Establishing a bedtime routine

How to get your baby to sleep, and sleep longer

Young babies are not actually designed to sleep very well. At the start, you know, your baby is very much regulated by their stomach, so they will wake and feed, depending on your feeding approach. This could possibly be every 1 to 3 hours and then they might need to sleep, every 45 minutes-2 hours but for varying lengths of time throughout a 24 hour period. If a baby “sleeps well”, that is largely, just the luck of the draw. If your baby is struggling to get to sleep and indeed stay asleep for long, it does not actually mean that you are doing something wrong, it mostly means that this is how your baby is responding at the moment.

Some babies do sleep incredibly well, but that mum is not doing anything better than you, and I really want you to remember that; your baby is not designed to sleep that well, and they don’t always sleep for long chunks of time and additionally, they might need lots of help from you to make the sleep actually happen. This time won’t last forever, but it can very often be what many new mums face, you are not alone.

I meet lots of new mums who are worried about “bad habits” and have been told they are going to “spoil their baby”, especially if they hold them to get them to sleep. Again, I would encourage you to forget about that and to follow your instincts and your baby’s lead and spend time getting to know each other and then as the weeks tick by there are a few strategies that your could start to think about to help lay a foundation for better sleep.

1. Plan a sleeping schedule

Once your baby is 6 weeks plus and you are starting to feel a bit more human, maybe you have been given the ok to drive again following a section. Or you have had your 6 week check up and baby is gaining weight and your chosen feeding practise is established, then you could start to think about having a feeding and sleeping balance to the day:
What does this mean? This means, planning a day time layout, without going insane or being too prescriptive:

  • Plan to get up and feed no later than 7.30am
  • Think about how often your baby needs feeding and space them out through the day once you have established the morning feed
  • Having a morning feed will help to anchor the day and land the feeds throughout the rest of the day until bedtime
  • Aim to make sure that between feeds that your baby is offered a chance to sleep

2. Spot early sleep signals

Try to distinguish the different body language for sleep that your baby may do. Having a regular start to the day, as above, helps with this. Early sleep signals that are good to work from would be.

  • Brief eye rubs
  • Brief yawns
  • Snuggling into you
  • Zoning out or staring into space

Try to avoid more intense sleep signals such as obvious eye rubs and yawns, and when your baby makes noise like yelping or becoming grisly. This would often indicate that you are attempting sleep a bit too late and your baby is at risk of being overtired and this then can make it more challenging for them to go to sleep and stay asleep for a stretch of time.

3. Rock a bye baby

Don’t be afraid of helping your baby sleep. They deeply desire motion and physical contact. Instinctively that is what you will want to do, but in the back of your mind you will be worried that this can become a problem, and it sometimes can! But at the start, if that is what your baby needs, then provide it, consider your sole task here is to make them feel loved, safe and secure, reducing the need to assistance can be done at another time when your baby is open to it and believe me, that time will also come.

  • Hold, rock and wear baby
  • Use the car, pram, swing, bouncer chair
  • Get baby used to other people doing this too, so it does not all have to be done by you
  • Understand that this is just a short-term strategy but one that will help your baby ultimately

4. Create a pre-sleep routine

Establish a pre sleep routine at bedtime specifically, albeit late, that you do with baby to help them understand what going to sleep will look like.

  • Do this in the bedroom
  • Dim the lights and follow the same sequence of events each time
  • Change and dress baby for sleep time
  • Use familiar songs and phrases
  • Provide plenty of physical and eye contact
  • Use music or white noise during this wind down time (turn off before baby sleeps)
  • Put baby into the cot/crib and allow them to be slightly aware that they are being put down by you

5. Let there be light

During the day, make sure that you expose your baby to bright and natural light. Doing this in the mid morning and mid afternoon can really help to regulate the sleeping patterns. From 8 weeks onwards your baby would benefit from a darkened environment for each sleep time, so pulling the blinds, putting up the hood on the pram can help longer sleep durations.

6. Adjust napping times

If you baby wakes up really soon after a nap, let’s say after 20-30 minutes, this can often mean that they were too tired going to sleep, so the next day plan to start the nap 10 minutes sooner. If you hear them wake early, then also give them some help to go back to sleep, again, without making it stressful for you or baby-roll them a bit more, re-plug the soother (if you use one) and see can you help extend the sleep period a bit more.

7. Use white noise

Using white noise can also help extend the time your baby sleeps. Please use this safely, don’t use your hairdryer! Download from i-tunes and use on an I-pad or similar. Make sure that if your baby falls asleep listening to it, you leave it on for the entire sleep period, otherwise your baby may wake early from their sleep.

About the author

Lucy Wolfe is a Paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four at Sleep Matters-Help Your Child Sleep; a private sleep consulting practice, based in Cork, where she enjoys providing knowledge, expertise and valuable support with tailored sleep plans to families across the country and over-seas, without using cry intensive methods. Author of The Baby Sleep Solution.


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