Back to Basics – Baby sleep tips.
Everyone has their own ‘helpful’ tips on how you should get your baby to sleep. And some of them are so complicated or involve the latest expensive gadgets. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a victim to it myself! But sometimes all it takes is going right back to basics. So what are the fundamentals of setting your baby up for sleep?
Rule one always has to be safe sleep. There are some key principles such as always putting your baby on their back to sleep; making sure the cot is free from anything such as toys, pillows, bumpers etc. And if you co-sleep with your baby, make sure you really research the safe sleeping recommendations for having the baby in bed with you. The Lullaby Trust has so much amazing information about safe sleep.
Sleep Environment: Keep it DARK!
Sometimes all it takes are small changes to the room your little one sleeps in to help them sleep deeper and longer. I always recommend a blackout blind from day one. Having the room as dark as possible is the best way to help their body understand it’s night time. This is important for children of all ages. When a baby first comes out of the womb their day and night is often upside down. They have been sleeping in the day when pregnant mum has been moving and naturally rocking them to sleep. This means they have more play time in the night when mum is less active and trying to get some sleep! For older babies and toddlers, a dark room is essential for the production of melatonin (the ‘sleep hormone’) and keeping out that pesky morning light can reduce early morning wake-ups.
Day vs. Night Feeds
Linking to my point above around babies learning the difference between night and day, one of the best ways to do this is to differentiate their feeds. When you feed your baby during the day, make sure it’s in a brightly lit room and don’t be worried about stimulation like TV noise or a sibling rushing about playing. This is great! You want your baby to be immersed in the activity around them. At night time, feed them in a dimly lit room and keep stimulation to a minimum. You want them to think this time is boring and not worth staying up for once they have finished their milk!
Don’t be afraid of prioritising sleep
If your little one’s sleep has taken a bit of a backwards step, it’s ok to focus on it for a while. Sleep is so restorative and important for a baby so it shouldn’t take a backseat. That doesn’t mean never leaving the house and carefully counting all their sleep minutes in an app like when they were a newborn! But it could mean saying no to a morning play date when they should be napping. Day sleep is such an important part of a baby’s sleep hours. Some babies are great sleepers on the go, but if your little one is cranky all day or waking frequently at night, it might be that you need to have a little look at their day routine and set out a period of a couple of weeks to hone in on it. Once your baby is sleeping better you will likely find you can be more flexible. I try and have 2 to 3 days each week where my baby gets all his naps in his cot at the right times. It gives him a good baseline if he has a couple of days that are thrown out with activities and the family being busy.
Which brings me onto another basic component of infants’ sleep – routine. Having a routine for your little one is important for so many reasons. Firstly, a predictable structure lets your child know what is coming next. This offers comfort and security for babies as they know they will be fed, changed and rested. For toddlers it helps set boundaries. If they know they nap after lunch, or they go to bed after a bath, you will get less pushback. Toddlers often try to control a situation. Setting boundaries early means they are less likely to think there is any wiggle room. I always tell my 3 year old what’s coming next such as ‘we are going up for your bath in 10 minutes’. It helps him prepare mentally, especially if he is having fun playing with a toy or watching TV at the time.
Routine is also important to set structure to your day. When you have one or more small humans to look after, your day can sometimes be chaotic. Having set times when your baby feeds and sleeps can really help ensure they get the right amount of both to thrive. I have lots of example day routines for different ages over on my Free Resources page.
Be led by your baby
Every baby is different with varying sleep needs. Although it’s great to follow and get familiar with guides and advice from experts like myself; only you know your baby’s cues and habits. Listen to them. If your baby is telling you they are tired, it might be they need a nap or to have an earlier bedtime. Likewise, if they are fighting naps or it’s impacting bedtime, they might need to reduce down the number of their naps or the nap length.
I am the first male baby and toddler sleep consultant in Ireland and I specialise in gentle sleep training. I work with families on a one-to-one basis to design bespoke sleep training programmes that work around their lifestyle and little ones needs. I also have a series of age specific online courses starting from €35 that you can follow at your own pace. Come over and follow me on Instagram for lots of tips and strategies for better sleep.