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Sleep | Tips

Tips: To Help Sleep

This article discusses the following topics to help your baby sleep:

Baby Sleeping

Parenting
"Attachment Parenting" during the day and "Nighttime Parenting" will help your baby sleep better. According to Sears, “[t]he more attached you are to your baby during the day and the more the baby is held and calmed during the day, the more likely this peacefulness is to carry through into the night.”  Even if you are not the child’s main caregiver during the day, you are still able to help the baby have a peaceful day by making sure your baby is in a loving environment. One way to promote attachment with your baby is to wear your baby during the day or if possible have your baby's caregiver wear her. The attachment comes from being with your baby, listening to your baby, and interacting with your baby. Remember that your baby cries as a way to communicate with you. Some babies may wake up in the middle of the night because they miss you and this may occur even if they did spend the entire day with you.

In addition to promoting attachment parenting during the day, you will want to be ready to do nighttime parenting as well. I feel one of the most important parts of nighttime parenting is to create a secure environment for your baby. Sleeping, like eating, is not a state you can force a baby into" (Sears, "31 Ways"). As discussed by Sears, you may not be able to "force" your baby to sleep but you can create a secure environment "that allows sleep to overtake your baby." You want to remember the "realistic long-term goal is to help your baby develop a healthy attitude about sleep:  that sleep is a pleasant state to enter and a secure state to remain in" (Sears, “31 Ways”).

As discussed in the "Nighttime Parenting" article, you will need to decide what soothing methods you prefer. We did a combination of parent-soothing and self-soothing. Most of the time, we started out with the parent-soothing method and eventually my baby learned how to do the self-soothing methods even though we never did the cry it out approach. The sensible sleep method worked well for our family.
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Routine
Most of the research I read discussed the importance of a daily and nighttime routine to help the baby sleep well at night. According to Sears, if your baby has a consistent nap routine then she may be "more likely to sleep longer stretches at night” ("31 Ways").  In addition to a daily routine, a nightly routine really worked well for us. Secrets of Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg , Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Children by Marc Weissbluth, M.D., The Baby Book by William Sears, M.D., and Martha Sears, R.N., or Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care by Benjamin Spock, M.D. all were books that promoted some sort of bedtime routine. 

In general we tried to help our son wind down before bed by doing a bath each night. He really enjoyed bath time from the very beginning, the first week home from the hospital. (Our son's umbilical cord fell off in the hospital so we didn't have to worry about getting it wet.) Some babies like a massage after their bath, this is something our son didn't really like so we usually moved to story time (we probably didn't really read books consistently until around 6 months old) and then we would do a last feeding for the night while playing soft music and rock our son in our comfort chair. The last step would be to swaddle our son and put him to sleep in his crib. The "Nightime Routine" article is coming soon.
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Well Fed
Making sure your baby is well fed generally will help her sleep better at night. Obviously if your baby receives adequate nutrition during the day she won't need to wake as much at nighttime to eat. You need her to realize the "daytime is for eating and the nighttime is mostly for sleeping" (Sears, "31 Ways"). I think the fact my son ate so well for the first several months helped him sleep well at night and vice versa. When my son didn't eat as well during the day (due to his reflux) starting when he was around 6 months, I believe this fact did contribute to his increased nightwakings from 6 months to 10 1/2 months.
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Well Rested
Does your child sleep better when he's well rested or overtired? It depends on who you ask and it probably depends on the child's temperament. Most people our son's grandparents age always say, make sure you tire him out, he'll sleep better. Based on the books I read before our son was born, most promoted putting the baby to sleep before she gets overtired. In our experience our baby always slept best when he was well rested.

Going along with the well rested routine we found the earlier our son went to bed the better he slept.  Generally, the nights he did go to bed late due to an event, he still woke up the same time the next morning thus decreasing his total sleep time. Our friend's baby on the other hand, would sleep 12 hours no matter what time she went to bed. If your baby does this and it works better in your schedule to put your baby to bed later, then a later bedtime may work for you.

Overall, the nights our son went to bed late or was exhausted it would take twice as long to settle him down and usually it required more parenting by us to get him to sleep rather than him peacefully falling asleep on his own. On the other hand, if your baby is well rested and no other techniques are working then maybe your baby is sleeping too much during the day and maybe keeping the baby up longer would help.
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"Dress for the Occasion"
According to Sears, you will want to make sure you "dress [your baby] for the occasion" ("31 Ways"). You may want to dress your baby in 100% cotton pajamas. “Allergy-prone babies sleep better in 100 percent cotton sleepwear” (Sears, "31 Ways").

