I am Olivia, sleep teacher, Mum of 3 lovely children (most the time!) and also military wife. Being a military wife may not sound relevant but the reason I mention it is because with our first, Florence, she was a week old when my husband was deployed for a month and 6 months old when we was deployed for 7 months. I did a lot of the sleep side on my own and I basically winged it all!!
After my 3rd was born, I sold my business and started home-schooling (thank you Covid) and decided to re-train as a sleep teacher. I’m now passionate about helping parents understand sleep so that you have the knowledge and understanding of what happens throughout your child first 5 years.
5 Ways to Support your Baby to Sleep
Becoming a parent can be one of the most beautiful and magical things in this world and you need to take time to enjoy it but after the visitors have gone and the excitement turns into the daily norm you may start to wonder what happens next, especially when it comes to sleep. So what can we do? How can we support our new bundle of joy in the “fourth trimester” (0-12 weeks).
Before we get into the 5 ways to support your baby, I want you to do the following 4 things first:
- Take all the time you need to recover from the birth
- Establish feeding and become confident whether this is bottle or breast feeding
- Have time to bond with your baby and become confident as a parent
- Establish healthy sleep habits
There are 5 really simple ways that you can help your new baby in those first few weeks:
Swaddling your baby firmly, with their arms down, recreates the same snug feeling they had in-utero. It also prevents their startle reflex from waking them up shortly after going to sleep, so it helps with longer stretches of sleep.
A swaddled baby responds much faster to the other 4 S’s! Use a zip up swaddle bag like a love2dream or Ergo Pouch, or a Miracle Blanket, or just a flat wrap. It’s important that the swaddle is firm over the torso and cannot come loose. Loose swaddling is a hazard with the risk of the material coming up over your baby’s face. It should remain loose around the hips however, to minimize the risk of hip dysplasia.
Loud shushing emulates the whooshing of your blood around your arteries, experienced by your baby in-utero. These ambient sounds, some researchers believe, sit at around 90dB. While you would never leave a white noise/shusher going at this volume permanently, you can use it this loudly while trying to calm an upset baby.
Once your baby is calm, turn it down to a more appropriate volume. Or if using your voice to shush, quieten down the volume of shushing to about the volume of a running shower.
Being laid on their back can be an unsettling position for your baby, leaving them with that feeling of falling and triggering their moro (startle) reflex. The side or stomach position can be very calming for your baby. Being laid on their side, or having their stomach pressed into your chest/shoulder switches off the moro reflex and triggers a calming reflex.
You would never leave your baby to sleep on their side or stomach. However, you can settle them to sleep on their side and gently turn them back onto their back once they are asleep. Lying flat on their back is the safest position for your baby to sleep in.
In-utero, babies experience movement all the time. Not the smooth rocking we may associate with cradling a baby to sleep, but reasonably fast, jiggly movement. You can achieve these small jiggly movements by ‘swinging’ or jiggling your baby from side to side, or patting your baby’s back.
For the jiggling or patting to be effective in helping calm an upset baby, you need to see a bit of a head jiggle, as if they are in the stroller or car. This motion will trigger your baby’s calming reflex.
Sucking is the icing on the cake for settling a crying baby. Introducing a dummy triggers the sucking reflex, which is a huge help in calming an upset baby. In the snug environment in the womb, babies are often able to find and suck their fingers. However, when out of the womb, they have a lot less control over their hands, so rely on help to suck which is where a dummy comes in.
Dummy use has also been associated with lowering the SUDI risk.
Nutritive sucking (feeding) should never be replaced with non-nutritive sucking (dummy) – if you suspect your baby is hungry, feed them and offer the dummy if they are still unsettled after a full feed.
For more expert advice on getting your baby to sleep, check out more of Olivia’s content.