We know that sleep is at a premium when you’re a new parent but it’s also crucial for your baby as it’s when all the growing and developing take place inside their tiny body. We spoke to Sleep Consultant Jo Tantum who shares her tips on getting your baby to sleep more easily, and for longer.
10 best baby sleep tips
When your little one is a newborn, they don’t have a sleep routine and you and they will need to establish a sleep pattern suitable to their age and stage of development. Here’s how to get a newborn to sleep
Babies have simple needs – to be fed, warm, get enough sleep and cuddles – but they can be very demanding! Their only way of communicating is to cry, so it’s no surprise they don’t sleep for longer until they are a few weeks or even months old. We all wake during the night and the difference is that adults can settle back to sleep, while babies need to learn to do so. Be calm and patient when you are settling your baby into their crib, whether it’s for a nap or for the night. Eventually, they will get the hang of it!
- Limit the length of daytime naps
Newborns don’t understand the difference between day and night, so we need to teach them. This means that during the day there should be light, noise, chatting and the radio on. If your baby doesn’t wake naturally every three hours in the day for a feed, you may need to wake them - this encourages milk production and promotes breastfeeding. Shorter naps during the day means that your baby’s long sleep period will naturally occur during the night, and they will sleep better. By contrast, nights are calm, dark, and quiet; let your baby sleep as long as they want to, unless you have been advised otherwise by your midwife. If you are struggling at night, you might want to review your baby’s daytime sleep patterns.
Set up a routine
A baby bedtime routine is important even in the first few weeks. Start with a relaxing massage and bath (or just top and tail), swaddle and give them a feed somewhere quiet, sing some lullaby songs or play some gentle music, then settle them into their crib. Soon your baby will recognise this as a sleep cue. Later, you can introduce story time. You can also have a mini routine before naps.
Embrace the swaddle
Newborns have the ‘startle’ or Moro reflex, which means they feel as if they are falling just as they doze off, resulting in their waking themselves up. Learning to swaddle your baby can help, as the arms are held snugly by their sides, and they feel as cosy as they were in the womb. Make sure you use a stretchy, breathable material and don't have it tight around their hips.
Learn the power of the dream feed
If you put your baby to bed at 7pm, a feed just before you go to sleep yourself is a good idea. Babies can only sleep one long stretch in each 24 hours, so waking them as they go to bed, feeding and then resettling your baby means the long stretch of sleep coincides with yours.
Watch out for the four-month sleep regression
This is one of the biggest developmental changes that your baby will go through – and it feels as if your hard work getting your baby into a good routine has been wasted! It’s due to their senses becoming more acute - their eyesight and hearing are stronger, so they can’t settle to sleep as easily. Try to keep to your routine, introduce blackout curtains and white noise and don’t panic. Try not to introduce new sleep props.
Remember that babies need night feeds
Babies have tiny stomachs – so need to feed little and often in the first few weeks. As they get older, they won’t need to feed as often in the night as they’ll get most of their calories in the daytime. By the time they are six months and beginning to wean, they should only need one night feed, or they may be sleeping through.
Put your baby in the cot awake, but drowsy
Your little one needs to learn how to self-settle. In the early days, you may want to feed or cuddle your baby to sleep but as soon as you feel able to, begin to help them learn how to get back to sleep by themselves if they wake in the night. When your baby wakes for a feed, feed them, change them, and have a little play time. Then, as you notice your baby’s sleep cues, lay them gently in their crib, sleepy but still awake, in a darkened room. Talk gently to them, stroke their head and tummy, and keep everything calm. Gradually, your baby will recognise this as their signal to get some much-needed sleep.
Make noise your friend
If there are sounds in your house, you want your baby to be able to sleep through this. A white noise machine, or a fan is helpful. It mimics the sounds from the womb and masks other noises. You can find apps on your phone to play this or buy a comforter toy that has it included.
Follow the eat, wake, sleep routine
Many mums say their baby will only fall asleep at the breast or bottle. For very small babies, it’s difficult to wake them after a feed as it’s comforting for them. As they get older, try to ensure they are fed when fully awake, then have play time. They will go back to sleep without seeing feeding as a sleep prop. Remember, there are times when your baby needs more frequent feeds and cuddles – when they are ill, having a growth spurt or are teething.
Tips to get your baby to sleep in the cot
- Ensure the temperature of your baby’s room is right
- Establish a bedtime routine and stick to it
- Dress your baby in a sleeping bag or swaddle them for sleep
- Use a musical mobile or white noise machine to help settle your baby
- Ensure your baby is not hungry, cold or needs a nappy change
- Keep the room dark with blackout blinds or curtains
How much should a newborn sleep?
Your baby needs a lot of sleep in the early days. For the first few weeks, a baby will be asleep for between 16 and 18 hours in every 24, though this may be in short bursts rather than one long sleep. Babies need this much sleep because they are constantly growing and developing. Some of this can be seen, as your baby grows out of newborn, then birth to three months clothing rapidly. Other change is internal, especially in the brain, as your baby begins to make sense of the world. Remember that all babies are different, so some may sleep for longer periods than others. They need to wake frequently for feeds as their stomach is so tiny at this age.
Where to go for safer sleep advice
The Lullaby Trust (www.lullabytrust.org) offers lots of advice and simple steps for how you can sleep your baby to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. They have a helpline to call and free online resources for peace of mind.
What is a sleep consultant?
If your baby won’t sleep, you may consider using the services of a sleep consultant. Their main job is to help you understand why babies have irregular sleep patterns and help you to establish a good sleep routine with your little one. They can also help you to learn about safe sleep practices, look at the balance between day and night-time sleep, make recommendations on your bedroom or nursery to ensure it has the right temperature and ambience and advise on sleep aids and nightlights.
Meet the Expert
Sleep consultant and author of Baby Secrets, Jo Tantum trained on the paediatric ward of City Hospital and spent 10 years as a maternity nurse. She was asked to teach several sets of twins that weren’t sleeping, and her gentle sleep training took off. She launched an album ‘Sleep baby sleep’ with Classic FM in 2019 and last year welcomed her own baby into the world.