back to sleep on her own. So if you haven’t tried it out, do give “drowsy but awake” a try, because it might help your baby and yourself to get much better sleep at night.
5. Don’t Rush in and Stay Calm
It’s hard for any parent to hear the baby crying. It’s even harder to resist the urge to soothe those tears. But depending on babies’ age, you could leave them for a few minutes and see if they settle on their own. My rule of thumb is that if I knew Amelia isn’t hungry or too hot or too cold, I would wait for 5 minutes before storming into the room. Half of the time, Amelia could fall asleep again by herself.
If your baby still continues to cry, the last thing you want is to panic. So breathe! Here is what I usually did to Amelia to calm both her and myself down.
- Identify what might cause discomfort and address it: wet nappy, fever, feed or clothing
- Cuddle Amelia, quietly telling her “Mummy is here with you.”
- Gently pat Amelia on her back
- Once Amelia is calm, put her back in the crib and allow her to resettle
I must admit that there were nights where nothing seems to work apart from using the dummy since sucking seems to have a soothing and settling effect on babies. But try not to make it a nightly habit to give your baby a dummy to sleep – that way they can end up needing the dummy to get to sleep and don’t learn to settle by themselves.
If you don’t know which dummy to choose for your baby, perhaps you might want to take a look at this Natural Rubber Soother on our Naturely Shop platform. It’s BPA free and I absolutely love the one-piece design for bacterial elimination and easy sterilisation.
Till then, good night, sleep tight!