Lack of sleep is a problem faced by new parents. Solutions that help a baby get to sleep, such as nighttime cues, can help every new parent get more sleep.
When expecting a baby, new mothers get an earful of positive advice and information from their family, friends, co-workers, and even strangers. These experienced parents have much to offer: voodoo-like ways to tell if it is a boy or a girl, advice about epidurals in the delivery room, and funny stories about first time diapering.
However, there is one topic where the warnings will be dire, and the stories will rival Uncle Earl’s flashbacks to ‘Nam. It is the ‘S’ word, and it refers to sleep. They will tell you how little sleep you will get, how exhausted you will be, and comparisons to the “Night of The Living Dead” will be made. And they will be right.
Babies and Sleep
New parents, mothers, especially, are some of the most sleep deprived creatures on the planet. It is usual for a newborn to awaken every few hours to nurse, and routines that follow an adult’s take a while to set in. Then there are older babies who are the proverbial night owl, awakening at midnight ready to play. There are babies who fight sleep, and babies who want to spend half the night eating. All of this is normal, but it does not help any parent to get enough sleep.
Getting Your Baby to Sleep
While nothing will return sleep patterns to the blessed pre-baby sleep model, there are ways to get a baby to sleep quickly or back to sleep should he or she wake up in the middle of the night. Conventional wisdom starts with making sure the baby is fed, diapered, and warm before bedtime. The next step is to create a nighttime routine- have a bath, read a book or two, and then to bed.
Nighttime Cues Help Baby Sleep
One way to help your baby get to sleep is to further the routine by creating an atmosphere of ‘nighttime cues.’ These cues need to signal that a baby can detect using the senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. For sound, play the same soft Bach CD at a low volume, or use a sound machine and play the same set of waves, rain, or heartbeat.
Also, the same book can be the last book read every night, or you can repeat the same comforting phrase, such as “night-night, sleepy-head.” For sight, control outdoor light with curtains, and stick with the same nightlight whether it plugs into an outlet, sits on a table or projects something onto the wall. For smell, choose a light fragrance, such as lavender, for a child-approved aromatherapy machine.
For touch, use the same or similar feeling blankets or sleepers, and rub the baby’s back or head in the same way. There are many different variations; the important thing is to stay consistent with the cues that are chosen. Eventually, these cues will trigger the baby’s sleep response, helping to get the baby to sleep. Make sure to avoid using any of the chosen cues during the day or at playtime.
Getting Baby to Sleep After Awakening
Despite a great routine and use of nighttime cues, there will be times when a baby fights sleep or wake up to nurse all night while half asleep. If the baby is wide awake, restart the nighttime routine with cues after a quiet feeding. For those babies who are on the edge of sleep, but refuse to go all the way, try this trick. At the same time, holding the baby in the cradle of your arms, gently stroke down the baby’s nose with as many fingers as it takes to get the baby’s eyes to close. Sometimes closed eyes are all it takes to get a baby to sleep.
While no tips or tricks will solve a baby’s every sleep issue, they will help a new parent to get more hours of sleep. So when one of those experienced parents launches into a horror story about a baby’s sleep, ask them what they did to get that baby to sleep, and then give it a try. You just might get some more sleep tonight!