Monday, September 10, 2012

Help Your Baby Sleep Right Now the Sensible Way

 Help Your Baby Sleep Right Now the Sensible Way

Michelle Kemp is the Author of Two Weeks to Sleep - A Sensible Guide for First Time Parents and Blogger for www.onenormalfamily.comMichelle is married to James and Mum of Max (17 months).

I believe that you must have certain foundations in place to be able to live the life you want to live. One of those foundations is a good nights sleep. We are able to survive on little sleep for a short period of time but we can’t function on this for long. After a couple of months sleep deprivation catches up with us and can cause problems such as memory and energy loss.

When a new baby joins a family everyone expects to forgo sleep for a little while. Newborn babies need to wake regularly to feed as they have very small stomachs. When a baby comes into your life you have to be realistic and live with broken sleep for a short period of time. There comes a point though when you have to claim your sleep back.  If you don’t do this you will stumble through life for the next several years in a hazy fog. It’s not just us parents who suffer due to lack of sleep. Your baby needs a certain amount to grow, develop and enjoy life. 

Below are four basic principles that will help you guide your baby into becoming a good sleeper. These four basic principles are: treat day as day and night as night, observe your baby, help your baby to self-settle and follow a routine. 
Parent and baby learning together

 Treat Day as Day and Night as Night

As soon as your baby is born you can start to show him the difference between day and night. During the day keep the house light and airy. Engage your baby and go out for walks or trips out together. During the night make sure the room he is sleeping in is dark and quiet. Use a night light when feeding your baby and keep diaper changes minimal. If you need to speak in the room he is sleeping in then do it as quietly as possible. Evening life should be able to go on in the rest of your home and your baby should be fine with a low hum of background noise. Just make sure that whoever enters the room your baby is sleeping in to tend to him at night follows the night-time guidelines.

Observe your Baby

Most parents feel pretty nervous when they bring a new baby home. You now have this small defenceless little person to look after. Her health, her happiness; well actually her everything rests in your hands. You are unsure of what to do and don’t speak her language. You have just met her and now you have to do everything for her and get it right. So of course every time she makes even the smallest sound while she sleeps you are leaning over her making sure she is ok. If she doesn’t make any noise for 5 minutes you are checking to make sure she is breathing. When she cries you quickly pick her up and try to fix whatever is wrong. It is totally natural to feel this way. We have all been there.

Now take a deep breath and stop. Next time your baby wakes up and cries stay where you are and listen. What is she trying to tell you? Is she actually communicating with you at all or is she just annoyed because she woke up and now wants to go back to sleep? Babies sleep in shorter cycles than adults. Adults go through 1 hour 30 minute cycles where as babies go through 45 minute to 1 hour cycles. These cycles increase in length from 3 months old. Our sleep cycle starts with drowsiness to light sleep. Then moves to deep sleep followed by REM (dream sleep). Once we pass through REM we move back into deep sleep, and light sleep and then we may wake. It is at this point that a baby may cry because she wants to go back to sleep but can’t.

One of the best things a parent can do for their baby is take the time to learn her language. We all have the ability to do this but we wont learn a thing if we just react without listening and thinking. By learning your baby’s language you will gain her trust. She will feel secure in knowing that you will respond to her correctly or leave her alone when she wants to be left alone.

Babies use two types of cries. One is an emotional cry and the other is a protest cry. You must respond to an emotional cry. A baby will use this if she is hungry, uncomfortable due to a wet or soiled diaper or is too cold or hot, in pain or has had a fright. An emotional cry sounds urgent, is a constant pitch and is continuous. You do not always need to respond to a protest cry. A baby usually uses this when she is fighting sleep. Babies will often protest cry for a little while when you put them down for a nap or at bedtime. They do this if they need to let off a bit steam before going to sleep. A protest cry varies in pitch and is not continuous. The gaps between crying get longer before they nod off. The thing with a protest cry that can throw you a bit is sometimes they can let out a few big loud cries. You still don’t need to respond to this if this all it is. This is actually a good thing as babies often do this right before they go to sleep. If the crying changes to emotional at anytime you need to respond.

Next time your baby cries during a nap or during the night don’t rush straight to her. Stop and listen. Is it an emotional cry or is it a protest cry? If it is an emotional cry go to her. Having a routine in place will help you work out what it is she needs as if she is due a feed soon then you know that she is most likely crying because she is hungry. If she is protest crying and she is not due to get up from her nap or its too early to start the day then give her a chance to put herself back to sleep. 

The table below shows the minimum amount of time you must let your baby protest cry for before going to her. If you go in before this time then you are possibly stopping her from going back to sleep and you are not letting her learn to self-settle. The age range 0 – 2 months has not been included in the table as it is difficult for a parent of a newborn to fully understand their baby’s cries. If your baby is below 2 months old then you should focus on learning your baby’s language. Once you are confident that you know the difference between an emotional and a protest cry then allow a couple of minutes before responding to a protest cry.

It is important to observe your baby when she is awake too. Watch for signs from your baby as to when she is getting tired. These signs can include yawning, eye rubbing, thumb or hand sucking,some babies even become over active. By observing your baby you will know when it’s time to put her down for a nap. It is harder for babies to self-settle if they are over tired.

