Babies need to wind down and relax before sleeping just as adults do. Each baby is different and will respond in various ways to settling techniques. It is important to remember that a relaxed baby is likely to be a happier baby and a happier baby leads to a less stressed parent. It is estimated that mothers lose between 400 and 700 hours of sleep in one year. Settling techniques may help to keep those hours of lost sleep to a minimum. Parents should also try to learn to read their babies’ tired cues. Many babies show that they are sleepy by:
- Grizzling or being fussy
- Rubbing their eyes
- Clenching their fists
- Waving their arms and feet about
- Not wanting to play
Wrapping, rocking and holding, patting and feeding are some ways to settle your baby so that they are ready to sleep. Routine may be used with children older than about 3 months to ready them for bed. Before this stage, many babies are not ready to stick to a schedule.
Babies like to feel secure and safe. In the womb, the baby was in the foetal position most of the time and felt secure in their environment. Wrapping infants with muslin wraps can help to settle a baby. If used often, a baby may associate this ritual with sleep as well.
Rocking your child in your arms, in a pram or as you sit in a rocking chair can also make them feel secure and ready for sleep. During pregnancy, your baby would have been rocked to sleep as you walked around during the day. Many babies will become relaxed and ready for bed with some gentle rocking.
As you hold your baby close, they will feel secure and comfortable. Infants often like to hear the sound of your heartbeat and this soothes them, making them more relaxed for sleep. A baby sling may be more convenient to hold your baby close as he settles. As your baby grows, holding them while they fall asleep may not be ideal as it is not a habit that can be carried on when they are older.
Patting your baby as they lay in their crib can imitate your heartbeat. Patting often works if you start at a quick pace and then slow down to the pace of your heartbeat.
Feeding and Dummies
Some babies associate sucking or feeding with sleep if they begin to do this in the early months. If your baby often falls asleep on the breast or while feeding, they may find it difficult to go to sleep without this. Some babies like to have a ‘top up’ feed before going to sleep. Dummies may also become associated with security if a baby begins to use it before going to bed.
As your baby gets older, a routine may help to settle them so that they associate those activities with sleep. It will take a period of time for this settling technique to work. A bath, story, song and then a cuddle is an example of a routine that can indicate to your child that it is bedtime.
If your baby continues to cry, you might like to read about Dunstan's Baby Language and understanding your baby's cries.