Settling Your Baby Sleep and Recognising Tired Signs
Settling your baby to sleep
Along with breastfeeding and caring for your newborn, settling your baby to sleep is just another skill both you and your newborn will eventually acquire… This is a gradual process. Newborns have no conception of night and day and they cannot settle to sleep naturally; this is a skill they will learn. Some babies take up to three months or longer to master the skill of settling themselves to sleep unaided. The most important factor in this process is consistency. Endeavour to have the same pre-sleep routine and settling method whenever you settle your baby. We discuss these methods in ‘Winding down’ and ‘Why Babies Cry'.
In the first two to four weeks your baby will mainly eat and sleep. On average, a newborn will sleep 15-16 hours in every 24 hours. This is broken into four daytime sleeps and longer sleeps over an eight to nine hour period at night. If a baby feeds between six and eight times a day and each feed takes approximately an hour, the feeding, burping, and nappy changing takes about as much awake time that any newborn requires.
By four weeks, a baby will usually be easier to settle, on average sleeping 15 hours in a 24 hour period with three longer daytime sleeps and longer sleep periods over a nine hour period at night (i.e. sleeps of approximately five and four 4 hours).
By three to four months old, some babies can be sleeping for 15 hours in a 24 hour period with two daytime sleeps and a longer sleep period of seven to eight hours at night.
All these milestones are very dependent on your baby’s weight and development.
Yawning, grizzling, displaying jerky body movements, tensing the body, restlessness, clenching of the fists are all signs of tiredness.
As baby matures and you feel confident about settling your newborn to sleep, make a habit of settling him as often as possible while he is still awake. Your consistency in carrying out the process of soothing your baby will have paid off.
Your baby will not settle if still hungry
Crying which becomes intense every two, three to four hours after the start of the last feed
Rooting reflex’ – expect your baby to open his mouth while searching for the breast
Frantic sucking on hands or fingers
Baby does not settle following a feed because of falling to sleep too often
Some babies appear very hungry during a growth spurt. Growth spurts occur regularly especially round the third, sixth and twelfth week of their development.
Here are examples of settling methods that could possibly work for you:
Make sure your baby is no longer interested in feeding and has had a nappy change. Prop him up in your arms and wind.
Swaddle your baby ready for sleep (see ‘Swaddling’ if using to settle baby).
Once baby seems comfortable and sleepy, hold him upright with baby’s head leaning on your shoulder and pat his back rhythmically for 3-10 minutes.
If baby seems relaxed and calm and you are confident they have brought up any wind, settle them into the Moses basket, cot or pram.
Tuck your baby in, to sleep on either his back or side. If settling on his side, make sure the lower arm and shoulder they lie on is well forward. If you choose to sleep your baby totally on his back, it is advisable to alternate the side his head falls to. This can be achieved by turning the baby’s head either to the right or left and then slightly turning their hips to face in the same direction. This will help to prevent a preference for head direction and the development of tight muscles in the neck and a slightly out-of-shape flat head.
It is easier for baby to learn to go to sleep by himself at an early age if he is put down to sleep in the same place as much as possible, with maybe the afternoon nap out in his pram.
The current guidelines for the prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) suggest that a baby should sleep in his parent’s room, in his own cot or Mosest basket, for the first six months of his life. Other recommendations are to not let your baby overheat, to put him on his back to sleep in the ‘feet-to-foot’ position in the cot (this means their feet are at the end of the crib, cot or Moses basket), and not to allow any smoking nearby. If your baby is born during the winter months, your house will need to be kept at a constant temperature. This could possibly be warmer than usual.
It is essential your baby sleeps in a safe environment either in a Moses basket, cot or crib.
The following are some useful safety tips:
Make sure your baby when sleeping can never come in contact with any window blinds, mobiles or any dangling toys cords. Never leave cords of any description lying about within baby's reach.
It is dangerous to leave dummy clips attached to your babies clothes when your baby is sleeping.
Do not use a pillow and place your baby flat in the feet foot position.
Cot bumpers are not recommended for young babies as they can cause your baby to overheat and even get caught up in the ties that attach the bumper to the cot.
Always make sure the deep side of the cot is closed properly.
Never leave your baby alone in a cot with a bottle, especially under the age of six months as the baby could choke.
Make sure your baby cannot climb out of his cot, lower the mattress as your baby grows.
Never position your baby’s Moses basket or cot close to a heater.
In fact, from a safety point of view, research has shown that it is more important not where a baby sleeps, but how he sleeps. A baby should always be put on his back or side to sleep, tucked in securely in a room with a temperature of 18-20°C (66-68°F).
Many first babies spend a great deal of time in a room with the curtains drawn and no background noise. If you are having a bad day, settling your baby this way may not be a bad idea, but to have this situation every day does not help your baby to adjust to growing up in a noisy, happening world. It also means that someone will be required to stay at home to provide this type of environment continuously. Babies hear their first sounds while in the womb and familiar noises can be comforting. Put your baby to sleep during daylight hours in a room with natural light, away from direct sunlight unless it is suggested by the midwife or health visitor that he would benefit from some exposure to sunlight. This could be her suggestion if baby has signs of jaundice.
Babies are very noisy creatures, particularly at night when they are sleeping. Don’t be alarmed at the grunts, snorts, coughs, sneezes and burps. Some babies even snore.
Baby’s sleep pattern
If your newborn is put down to sleep while still awake, eventually he will learn to settle himself to sleep without any aids. This is fairly difficult to do at first, as your newborn does not learn this while in the womb. More often than not, your newborn will require some form of comforting to help him settle himself to sleep, such as rocking, patting or going for a walk in his pram. Some parents find the use of a dummy helpful, however we suggest you read the information on this topic provided on this website as often young infants become very reliant on their dummy and this can create a problem when the time comes for the removal of this aid.
Some babies settle easily to sleep while others may take a longer time and some babies can initially be very difficult to settle. Be wary of adopting rigid or dogmatic approaches whilst endeavouring to achieve a sleep routine for your newborn.
As you gain confidence with your newborn and get to know their unique characteristics, the nurturing and settling to sleep methods you have acquired will become second nature. You will become totally familiar with your infant’s sleeping habits and settling them successfully. This will become an everyday occurrence.
See topic on soothing 'Why Babies Cry' for ideas.
Key Points To Take Away
Try to establish consistency by setting up the same pre-sleeping routine
During the first 4 weeks, newborns mainly sleep and eat
See above useful list of tired signs
See above effective ways to settle your baby
If your baby sleeps on his back, try to alternate the side of the baby’s head to avoid a flat head
Try putting your baby asleep in the same place as often as possible, with maybe the afternoon nap out in his pram
It is recommended for babies to sleep on their backs or their sides, in a secure environment, with room temperature of 18-20°C
In the daytime, try to put your baby to sleep with normal light and allow natural house noise
Babies can be noisy creatures at night
Try to put your baby to sleep when they are still awake, so they eventually learn to settle themselves without aids – this may require some comforting initially
It may take time to learn how to settle your baby, you will get to know their behaviours and characteristics. Your nurturing and settling methods will become second nature