I have asked The Little Sleep Coach, Caroline Gunston to share her best baby sleep secrets. In my work as a baby massage instructor I know this a one of the main concerns for new parents and I’m sure you will find her expert knowledge and top tips will help you and your little one establish good sleep habits and overcome sleep issues.
Babies. Toddlers. Children. Adults. No matter how old we are, we all need sleep. And in recent times, as more research has been carried out, we have a deeper understanding of what happens when we sleep and therefore know the importance of it. Gone are the days we thought sleeping was a time we simply did nothing. Had a rest and that was that. Actually up to date science tells us we are very busy while we sleep! Now we know it’s how we restore and replenish. And no more so than for babies…
Babies do so much growing and learning in their first year, it’s incredible! Their brains will double in size in their first year! They are busy behind the scenes, making millions of neural pathways to support their learning and development. We also know babies have a shorter sleep cycle and sleep structure when they are first born. This matures as they grow (hello ‘sleep regressions’). And guess how much sleep a two-year-old will have had, on average, in their life? 13 months of sleeping. Wow! So let’s get learning about the best baby sleep secrets you need to know. The earlier you are able to put these into place, the more you’re on your way to a super sleeper and supporting all that lovely development your baby does while they sleep!
Please ensure you’ve ruled out any health concerns such as reflux, tongue tie or allergies. Symptoms may vary and present as include vomiting after a feed (sometimes there’s a clear pattern and sometimes not), constipation, diarrhoea, crying when laid down, difficulties with feeding, not gaining sufficient weight. Any advice below is based on the assumption you’re not concerned your baby has any health issues, Making any sleep changes will not work if there are underlying, unaddressed health issues. Please do see your GP if you have any worries.
Timings over technique
In an ideal situation, your baby will be able to settle in their cot or sleeping space with minimal support from you. And while this is something to always aim for and try to begin each nap with by giving your little one the opportunity to settle themselves, it can also be challenging. For guidance of ways to encourage self-settling from new-born, have a read of my post about 5 easy steps to teach your baby sleep skills.
So in reality, it’s a really common concern parents have to always need to rock or cuddle their baby to sleep. A lot of parents worry because their baby won’t nap unless they are in motion, be it being held in a sling, walked around the block in the buggy or even taken for a ride in the car. It certainly can feel endless and as though there is no other way, ever! Trust me, there is. Firstly, don’t worry if your little one has become rather accustomed to needing these ways to fall asleep. All is not lost!
My advice here is to first focus on the timing and length of each nap, their bedtime and morning wake time. Once they are at about the 18-week mark, aim to balance their naps so the longest one is ideally in the middle of the day. For example, if they are on three naps, their first and last nap should be 30-40 minutes and the middle one about 1.5 hours. Don’t be afraid to gently rouse them from naps to help create a daily routine. In the early weeks, waking for feed when they are in a light (you’ll see your baby move a bit) sleep is advisable too. We want these naps to be consistent so do your best to stick to similar times each day to help establish healthy sleeping habits. Even from newborn, keep a sleep diary for a week or two while you’re doing this. This creates a super helpful guide to see any developing feeding and sleeping patterns. Grab my FREE paper version here. There’s a ton of apps too. I love The Baby Tracker for its simplicity and the ability to share the data easily via email. Once they are settled into their sleep timings, let’s look at the EASY routine.
Establish an E.A.S.Y routine
Once their sleep timings are established, you can move to add another part to their day. I’m not a fan of by the minute schedules that tend to focus on the time of everything rather than the needs of your baby. In my experience, these types of schedules can feel quite restrictive and stressful. For me and all the babies I’ve cared for and supported, the E.A.S.Y routine is a way that works brilliantly. I do not know a single family this hasn’t worked for! The reason it is so good is that there is flexibility so it is what I like to call a gentle routine. This Eat Activity Sleep You routine is a simple concept that enables your baby to begin digesting their feed while having a little play (this can be a story, a bath, a nappy change, play with some toys) before going to sleep. Even if it is simply a nappy change after a feed. This can be enough stimulation to allow them to be awake enough to begin to learn to settle themselves to sleep in their cot. Remember, a routine is your friend! The E.A.S.Y routine can be especially helpful if a feed to sleep association has developed. And you don’t need to always remember timings and be watching the clock, just keep repeating the E.A.S.Y cycle all day long! These times can help you understand how much your baby can usually stay awake before needing sleep…
Birth – 6 weeks – 45 – 60 minutes
2 – 3 months – 1 – 1.5 hours
4 – 5 months – 1.25 – 2.25 hours
6 – 7 months – 2 – 2. 75 hours
8 – 9 months – 2.25 – 3 hours
10 – 12 months – 3 – 4 hours
12+ months – 3 – 6 hours
Starting a gentle bedtime routine should be an essential component of your baby’s day. Every. Single. Day. For example, give them a bath, dry them, massage, PJs, sing a lullaby, read a story, put on some pink or white noise before tucking them up for night time. Every evening they come to learn that sleep follows this comforting routine and helps establish good sleep habits. Even from newborn! Have a read of my ‘How to have the best baby routine for a calm nights sleep‘ for a more in-depth read of bedtime routines. And grab a FREE printable of ‘Step by Step Golden Rules for a Fuss-free Bedtime Routine‘ I do also suggest offering their last feed before bed away from the bedroom and before bath-time. If your little one is under 6 months, you may want to split feed so a smaller one before and after bath-time. I don’t advise to wake your baby for a feed in the night (unless there is a medical reason to do so). If they are hungry, they will wake for it! Often young babies will naturally wake around 10-11pm for a ‘dream feed’ if they went down between 6.30-7.30pm.
