Despite words like “self-settling” and “sleep training” and “bad sleep habits” being thrown around in the direction of mums, the fact of the matter is that young babies very often need help to settle to sleep. There is NOTHING WRONG with this and up until around 3 months of age the way your baby falls asleep will have little to no impact on their ability to stay asleep (as it does in older babies). Prior to 3 months old you are NOT going to ruin your baby’s sleep for the rest of their lives by helping them to settle.
Young babies get overtired and overstimulated very easily. We always recommend having your baby in a good Sleeping and Feeding Pattern to ensure they have the best chance to sleep at the right biological times, because a baby who isn't ready for sleep or is already overtired will be VERY hard to settle no matter what you do.
Here are some ways to assist your little one to fall asleep in the early days.
(Please bear in mind that at around 4 months babies do need to be able to self-settle in order to sleep well during day naps and through the night).
Using a tight swaddle for babies under 4-5 months old is a crucial element in your baby settling and sleeping well. Swaddling replicates the tight, confined feeling of being in the womb and ensures babies can’t wake themselves up with their startle reflex. It is quite common that people assume their baby doesn’t like being swaddled, but more often than not, this is simply because the swaddle isn’t tight enough, the baby is already overtired or overstimulated, or they are too hot or cold. Persevere with it! In general, babies prefer to be swaddled.
We recommend the following swaddles:
Movement is a really effective tool, especially if your baby is overtired or unsettled. They are used to a lot of swaying and jostling in the womb, so replicating this movement is a great way to calm them down. This is why many babies find it so easy to sleep in the car or stroller. Using a rocking bassinet, baby hammock or a baby swing are effective ways to use movement to settle your baby. Likewise a baby carrier or stretchy wrap is another great option.
Instinctively when we are comforting a baby we pat their back or tap their bottoms. This is actually mimicking the heartbeat sensation they would have been exposed to constantly in the womb, and in fact, when baby was in the birth position (head down) mum’s heartbeat would have been able to be felt near baby’s bottom!
This is very important for young babies but it also definitely also helps older babies settle and sleep for longer too. White noise replicates the loud whooshing sounds babies hear in the womb, sounds that are louder than a vacuum cleaner in utero. Hearing loud white noise triggers the calming response in babies, especially if they are overtired, overstimulated or crying. White noise also disguises any noises from the household which might startle or wake a sleeping baby. When babies reach around 4 months and start waking between sleep cycles, their senses fully switch on. Having white noise playing means they are hearing the same comforting sound they heard when they fell asleep and they’ll find it easier to transition between sleep cycles.
Similar to white noise, shushing replicates the loud whooshing sounds your baby heard in utero. For shushing to be effective, we recommend placing your mouth close to baby’s ear and doing loud ssshhhh sounds, rhythmically, in their ear. This can be combined with patting for maximum effect. Or you can use a Baby Shusher.
This includes nursing or feeding your baby and the use of a dummy, which can be a really effective tool to help young babies settle and sleep. The desire to suck is very strong in babies and they find sucking incredibly calming. If you’re going to use a dummy you do need to decide whether you’re prepared to go the distance with it. This can mean a few frustrating months of having to replace the dummy each time it falls out once your baby reaches around 3-4 months old, however from 7 or 8 months onward babies can begin to learn to replace it themselves. Alternatively you can use the dummy for the first few months and as long as you ditch it by around 3.5 months your baby shouldn’t have developed too strong a sleep association with it.
The winning combination - side-settling method:
The most successful settling strategy for young babies is combining the above methods. This is especially effective for an overtired, overstimulated or crying baby. We recommend this as the best way to settle your baby to sleep (prior to 3 months), as it is helping teach them that their bed is where they fall asleep - something that will be very valuable to their sleep habits in the long term.
Here is what you’d do:
- Swaddle baby tightly
- Put her in a completely dark room (babies find the dark SUPER calming and it promotes the production of melatonin - one of the hormones responsible for sleep)
- Play loud white noise or use a Shusher
- Put baby in her bassinet and roll her onto her side, supporting her tummy with one hand. A Snoozzz Babywrap can help with this.
- With the other hand, rhythmically pat (quite forcefully) her bottom in an upwards motion
- At the same time, if possible, rock the bassinet in a rhythmic motion
- Once asleep, roll your baby onto their back to sleep
Side Settling Video:
You might need to keep side-settling for a while, depending on how overtired your baby is, however if they are ready for sleep they should fall asleep quite quickly with this method. Once asleep, roll baby onto her back for safe sleeping practices.
THEN TIPTOE OUT OF THE ROOM LIKE A HIGHLY TRAINED NINJA.
Once your baby is asleep, make a beeline for the couch, have a nice cuppa and some TV time mama, you deserve it xx