Newborns can be a bit of a riddle when it comes to sleep – and we feel so much pressure as mums to make sure they’re getting enough. We’ve consulted some of Australia’s leading baby sleep experts to give us their top newborn sleep secrets.
It’s important to remember when you’re trying to help your newborn get into a good sleep pattern, to do what works for you and your family.
Pinky McKay – Best-Selling Author
One of Australia’s most popular baby experts, Pinky McKay is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and best-selling author of Sleeping Like a Baby and Toddler Tactics. She tells The Healthy Mummy that for at least the first three months, most babies will need some help to settle.
“Your newborn has a startle reflex and enters sleep through an active sleep stage,” Pinky explains. “The motion of a rocking chair or being ‘worn’ in a wrap or carrier as you walk will lull baby to sleep, so will gently bouncing on a fit-ball.
“It can take around 20 minutes for your baby to enter deeper sleep. So if you are cuddling or rocking your baby to sleep, wait until her arm is floppy before trying to move her into her own sleep space.”
Pinky says that falling asleep while breastfeeding is one of the easiest ways to get your baby to settle.
“Breastmilk contains a range of hormones, including oxytocin, prolactin and cholecystokinen (CCK). These hormones are released in both mother and baby during breastfeeding and have a sedating effect on both of you. Breastmilk has also been shown to supply a type of endocannabinoid – the natural neurotransmitters that marijuana stimulates.
“So when your baby falls off your breast all drowsy and relaxed, looking as though he is ‘milk drunk’ you could say he is actually ‘milk stoned’! If you are concerned about it becoming a habit, alternate feeding with other sleep cues.”
Finally, Pinky recommends white noise to help lull your baby to sleep.
“The calming, repetitive sounds of traditional lullabies recall the ‘womb music’ your baby heard before birth (your heartbeat, and fluids whooshing through the placenta). Baby music that incorporates elements such as the rhythm of the maternal heartbeat or ‘white noise’ has remarkable soothing effects, especially if played continuously through the night on a low volume.
“Of course you can sing to your baby and having a special sleepy song or perhaps a traditional lullaby that may be part of your family’s history (what did your mama sing to you?) will be a completely portable way to help your baby relax and feel secure. If you are feeling a bit anxious or stressed, it can help to hum rather than sing, as this will slow your breathing and help calm you so your baby doesn’t pick up on your anxiety about him falling asleep (or not).”
Tizzie Hall – The International Baby Whisperer
Known as ‘the international baby whisperer’, Tizzie Hall’s book Save Our Sleep has sold more than 100,000 copies. Here are her five top newborn sleep tips:
- Follow a routine from as early as possible, babies feel safe and secure if they know what and when things are going to happen.
- Always feed your baby until your baby is full, once your milk has come in never restrict the amount of time your baby drinks at the breast or if you are bottle feeding never give your baby a set amount of milk. If your baby drinks the bottle offer your baby more milk.
- Make sure you put your baby to bed when they are tired enough to sleep not catnap. Catnapping can be caused by hunger and coldness. If you put your baby to bed at the first sign of tiredness your baby might be tired enough to nap but not tired enough to sleep.
- Make sure your baby is warm enough to sleep safely and well. Too little bedding can cause an older baby to roll to the unsafe sleeping position of their tummy.
- Always put your baby to sleep where you intend for your baby to wake up. Or your baby will wake up confused and not get to the next sleep cycle.
Tara Mitchell – The Gentle Sleep Specialist
As a qualified paediatric nurse and certified sleep consultant, Tara Mitchell, The Gentle Sleep Specialist is passionate about supporting parents in teaching their children great sleep skills. She says newborns need predictability and consistency when it comes to sleep.
“Our little ones thrive off routine – it allows them to become familiar and in turn secure with their sleep experiences. Examples of consistency may include a bedtime routine, choosing a phrase for sleep, and allowing them to sleep in their sleep space as regularly as possible.”
Tara tells us that giving your newborn regular opportunities to have a peaceful sleep is really important. “They can present as wired or hyper, and commonly fight sleep. Offering babies regular opportunities to sleep is essential. For babies under three months a feed and a cuddle and at times a short play is all they will manage in their awake time.”
Tara also suggests thinking about the way you intend to settle your newborn, as that will most likely become their sleep cue.
“No matter which settling style you wish to use (whether it be patting, feeding, rocking, independent sleep or using a dummy to get your little one to sleep), be mindful that after the newborn period, the role you choose or play often becomes what they associate with sleep.”
Finally, Tara says keep bedtime positive and relaxed, while giving your baby a chance to settle peacefully.
“It doesn’t take much for your newborn to become over stimulated. Our days are often filled with activities, people and being out and about. If your baby has regular fussy periods, turns in to you often irritated or has trouble settling, it might be an idea to give your little one some more down time.”
Where Can You Get Newborn Sleep Help?
Sometimes, no matter what you do, it seems your newborn just won’t sleep.
If you are concerned that your baby isn’t sleeping – or it’s impacting on your family, there are many ways to get help in Australia. You can visit your GP, contact one of the sleep specialists we’ve spoken to for this article, or contact not-for-profit organisation Tresillian.
And if you’re confused about whether your baby is displaying tired signs or hunger cues – take a look at this visual guide.