Focus on the way they fall asleep at night
Once you’ve got all the sleep and feed timings sorted with a lovely bedtime routine too, let’s look at the next really important step. For bedtime, the way your baby falls asleep is really indicative of how they might sleep for the rest of the night. The reason this isn’t as important to focus on for naps is that naps tend to be only one or two sleep cycles so the way they get to sleep doesn’t need to be such a priority. Obviously, in the long run, it’s great to have a baby who is happy to nap anywhere – cot, buggy or car but my advice is not to worry about that for now.
There are several different strategies I work with to help get little ones settling in their own cots at night. It’s important to know there isn’t a gentle right or wrong way necessarily, it’s more about being consistent in whichever suitable way you decide to move forward. If you’re not quite ready to move ahead yet to help your baby sleep in their own cot, then I simply invite you to be mindful of thinking about the way they initially fall asleep. Whether it’s on the breast, bottle or in a different place to their cot, when they naturally wake from a sleep cycle, they most likely will seek that same way they initially fell asleep. If you do feel you need some extra support in helping get your baby sleeping more independently and for longer stretches then do book in a FREE discovery call to have a chat and see how working together can help.
Less is more. Keep their nursery simple
Keeping your babies nursery simple is a step I absolutely recommend. Trust me when I say that less is more. Bright noisy mobiles aren’t helpful. Nor are lots of bright colours and stimulating toys in the room. By all means, have some toys for playtime in the room but keep them inside a chest, drawer or cupboard. While your little one is going to sleep, especially for a nap when it might be a little bit brighter in their room, they can get really distracted with these things! Think calming and neutral. Ensure it is plenty dark enough, especially if their sleeping environment is east facing so gets the morning sun. Blackout blinds are a good option. Grobags are ideal to help keep them warm and cosy all night long too.
Don’t intervene too early!
Giving your baby the opportunity to settle or resettle is so important and something that is so important to allow your baby the chance to learn how to fall asleep. If you jump up at the first murmur, you might be missing a chance to allow baby to learn how to resettle themselves and possibly go back to sleep, helping them (and the family!) get better sleep. I do highly recommend a video monitor so you can hear and see your little one. It can be so easy to rush in at the first murmur but if you can also see them then often they are still asleep or trying to resettle so seeing them is super helpful, and reassuring!
To observe is to learn
It’s clear to me that to understand your baby, you need to really observe them. Catch their cue for a nap by that first yawn. Every baby is different – maybe yours pull their ears, or rubs their eyes, or gets the faraway stare that means you know they are tired. Catching their sleep window is really helpful in avoiding an overtired baby.
Also, listen out for your baby’s cries. It really is normal for your little one to cry while settling to sleep. This is usually a cry that tapers off after a few moments, some silence and then it comes again until after 5-10 minutes, they are asleep. This is called sleep latency; the time it takes to naturally fall to sleep. It is very different from a distress cry which is simply very loud, consistent and distressing. I never advise leaving your baby alone through this type of cry. Always comfort them, whether that’s with a cuddle, some reassurance of patting through the cot or shushing.
White and pink noise can be incredibly helpful for your baby’s sleep. It can not only help minimise unhelpful noises such as doorbells, sirens, busy roads etc but helps them be soothed in the early weeks and continuing months. For babies over six months, pink noise is better. The frequency is different and results in a softer pitch of the noise. Research shows that pink noise can increase deep sleep and also dramatically improved memory in older adults too! Pink noise enhances brain activity that’s associated with deep phases of sleep. Have a listen to some here. It’s free and you might find it useful for you too! Have a listen to the pink, white and brown noise to understand the differences. Set it up to be on all night if you choose to use it. Place it three feet or more away and have it as loud as feels right, usually something similar to an idle car engine running shower.
I can’t stress the importance of safe sleep enough. I always follow up to date research and encourage families to do the same. Check out this Lullaby Trust video who promote safe sleep using current guidelines. Always pop your baby at the foot of their cot with their feet touching the bottom for every sleep. And on their back. Once your little one is able to roll onto their side or tummy, you can leave them. Some parents panic that they must consistently sleep on their backs and go in to keep laying them back. The fact is, once they have found a more comfortable sleep position for themselves, constantly going in will be disruptive to their sleep. Ensure the cot is clear of blankets and toys to minimise any risk.
The Little Sleep Coach | Caroline Gunston | Trained infant sleep coach, maternity nurse & nanny | Gentle & holistic approach | Supporting families with London home & UK video consultations | Lets turn sleep struggles into sleep wins and together, get sleep sorted! | Offering a FREE discovery call to check in with your baby and toddler sleep concerns and goals https://thelittlesleepcoach.com/free-discovery-call/ | Get my FREE ultimate infant sleep guide https://thelittlesleepcoach.com/get-a-freebie/