Soothing your baby is as much about soothing yourself as it is them. Research suggests that if you can reduce your own levels of anxiety and frustration, (even if you do have newborn-sleep-deprivation) your baby is going to benefit greatly. Therefore, the resources, concepts, activities and tools listed here are as much mum-centric as they are for your baby. Here is Music By Mood’s ultimate baby sleep guide.
Baby sleep intervention is a much discussed and controversial topic, so we have aimed to be as objective and comprehensive as possible. What you decide to ‘do’ or not do depends on your patterns, energies, work schedules, beliefs, thresholds, intolerances etc… and of course the baby’s, which can often and frustratingly can remain a mystery for too long!
Any good paediatrician or postnatal care advice about baby sleep is, usually, moderate and takes into account these differences. Some families find success at one end of the spectrum, falling into rhythms easily whilst others find themselves going against virtually all professional advice, just to get a few hours sleep. So long as you’re aware of the options, the implications and generally aim to slowly promote independent sleeping (i.e. without the need of an ‘aid’) then you will be doing more good than not.
The Main Hotpoint of Baby Sleep Training – intervention.
As with all topics, there are schools of thought that differ. In baby sleep training, parents and professionals diverge most widely over whether to intervene or to leave your baby to learn ‘self-sooth’.
- Some, like paediatrician Richard Ferber, recommend a warm, loving routine but then leaving the child alone before it is asleep, thus teaching itself to self-sooth. For some, leaving the baby to cry is just too difficult and may actually not be the right approach.
- Then there are those that advocate almost constant parental contact, ‘attachment-style-parenting’. The main exponents that spring to mind in this school are probably being Elizabeth Pantley and the Sears Family.
- And of course there are those who advocate a middle ground somewhere between them both, like Tracey Hogg and many other such writers.
With regards to babies sleeping, interventions can come in two forms; Behavioural Interventions and Medical Interventions. Although this post will only cover behavioural intervention, medical intervention is something that can be considered, with good reason, but parents must, under all circumstances, consult their doctor.
Consistent evening & bedtime routine
Regardless of whether you promote self-soothing or not, everyone can understand and see the benefits of a routine for habit forming. The unconscious mind works on cues all the time, and utilising anchors (unconscious reminders and suggestions) for you and your child to drop into a more relaxed place, will be beneficial for supporting a healthy rhythm around sleep.
However, if your baby’s natural sleep time is far from ideal, a ‘stock routine’ cannot simply be dumped on you and your child. Implementing a sleep routine takes time, and that’s where ‘faded bedtime routine’ comes in.
You start with the time your child is naturally falling to sleep, working with their existing rhythm. Next you start introducing a routine of your choice, of 20-minutes or more. Once your baby learns to associate the pleasant activities with falling asleep, you can gradually start to move the bedtime to an earlier or more suitable hour.
Circadian Cues are our biological connection with the turning of the planet & the 24-hour day. It can be viewed in plants, fungi and other animals. Babies are naturally out of rhythm with this clock when they are first born, but by exposing them to morning sunlight and the morning and involving them in the hustle and bustle of the day a little more, you can improve their association and entrainment with this natural biological rhythm.
We marvel sometimes at just how easily the little things drift off to car noise, football matches, drilling etc. It’s rather strange behaviour… Parents have used indistinct and constant noise as a sleeping tool for years, but why does it work?
Firstly, babies have two sleep states; active and quiet sleep. Active sleep is lighter, and because they spend more time there, they are more easily startled by sudden sounds. By creating a context of constant noise however, ‘noises’ become relative to the baby and they are much less likely to become startled.
Secondly, providing a strong but entirely comforting bed of noise for the baby can help because it reminds them of the womb, probably one of the most comforting places they have ever been. Check out this video if you are unsure of what we mean, (http://auditoryneuroscience.com/sites/default/files/hearingInTheWombClip.mp4)
When people say ‘white noise’, unfortunately we think of the high, sandy sound that comes from TV static. In reality, the noise that is comforting for babies is deeper, calmer and re-enforces the sound of the womb – that constantly comforting, rumbling, mumbling place of rest our lives begin in.
As well as active sleep, babies, like us have a startle reflex that is particularly strong in the early days. This means the baby can startle herself by a loud noise, a sudden movement or a sensation of falling, the baby can also startle themselves by their own cry! Therefore, swaddling or carefully and gently restricting complete freedom of movement can really help a baby that is struggling to get to sleep.
