Every mother, whether she just had her first baby or is already a seasoned „professional“, is familiar with the importance of sleep.
There‘s no doubt that you have been doing a lot of reading and research in preparation for your baby‘s arrival and it might seem like you know everything there is to know about their sleep requirements and useful tips to help them have a proper rest.
But the truth is that most of us still get flustered once the theory has to be put into practice.
It‘s not a failure on your part – this is a natural response of your understandably tired body and mind.
You may have hardly slept a wink during the night and you find yourself cradling a baby who is crying for a reason that you just cannot understand. This is the exact moment when all of the knowledge that you have accumulated flies out of the window.
Take it easy
Take a deep breath and try your best not to panic.
In the tips below, we have condensed the most important pieces of information and the most reliable techniques of soothing your newborn back to sleep.
The sleep-wake cycle
First of all, you have to remember that the circadian rhythm (the sleep-wake cycle) of a baby differs from that of an adult.
There are significant differences even between newborns, one-year-olds and toddlers.
An infant‘s sleep cycles, for example, are extremely short and the period between light and deep sleep usually lasts no more than an hour. Even during this period, sounds, movement, hunger and other minor disturbances can wake the newborn up, as he is still very sensitive to stimulation.
Once the baby reaches the mark of the third month and up until s/he is one year old, their requirements shift to a much longer period – it is absolutely normal if the baby is sleeping around 12 hours a night, in addition to frequent naps. Toddlers aged from one to three years old become even more sleepy and need up to 14 hours of shut-eye.
These patterns represent an accepted norm – however, it does not mean that your baby will not need your help to maintain her/his sleeping schedule.
Most babies encounter at least a couple of sleep regressions along the way. The term is used to describe periods when a baby who used to sleep quite well suddenly refuses to stay asleep during the night or the daytime.
These periods usually coincide with major developmental milestones, such as becoming more mobile or experiencing a natural increase in separation anxiety. It is a normal process and definitely not something that you should be worried about.
Below are a few actionable tips to deal with the problem:
Make sure that the setting is not the problem – crib, placement and crib mattress
The process of choosing the right crib and, more importantly, the best baby crib mattress can be confusing and frustrating, especially if you have a restless small sleeper on your hands.
Before you try your luck with some baby-soothing techniques, make sure the problem is not deeper – like the very choice of the crib mattress.
All the comfy swaddling in the world will not help if the sleep-setting is not right from the get-go.
A good, stable crib
In order to ensure that the crib is the right fit for your baby, give it a good shake before purchasing it – the crib has to be as stable as possible.
If it wobbles too much, look for a sturdier one. Avoid cribs with drop sides and bumpers – they might look good on paper, but features like this actually pose a serious hazard to newborn babies.
Where the crib goes
Finding the right spot for the bed is also essential. Make sure to place it further away from windows, blinds and curtains, and avoid direct sunlight.
Choosing the best baby crib mattress
As far as baby mattresses are concerned, one of the most important features to look for is firmness.
What might feel comfy under your hand is probably not firm enough for your little one – go for a thick foam, tightly ractheted innerspring mattress or some of the modern mattresses that use unique polymer materials – you can read more about chosing right on TheSleepStudies.com.
The mattress should also fit snugly into the crib. As long as there is some space left between your chosen mattress and the frame of the crib, the bed is considered unsafe and poses a serious risk of entrapment or suffocation.
Some cribs allow the parents to adjust the height of the mattress support – as long as the support itself is sturdy, baby cribs like this are a good choice. However, you should make sure to lower the mattress as soon as your baby begins sitting up.
The power of a dreamfeed
A dreamfeed is the name given to the trick of feeding the baby right before s/he goes to sleep. For newborns especially, it works like a charm and prevents them from waking up too often during the night.
You can confidently use the method during the first few months of the baby‘s life.
Turn up the white noise
As all newborns are extremely sensitive, particularly when it comes to various sounds, drowning those disturbances out is an important technique to master. A repetitive white noise is sure to calm your baby down.
Try placing a fan in the newborn‘s room during the night – but make sure to keep it at a distance so that the air does not blow directly at her/him!
Keep them swaddled
The practice of swaddling has been in use for centuries – and for a good reason!
Up to the age of around five months, newborns experience a startle reflex, which means that they often feel like they are falling. The sensation naturally results in jerking movements and they might wake the baby up.
Using a swaddle prevents that from happening and helps the newborn sleep longer.
Develop a pre-sleep routine
All humans are creatures of habit, but nowhere is that as true as in the case of babies.
A structured and predictable schedule is an essential part of their early growth and this is why having a set pre-sleep routine is so important. Before laying your baby to rest for the night, make sure to repeat the same actions, so that s/he knows that it is time to sleep.
Run a warm bath, read a bedtime story, sing a soothing lullaby, place her/him in a swaddle and take the time to cuddle. A lot of mothers also swear by the trick of saying their sleepy words.
The latter have to be short and consistent – something along the lines of ‘I love you. Sweet dreams!‘ is more than enough. They work as an additional cue which lets your baby know that s/he can drift off to sleep.
Keep calm and plan
Bringing a baby into the world is one of the most exciting experiences that anybody can have, and it is a shame that it is too often overshadowed by sleep deprivation and general exhaustion of all the members of the immediate family.
The key to overcoming it is patience and a solid plan – hopefully, the few tips above will help you craft one.