In addition, my son loved being swaddled. The first couple months the best thing to soothe my baby was to swaddle him. We primarily swaddled him only at nap time or bedtime which also helped with his routine of getting ready for sleep. It was amazing to watch him immediately become calm and content as we started to swaddle him. Any blanket can be used to swaddle a baby.  We asked the nurses at the hospital and they showed us how to swaddle our baby with a standard receiving blanket.  Once you learn how to do it, it is very simple. Our favorite swaddling blanket was the miracle blanket. Please refer to the "Swaddle" section of the "Soothing Techniques" article for more information on swaddling.

When our son was older and no longer being swaddled, in the colder months we dressed our son in multiple pajamas, cotton on inside and fleece on outside since he was still too little to use a blanket for warmth. Even in summer months we sometimes had our son wear two pairs of cotton pajamas. We simply considered how we would sleep, if we would use a cover at night then that usually meant two layers for our son since he didn't have the option to use a cover at night.
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Soothing Sounds
You will probably find a sound that will help calm your baby to get her ready for sleep. Whether it is you talking or singing to your baby, the sound of the vacuum cleaner, static on the radio, heartbeat or womb sounds or a traditional lullaby. Also, saying, "Shhh" fairly loud, not a soft "Shhh" but as loud as you can do it really calmed our baby. At first my mom was confused as to why I was saying "Shhh" so loudly to our baby rather than whispering it but it seemed I needed to meet the level of our son's cry, if he was crying loudly then I needed to make the "Shhh" sound as loud as his cry and generally it would calm him down.

My son loved when I would sing to him even though I am completely tune deaf. My son is probably the only person in the world that would want to hear me sing. Before bedtime or nap time we would generally play lullabies or baby classical music. I love the music by The O'Neill Brothers. If my son was really upset we played heartbeat sounds, womb sounds, ocean waves, or other similar sounds and they usually worked to calm him fairly quickly and get him ready for sleep.
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Environment
In addition to creating a secure environment for your baby to sleep in you'll want to make sure it is a comfortable place as well. Our son did very well sleeping in his crib. As a newborn we followed the techniques shown at the hospital and in addition to swaddling our son we used tightly rolled up receiving blankets to place on either side of our son to make him feel more secure. You need to be careful to have any additional blankets in the crib to prevent the baby from suffocating. You can buy sleep positioners at stores like BabiesRUs to help keep your baby in a safe sleep position.

In the colder months we would use the soft, fleece sheets as they didn't feel as cold as the cotton sheets and so when we laid our son in his crib it was an easier transition from our warm arms. Then once our son was older and would walk around in his crib before plopping down to sleep we bought a crib bumper. We initially hadn’t bought the crib bumper as some say they are not safe and the baby could suffocate but at the time when our son was freely moving around we felt it was safe to use one.  Before we got the crib bumper when our son would walk around his crib he would end up falling in his crib and hit his head on the rails which obviously was not promoting sleep. Once we got the crib bumper he seemed to usually have a much softer landing and he would fall back to sleep without getting distressed.

We also bought a heater (one that would shut off if it was touched and the outside didn’t get hot) for our son's bedroom. The heater we bought was nice as you could set a temperature and it would run until the room met that temperature rather than running constantly. It was fairly loud although it didn't seem to bother our son as it cycled on and off in the middle of the night and this heater was a life saver in the colder months.
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Other
Remember as discussed in the "About Sleep" article your baby's temperament will affect how well your baby will sleep and you cannot force your baby to sleep. Please refer to the "Nighttime Parenting" article for more information acout parenting to help your baby sleep. The tips in the "Soothing Techniques" article which discusses parent soothing techniques and also self soothing techniques to use with your baby such as “Shhh”, singing, swaddling, sucking props, different baby holds, wearing, rocking, walking, driving, or the use of a baby swing may help your baby enter a comfortable sleep environment.

Your baby may go to sleep fine but then wake up frequently in the middle of the night. There are many reasons the baby may be waking up. Some medical or physical causes could be Gastroesphageal reflux (“GER”) or acid reflux, allergies, teething, cold, fever, ear infection, too hot or cold, or pinworms. Some other causes could be developmental, separation anxiety, emotional, or the baby’s temperament (Sears, Baby 325-329). The article that provides more information on nightwaking is coming soon. In addition, the article to help you get your baby back to sleep after she wakes is coming soon.

Also, please refer to the "Sleep Amount" article for more information on the average amount most babies sleep.
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Works Cited
Sears, William M.D., Martha Sears, R.N., James Sears, M.D., and Robert Sears, M.D. "31 Ways to Get
Your Baby to Go to Sleep and Stay Asleep Easier." AskDrSears.com. 26 Jan 2010
<http://www.askdrsears.com/html/7/T070300.asp>.

Sears, William M.D., Martha Sears, R.N., Robert Sears, M.D. and James Sears, M.D. The Baby Book:
Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby - From Birth to Age Two
. New York: Little, 2003.

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Last updated: October 2010