For the first three months, newborns spend the majority of their time sleeping or feeding. They’ll have short periods of alertness as they adjust to life outside your womb. Becoming a parent can be scary and exciting all at the same time! It may be the most rewarding thing you have ever done but also the hardest.
There are many steps to take towards the development of your baby’s self-settling ability. This is actually a skill your baby is born with! However, self-soothing is different. This life skill begins to develop from around 6-months old and continues to grow and strengthen throughout your baby’s life!
As we welcome our newborns into their new home there are a few things we can do to assist them to settle into life outside of the womb. At Sleep Thrive Grow, we believe that setting the stage is crucial to encourage healthy sleep habits.
Setting The Stage is the backbone for healthy sleep! It takes away some of the guess work (and hard work) surrounding newborns and ensures your new baby is all set for some fantastic sleep to start happening! Here are some of my top tips to encourage healthy sleep habits for the get go.
1. DARK DARK DARK
Babies are light sensitive! During the first 3 weeks it is helpful to sleep your baby in well-lit rooms to help them differentiate between night and day a little faster. But after 3 weeks old, getting them into a consistent dark sleeping space helps to allow our babies to differentiate between awake and sleep time. Another benefit is that from about 6 weeks of age their maternal melatonin supply begins to wear off! Melatonin – the sleepy hormone – which they need to fall asleep, will then be produced by your baby and the only way this is produced is in darkness. Be mindful of any LED light coming from monitors and sunlight through blinds/curtains. A great idea is to install block out blinds (I have sneaky discount code on my instagram highlights for Sleepy Sundays block out solution) or pin up a dark sheet over the windows.
This plays a significant role in whether your baby will settle to sleep and stay asleep. Aim to keep the room at around 18 – 22 degrees where possible. We do not recommend the use of hot water bottles or electric blankets as these pose a serious risk to your baby’s safety. However, if you do choose to use a heater please follow the manufacturers specifications and guidelines in regards to safe operation and usage. We recommend ensuring your baby is layered appropriately in natural fabrics. Swaddles and sleeping bags need to suit the season, there are TOG-rated guidelines available when purchasing these products. You can see how warm your baby is by touching the back of the neck, if this is warm then you’ve nailed it! Bear in mind that baby’s lowest body temperature will be around 3am in the morning. If you notice waking’s recurring at this time, it could be linked to a temperature drop. Dress your baby for the coolest part of the night.
3. WHITE NOISE
We know babies love white noise! It is the volume and intensity which can mimic the level of noise experienced in the womb and stops them crying. White noise helps to create healthy sleep habits, avoiding the rocking, holding and feeding to sleep associations we can end up doing for months on end while trying to get our babies to sleep better. White noise also dulls any external noise in the environment, meaning baby is less likely to wake to sudden noises when moving between sleep cycles. White noise can be such a helpful modern day parenting tool in the first year of life when developing healthy sleep habits. To use white noise effectively, It needs to be louder than your baby’s cries to help them settle and calm so it is a good idea to adjust the volume during settling periods. To ensure it is used safely and keep it to 65dB when baby is calm and sleeping. You can download a free dB reader app. To get an accurate reading make sure you put your phone in the cot where baby sleeps and place the white noise across the room. You can then increase/decrease the volume to find that sweet spot of 65dB. Use good quality speakers – phones/small devices/tinny speakers will actually interfere with sleep.
4. MAKE IT BORING
Some little ones are extra inquisitive and curious of their surroundings from a very early age. Keeping the bedroom as boring and plain as possible will limit the amount of stimulation and interest in what’s going on around them. While mobiles are gorgeous, at around 3 months, babies will sleep better without distractions. Keep calm, relaxed and still during settling and resettling.
5. MOTIONLESS SLEEP
How are you hoping your baby will sleep as they grow? This is a question that can be asked from day 1! Many of the clients I work with want it all and they can! If falling asleep in the cot is just as important as falling asleep in a carrier or pram, then practice all of them!
In the early newborn days safe baby-wearing is wonderful, as it turns on the calming reflex. However, practicing stationary sleep alongside sleeping on-the-go is recommended as this is considered a skill for most babies. Cot sleep will need a little bit more practice than the other styles of sleeping simply because it’s a little bit more work for baby to drift off without the continuous movement or warmth from your body heat. Sleeping in the pram, carseat, front pack etc for all naps during the day can also mean less restorative sleep will be achieved during a 24-hour period. This can result in a build up of over-tiredness and a potential for your baby to only associate motion with sleep. Baby will struggle to get to sleep any other way, becoming more difficult to overcome as baby gets older.
6. AWAKE IN THE COT
15-20 minutes before the end of your new baby’s awake window is a great time to place them down in the cot and support them to fall asleep. Your baby will learn quickly that this is a safe space and it will begin to set some really gentle foundations for independent sleep. This may not happen every time and that’s ok! Sometimes our newborns are just so sleepy or quite drowsy just before a sleep is due. They may be cranky and need more help to calm before putting them down. Using a settling technique, nearly asleep but not quite, then place them down super slowly into the bassinet or cot (feet first, to prevent the startle reflex) may be where you begin.
7. 80/20 RULE
The 80/20 rule is all about balance as your baby grows. It’s about protecting your baby’s sleep in their ideal sleep environment 80% of the time, while the other 20% is used for naps elsewhere. When and where you choose to use the 20% is something you’ll need to figure out by simply giving it a go. Through trial and error you’ll find what works and what just moves into the “it’s just not worth it” pile. Some babies are just naturally more sensitive to change and even one nap out and about can still result in an overtired, unhappy baby. Research shows us again and again that having a predictable pattern or routine for a child offers them security and stability that they can rely on. It helps them to feel safe and confident in a very new and overwhelming world. We believe finding your own balance is key for allowing everyone’s needs to be met. With the 80/20 rule, we are still respecting our baby’s need for sleep, alongside our needs, commitments and lifestyle.
8. TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Timing plays a huge role in how restorative your baby’s sleep is. If you can nail your baby’s timing we avoid difficulty with settling/re-settling and excessive waking due to overtiredness. If we try to put baby down for a sleep too soon, they are likely to be undertired. You may find they struggle to settle to sleep and stay asleep e.g. catnapping! If we put baby down too late they are likely to be overtired. Again we may find they struggle to settle to sleep and stay asleep as their little body is loaded with stress hormones due to being overtired. The aim is to find your baby’s sweet spot! We want just the right amount of awake time, food, light and social interaction, ensuring baby is not over-stimulated or too bored. The juggle is real right?! We recommend starting your day at around 7.00am (give or take half an hour) and making sure your baby is in bed asleep by 6.30/7.00pm if they have slept well during the day. Babies respond best having similar times each day for waking and sleeping, in line with the external clock we use each day. This allows their circadian rhythm to fall into a predictable pattern making room for optimal sleep to take place. We know this may not happen every single day, babies are not robots after all! However, a similar rhythm can prevent unnecessary over-tiredness occurring and help you to troubleshoot to know exactly what your baby may need.
Getting through the first 3 months with your new baby doesn’t have to be exhausting for everyone. At S.T.G we have sleep beginnings packages available worldwide to help you through this journey. Check out our available support package here!