Q&A with a Certified Postpartum and Infant Care Doula
Most parents have been there. It’s late, bedtime for the babe. As you gently lay down this bundle of joy you plead silently they stay asleep. As you move your hands away, their eyes open and the crying begins. Sighing, you begin again.
Q: Is there a better way?
A: Yes! It’s called infant sleep hygiene, and can be a game changer for some families. It allows tired parents to reclaim some much needed time, while helping baby understand when they are actually tired and need to sleep.
Q: What does Sleep Hygiene mean?
A: Sleep hygiene is how we describe the basic habits for healthy sleeping, which scientists say is essential for good health, both body and mind. For newborns, it is all about learning routine cues that help an infant’s brain prepare for sleep.
Q: I heard Sleep Training is harmful to newborns. Is this Sleep Training?
A: Many believe sleep training is the Cry It Out method (CIO). This is not that. There are many different paths to forming good sleep hygiene that can be gentle and very low stress for parents and babies alike. The routine is shaped around the needs of individual families, their values, and what is healthiest for them.
Pro Tip: During nighttime diaper changes and feedings keep the lights as low as possible, only whisper if you have to talk, and (this is the hard one) avoid eye contact. Babies minds are active when you are looking at them and they are looking at you. This is how they engage with their world. If you don’t engage them, they are less stimulated and it will be easier for them to fall back asleep.
Q: What would a good sleep hygiene bedtime routine look like?
A: Bedtime routines can be started on day one. Follow the same steps consistently in such a way that your baby grows to understand these tasks mean it’s time to sleep. Adults do this all the time. We brush our teeth, wash faces, etc.. Those cues tell our brains that it’s time to sleep. Here is a simplified outline for a possible routine:
- Evening Feeding/burping
- Diaper change and/or bath, with clean jammies (use hushed voices and low lighting if you can)
- Lights off
- Sing a song
- Lay baby down while they are drowsy, but not asleep
That last step is key. Letting a baby fall asleep while they are tired on their own is the cornerstone of infant sleep hygiene, not to mention it will save your back!
Plan B: If you’ve tried your routine a few times without success, it’s time to press the reset button. Pick your little one up and abandon the sleep routine for an hour, then start the whole thing over again. Remember, the idea is to build the association of sleep with set cues.
Q: What are your Do’s and Don’ts?
- Do make sure your bedtime routine is at least 3 steps.
- Do put baby to sleep on their back. The CDC recommends always putting baby to sleep on their back to reduce the risk of SIDS.
- Do make sure baby isn’t hungry.
- Do try a swaddle. Swaddling helps some infants feel more snug and secure.
- Do use a baby monitor, but give your baby a moment when they wake up. Babies will often settle themselves back to sleep if given the opportunity.
- Don’t put baby to bed with a cup or bottle.
- Don’t feel guilty for getting frustrated.
New parents are running on empty, and all you want to do is SLEEP. It’s easy to get frustrated, and that’s okay. Just take a deep breath and slow down. If you need a moment, lay your baby down in a safe place, walk away and count slowly to 10 (or longer, if needed) while taking slow, even breaths before going back to pick them up.
Q: Is it wrong to nurse to sleep?
A: Not at all. Every family situation is different, and every parenting style has its own needs. Putting baby to bed while still awake is simply one approach that many may find helpful in creating a bedtime routine.
Following these steps is not a guarantee for stress free bedtimes, but it is a good beginning, and will lay the foundation for healthy living from the earliest moments of your child’s life.