Help your Baby to Self-Settle

Instead of using quick fix sleep aids you need to help your baby learn how to self-settle. This will involve some hard work on your part but always remember that you are providing your baby with a lifelong skill. There are some key things you must always stick to when helping your baby learn this skill. Firstly always put your baby down in her cot still awake and once you have got her bedding sorted leave the room. Stick to the minimum amount of time to let your baby protest cry outlined in the table above. Make sure you have a timer or clock handy, as it is very easy to convince to yourself that the time is up when it's not. You are timing her continuous crying so if she pauses for more than 10 seconds you need to start timing again. Don’t spend the time hovering outside the door. Use the time to do something for yourself. Just make sure you can hear your baby so you can time the protesting and so you can check to make sure the crying has not become emotional.

If your baby is still protesting after the minimum amount of time outlined in the table above. You can either leave her for a bit longer if you think she might just about be drifting off or you can go into the room she is sleeping in. When you go in do not look at her or engage her in anyway. I recommend keeping a lightweight chair in the room your baby is sleeping in or bring one in with you. You are going to need one as you are now in for the long haul. When you decide to enter the room your baby is in you must be committed to helping her self-settle.

If your baby is not able to stand then pull the chair up to her cot or crib. Do not speak to her or give her eye contact. Just gently rub or pat her tummy in a repetitive motion. The idea with this is that you are telling her that she is not coming out as it is time to sleep but you are with her. Keep rubbing her tummy until she falls asleep. Once she is asleep leave the room.

If after 20 minutes of rubbing her tummy your baby is still protesting you can either keep going or you can take a break. This break is for you rather than for your baby as you may be getting a sore arm by now or feeling frazzled. If you need a break then get her up for 10 minutes but try to keep this as quiet and calm as possible. After 10 minutes put her back into her cot and leave the room. Repeat the waiting process above and if she is still not asleep then go back in and repeat the self-settling process.

If your baby is able to rollover both ways and now prefers to sleep on her tummy then gently and repetitively rub or pat her back. Most babies are able to roll from tummy to back first. Once your baby is able to roll both ways you can leave her sleeping on her tummy as you know that she now has the strength to correct herself or that this may now be her preferred sleeping position. Our son learnt to roll the other way round first. So he would roll onto his tummy and look very pleased with himself and then cry, as he wanted to go onto his back again. He would do this during the night too and it lasted for a couple of weeks until he was able to roll both ways. We responded to this cry as an emotional cry and went straight to him and gently flipped him onto his back. He would go straight back to sleep most times but a couple of times we used the self-settling method as his crying had changed from emotional to protesting.

Babies who can stand need to be taught to self-settle differently. Once your baby is able to stand in her cot it is very important that you lower it so that she doesn’t fall out. The first part of this method is the same so put her down in her cot awake and on her back. If she stays on her back then leave the room and wait the minimum time outlined in the table above. If she stands up then gently put her back down on her back and try not to engage her. Keep doing this each time she stands up. Do it up to 12 times if she keeps standing and after the 12th time leave the room. Then wait the minimum time outlined in the table above and repeat the process if you need to. Keep doing this until she goes to sleep. The idea of this method is that you are showing her what you want her to do. If you are consistent with this method she will learn and she will put herself to sleep.

In order for babies to learn to self-settle and sleep independently they need to sleep in their own crib or cot. I do not recommend that your baby sleeps in your bed.
Make sure you burp your baby properly after each breastfeed or formula feed until she is able to do it herself. Babies who have not been burped properly can often have trouble settling to sleep, as they are uncomfortable. 

NOTE: Remember that when babies protest cry they can let out a few big loud cries. Don’t respond to this straight away, as your baby may just be about to go to sleep.

Follow a Routine

Babies thrive on routine. When a baby is established on a routine he feels secure. He knows that he will be fed regularly, and will be given opportunities to get enough sleep; there will be time for playing and exploring and time for relaxing. As your baby grows up his routine will need to adapt with him. He will be able to go longer between feeds and naps. His overall naptime needs to be slowly reduced during the day so that the length of time he sleeps at night increases. This is a bit of a balancing act, as he will need enough naps during the day to keep him refreshed so he has energy to explore and play. Enough daytime sleep also helps with night-time sleep as this means he will not be over tired when you put him to bed. Babies do not settle well when they are overtired.

You need to feed your baby enough during the day so that when he is ready to sleep through the night he can, as he doesn’t need to wake to be fed. The routines in my book provide the right number of feeds and / or solid meals a day. The amount your baby takes at each feed or solid meal will vary. Babies instinctively know how much they need to eat so let your baby guide you on this. Some days he will not want much at all and this often happens when babies are teething. If he is going through a growth spurt you will be amazed at how much he can put away. 

You need to make sure your baby has opportunities to engage in some age appropriate activities during the day and also ensure that there is some quiet time so that he can relax if he wants to. 

Max laughing with his Daddy during activity time
Please feel free to leave comments as I am more than happy to answer any questions you may have.


  1. Perfect timing! I needed this! Thanks Jess & Michelle!

  2. I need it to, will be starting tonight, will blog about the process :)

  3. Hi Nicki & Jess - How's it going with the self-settling method? Let me know if I can help with anything. I have a facebook group that you are very welcome to join.