Check out this article by WhatToExpect on a host of other reflexes you may have had no idea about!
The pacifier… the ultimate tool in the parents arsenal 😉 Studies with pacifiers (or dummies) tend to show that in newborns and babies, it reduces the perception of pain and lowers heart rates (Blass and Watt 1999), (Campos 1994). However, mostly they work only when they are being suckled, often when the dummy falls out, the soothing effect can end.
However, as with all these tools, it’s about your preferences and your child’s needs.
Movement, Walking & Rocking
“And if babies instinctively demand to be walked, the mother, on the African savannah, must have been walking too.” Bruce Chatwin.
Like the noise of the womb, movement for a baby has been normal for months. Baby’s are used to the steady rhythm of walking, turning and rocking, therefore, it’s good to continue this and helps the baby rest in gentle activity. Again, this works as the context of activity stops the startle syndrome being activated as much as any loud noises or sudden movements will be treated relatively by the child’s subconscious.
However, many of us have heard stories of Mums and Dads who get themselves into a routine of having to walk 7 laps round the block every night in order to get the princess to sleep… and you just don’t really want to get yourself into that situation, do you?
My parents have told me that they used to have to sing a certain song for a ridiculous amount of time to keep me pacified in the car, and that if they stopped I would start crying. (I guess that’s an early sign of loving music?!)
Sleep sharing is key to the intervention issue & of course basically implies or is synonymous with 100% intervention. It’s a topic that won’t be covered wholly here, as it is highly personal, but the following should be considered:
- Quality time with your partner. Sleep sharing may help strengthen the bond you and your partner have, or it may hinder it. It is important to understand this and communicate with your partner about what will fit best with you all as a family.
- Quality time with the child. Sometimes parents are very busy, and depending on who’s doing most of the looking after, the other partner may need to spend time with the child at night in order to keep a healthy connection. Sleep sharing is important to consider for couples who are in this situation.
- A mixture of bed & bassinet: As with faded bedtime routines, if your’s or your child’s needs are requiring sleep sharing in the beginning, a bedside bassinet can help by allowing you and the child to slowly get used to sleeping apart, gently and effectively. Just start by going to sleep with the child in the bed with you, then during the night attempt moving her to the bassinet. If she needs to come back, let her – but after a while she should get used to sleeping separately most of the time. Over time, you may be able to move her further away from the bed, and eventually into another room if preferred.
- Safety for your child: There are factors to consider when thinking about the safety implications of sleeping with your child. For more information, click on the links below.
There is an ancient part of the limbic system which is responsible for the emotional reactions and engagement to music. When we hear music, this emotional system is activated and de-creases the arousal level. This in turn can affect the pain response levels in children.
“A lullaby establishes a soothing correlation between an infant’s physiology, its state of mind, and the outside world. As soon as a lullaby begins, a soothing sense of order infuses the infantile consciousness. The swaying rhythm is close to its own heartbeat, and the quiet melodious sounds a blessed relief from the world’s usual racket; the simple, repeating melody is also a source of comfort.”
Massage and Skin-to-skin contact
Although the scientific evidence around baby massage benefiting sleep is limited, the skin to skin benefits of massage and mother/baby contact is well documented. The cited study however showed three determining factors required in the effectiveness of this contact;
- The contact ‘source’ needs to be a relaxed individual who holds the infant comfortably yet firmly against burlesquing
- The contact needs to be for around 10 minutes at least
- The mother needed to be present during this contact In order for it to be effective
Sleep and transitional objects
When a mother leaves the child, the baby can often become upset by her disappearance. Often, the use of an object (such as soft toy or blanket) can for a time fill this absence, for the child can imbue it partially with the attributes of the mother. This item is called by some a transition object and helps the process of natural separation that needs to occur between all mothers and children.
Use of a transitional object (or plain old cuddly toy!) is very helpful in faded routines, and the transition from constant attachment style parenting to something more independent.
Ultimately, this only scratches the surface for information in this field. As we said in the beginning, it’s up to parents to find their own patters, and ways through the stormy seas of new-born nights. If your lucky, you won’t need to think about it all that much, but if you’re having a few more difficulties getting the little one to sleep – we hope our ultimate baby sleep guide has helped point the way, just that little bit more.
Share This Article!