Tips for getting your baby to sleep

Newborns – and their parents – often struggle to settle. Here’s how to get them into good habits.

Right from the moment they are born, getting your baby to sleep can be one of the biggest challenges a parent faces. Maternity advisor Sharlene Poole, known as New Zealand’s “Baby Whisperer”, has a tried and tested technique for settling a newborn (from birth to three weeks) that will hopefully get them into good sleeping habits. She shares her techniques in her new book, Baby Whispering.

Here’s how:

  • Try to put your swaddled baby into bed awake every now and then, allowing them to learn to settle in their own bed rather than learning only to fall asleep with you.

  • Put baby into bed, either on their back or side. (Sharlene is an advocate of putting babies to sleep on their sides, as well as their backs. She acknowledges that Plunket and the World Health Organisation recommend putting a baby to sleep on their back as the safest position, but in her experience she has found some newborns struggle to sleep this way especially if they have trouble with wind, reflux or stimulation). Tuck them in and kiss them goodnight.

  • Listen to their complaints. Is it a grizzle or a cry? Is it a consistent sound or more stop-start? At this age, only leave your baby if it is a grizzle or a small cry.

  • Enter the room, not talking, just saying “shhh”. Turn them onto their side (if not already) putting a roll or wedge in place before you start settling them.

  • Place one hand over their upper arm. Your fingers may sit over their swaddled hands if they are wriggling and squirming. Then place your other hand over their bottom area and, without taking your hand off, move their body quickly but gently in a sort of “shunting” movement. Your aim is to replicate a rocking movement, but in their bed. Start with a quick movement, like a fast heartbeat rhythm, and then slow it down to more of a jiggle or vibration. If this movement doesn’t work, try a heartbeat tap on their bottom, as the vibration and rhythm of it is reassuring. This is a fairly quick tap similar to what you would do on their back when trying to get wind up. Start with a quick heartbeat rhythm then slow down to a regular heartbeat speed as they calm.

  • Increase and decrease the speed of movement and change the type of action depending on their mood and reaction. If the baby is calm and then starts to complain, increase your speed, slowing down as they start responding to it.

  • If they do not respond within 30-60 seconds, stop for a little break, sometimes moving away from the bed for a few seconds or even leaving the room before you start your settling again. You can pick up your baby and cuddle them over your shoulder, tapping their back in case they have wind. Gently rock them from side to side and put them back down as soon as they are calm. Then try the above technique again.

  • I would settle them now until they are asleep or calm and lying peacefully. Hold your hands still for around 10 seconds before slowly removing the pressure from them one at a time – don’t suddenly remove your hands as it may startle your baby. This is when you would turn your baby onto their back, if you choose to, or ensure the roll or wedge is in place to prevent them rolling onto their tummy. Tuck them in tightly to make sure they feel secure.

  • It may take three or four attempts to finally settle them. Sometimes your baby will go quiet and even close their eyes, but when you leave the room they start grizzling again. Often this is due to them being overtired and it may take longer for them to slip into their deep sleep, which usually takes about five minutes. When your baby is asleep, wait patiently with one hand very faintly sitting on their bottom, ready to start a little jiggle if they stir. I find babies often do a little sigh or twitch just as they go into their deep sleep.

  • Leave the room and go back and check on them in another five to 10 minutes to see if they have gone to sleep or if they are just lying there calmly. If they are still awake but happy, after 10 to 15 minutes try to gently settle them again.

  • If at any stage in the process you are not having much success, rock the bassinet or use a dummy to help them calm down and/or cuddle them until they are asleep – this is a new learning process for you both.

Baby Whispering by Sharlene Poole, Penguin ($40).

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