Expert / 8 March, 2021 / Charmian Mead
Does becoming a parent mean frequent night waking and generally months of sleep deprivation? Not necessarily! Read these twelve newborn sleep tips by baby sleep exert, Charmian Mead.
From as early as six weeks of age, I have helped hundreds of babies and parents get a full night’s sleep, naturally and with no sleep training. Regardless of whether you are pro routine or feed on demand, on meeting your baby’s needs during daylight hours, you will see a positive impact on your nights. By following my 12 focus points and steps, your baby will not only sleep but will be a happy, thriving and content newborn bundle of joy.
Firstly, when it comes to newborn sleep tips, helping digestion through burping is crucial.
Your newborn’s world is centred around feeding, so it makes sense that your main focus is on your baby’s digestive comfort. Babies are unable to burp themselves in the first 8- 12 weeks and with tiny, immature guts, digesting milk can be problematic and also hypersensitive to gassy foods eaten while breastfeeding.
Eliminating all gas-forming foods from your diet in the first 6-8 weeks will have a positive effect on digestion and milk intake. You will also need to burp your baby more frequently than commonly thought; every 5 or so minutes when breastfeeding and 15-30ml if bottle feeding. Yes, breastfed babies are as gassy as bottle fed babies!
A wind-free tummy is a comfortable tummy that results in greater milk intake and more peaceful sleep. For babies born by a C-section, formula fed or those who have a sensitive gut I advise supplementing with a good probiotic such as Baba West microbiotic.
When it comes to settling, sleep and a contented baby, everything stems back to feeding.
The aim is to feed until full at each day feed and allow enough time for both feeding and burping. Which during the newborn stage takes time until your little one’s digestion and gut strengthens. Whether you are breast or bottle feeding, the 7pm to 7am Sleeping Baby Routine schedules one-hour day feeds and much shorter feeds by night which teaches the difference between night and day within weeks. When breastfeeding during the first few months, understanding your changing milk supply is important to ensure baby is full and content.
Encourage active feeding, and by this I mean actually drinking rather than comfort sucking and snoozing on the breast or bottle, thus teaching positive associations with feeding and ensures that your baby is full at each feed.
This and burping can be the trickiest area to focus on during the newborn stage as one sniff of milk and he is fast asleep! Babies become more focused, awake and efficient with less need for prompting and waking around weeks 6-8.
Structuring feeds by spacing out your day feeds, not only allows the stomach to empty and rest, it aids digestion and builds an appetite for the next feed, which encourages active feeding and a greater intake of milk. As you can see by now that everything has a knock-on effect!
Encouraging some awake time after day feeds when your baby is full and content allows for milk digestion before going down for a nap. Babies need to burp during feeding and also while digesting milk, which ensures your newborn is gas-free and comfortable to sleep well. Week by week and month by month, your baby will need an increasing amount of awake time.
Babies as young as one week old can see black and white pictures and look around for a short time after feeds.
Once your baby is gaining and above birth weight, by contrast to your day routine let your baby wake naturally at night. Night feeds tend to be more efficient when babies have slept for longer stretches between feeds. To begin with, if you are worried about leaving your baby to self-wake at night, set your alarm randomly between 12-3 am, rather than the same point every night, this decreases the risk of habit waking.
How and where you put your baby to nap and sleep can determine how long they sleep. A baby who is tucked in securely to a Moses basket, cot or crib will generally sleep for longer than a baby who is left to sleep in a chair or play mat. This is due to the secure, cuddled feeling of the sleep position.
Create a positive environment for solid sleep. Swaddling stops the startle reflex waking your baby unnaturally, a swaddle and good sleep position is the only sleep tool I use.
It is also a bit of a myth that a baby needs to get used to noise and can sleep anywhere in the first few months. A baby who sleeps solidly at night could very well be a much lighter sleeper during the day. Naps are best in the bedroom where noise is limited and lighting is dimmed, unless out in the pram and perhaps skin-to-skin cuddles.
Waiting 2 minutes whenever your baby wakes or settles will allow your baby time to self-settle and ensures he or she is truly in need of something including feeding at night. Babies wake frequently but can just as quickly fall back to sleep. If you jump to every shout you may be up and feeding at night more often than your baby actually needs. Resulting in a greater milk intake at night and lower milk intake during the day, which encourages night waking and can blur the difference between night and day.
If you meet your new baby’s needs in the way of feeding, time awake, cuddles and sleep positions, settling shouldn’t be too much of an issue during the early months. However, some babies do need extra reassurance when settling and some even like a little shout to settle themselves. The less you do to settle, is often the most effective. If you are rocking and pacing around, trying to get your baby off to sleep before putting him down, then he is likely to wake as soon as you have put him down. Try keeping things simple with a swaddle, a calming cuddle over the shoulder for ten minutes before bed and pop him down to settle himself.
Consistency with your baby’s routine with regards to your approach to feeding, settling, bath time, and bedtime routine. Also by waking your baby to start the day around the same time every day, all combined help your baby recognise the difference between night and day and naturally sleep longer through the night.
Being consistent with a routine shouldn’t mean inflexibility, your newborn is not a robot to be programmed. Your routine should be forever evolving as your baby grows and can be changeable for a newborn especially when they are in the process of sleep well or through the night. The 7pm to 7am Sleeping Baby Routine has several variations as each baby is an individual with different appetites, alertness levels, temperaments and needs.
Your baby senses your emotions and will feel if you are stressed. Babies respond well and stay calm when handled with a calm and confident hand. You might not feel confident or even calm sometimes as a new parent but by breathing deeply and slowing your heart rate down while holding your baby firmly will make your baby feel secure. Sleep deprivation can be cruel especially when getting to grips with breastfeeding and recovering from giving birth. Ensure you make time for the healing power of emotional bonding, mood and milk boosting powers of skin to skin cuddles – surely the ultimate newborn sleep tip. Your baby will sleep through the night at his own pace as a result of a balanced routine which is often a developing process.
Charmian Mead, sleep consultant and author of 7pm to 7am Sleeping Baby Routine. A complete guide to the newborn stage and beyond.