Putting your baby or toddler to sleep at night can be something you dread doing all day. Here are some ways you can lessen the bedtime blues.
top tips for a successful bedtime
- The last half an hour of the day before your baby falls asleep is fundamental to giving her positive associations for sleep. A predictable and consistent bedtime routine is essential and should always include a winding down period (bath time, massage), a final feed (if appropriate) and a quiet time for cuddling and looking at books together. This will enable your baby to understand when the day is coming to an end.
- When offering the final night time feed, it is always important that your baby doesn’t associate this with falling asleep. Once the feed has finished, even if drowsy, offer a cuddle, say a few words and then place her into the cot awake. Putting your baby into her bed drowsy, but awake, is fundamental to teaching her the essential skill of ‘self-soothing’. The ultimate key to a successful sleeper is learning the skill of falling asleep on their own.
- Ensure your baby is getting enough sleep during the day. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if you cut short the day sleeps, your baby will sleep more during the night to make up for it. This usually only makes it harder, as babies who are deprived of sleep during the day become overtired and fractious, and are usually more difficult to settle at night time.
- Introduce a bedtime comfort toy to your baby from an early age. It can be a small teddy, comfort blanket or even your t-shirt that bears your special smell.
- ‘White noise’ (the term used to describe background noises such as a vacuum cleaner or washing machine turned on, rain sounds, etc) can also be helpful to help your baby settle once in her cot during the day or for the evening period. White noise sounds are also available in musical toys or CDs.
- It is quite natural for babies to stir and wake briefly during the night and it is important that they learn to return to sleep on their own. Parents who rush in the minute their baby stirs will not only disturb their baby’s natural sleep pattern, but won’t help them to learn to self-soothe either. This doesn’t mean leaving your baby to cry it out for long periods however – just wait a minute or two and see if your baby is really awake and needs you, or whether they are just transitioning between one sleep phase to another.
- If your baby does get upset (and you’ve ruled out hunger, coldness, leaky or soiled nappy, sickness, etc), pop in briefly at regular intervals offering your comforting voice and a gentle stroke, this way your baby won’t feel abandoned or insecure.
- Be aware that sometimes teething, tummy problems such as wind or constipation, baby coming down with an illness, or developmental changes such as separation anxiety can all have an effect on how easy it is to put your baby down to sleep at night. Remember that flexibility is often required to accommodate temporary issues such as these.
- Finally and most importantly, to develop confidence in going to sleep by herself, your baby needs to know that you will respond sensitively and consistently to her needs and that you will always be there if she needs you.
Annette Faamausili is a children’s sleep advisor who runs a home consultation service for parents of children with sleep problems. www.serenesleep.co.nz.