You can usually identify a newborn’s parent by their zombie-like appearance, wan smile, and heavy eyes. Indeed, parents of infants everywhere can attest to the simple fact that most babies are terrible at sleeping. Although there is the occasional unicorn baby who sleeps through the night from birth on, most are awake in the wee hours much more often than their parents would like.
Companies and marketers have taken notice of this problem and created a whole industry centered around claims of getting babies to sleep longer, better, and easier. Books, devices, apps—we’ve seen it all. However, the question on many (tired) parents’ minds is, “does any of this stuff really work?”
Let’s start with the basics
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends following the ABCs of safe sleeping. According to this acronym, babies should sleep alone on their back in an empty crib. This goes against our gut instinct as parents to make things cushy, warm, and cozy for our little ones. It also goes against the American instinct to purchase numerous products for our babies, when in reality, all they need is a flat, safe sleeping surface.
The thing to remember here is that the ABCs of safe sleeping don’t actually help your baby sleep better. Instead, they ensure that your baby has the safest sleeping environment possible. Getting a baby to sleep through the night, or at least in longer stretches, takes a different set of tactics, and this is where the baby-sleep industry comes into play.
What really works?
Even if you purchase all the newest contraptions, three different sound machines, multiple rocking bassinets, and a partridge in a pear tree, you may not acquire the rest for which you long. In many ways, getting your baby to sleep better requires accepting that the tiniest humans are not supposed to sleep like adults. Their sleep is supposed to be light and fitful, and they are meant to wake easily; it’s a protection mechanism. Also, all babies differ in their sleep patterns and capabilities.
Here are some tips to help your baby get the best sleep possible, even if that means you don’t get your own eight hours:
- Remember your ABCs. Practice safe sleeping recommendations meant to protect babies from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- Stick to a routine. Find what works for your family and try your best to stick with it. That means following a series of steps to prepare your baby and other children for bedtime. The more you do this, the more your baby will associate these events with sleep time.
- Stay calm. Add in time to wind down and keep the house fairly quiet as bedtime approaches. Bathing your baby, reading to them, or gently rocking them can help them relax. When your baby wakes in the night, keep the lights off if possible and maintain a calm environment so they don’t become stimulated and want to stay up.
- Make daytime playtime. Help your baby adjust to the rhythm of life by playing with them during the day and helping them stay calm and sleepy at night. Getting outdoors, opening the windows or shades in your home and allowing natural light into your space will further help them differentiate night from day.
- Wait a few minutes before getting your baby out of bed. If your baby begins to fuss in the middle of the night, wait just a few minutes to ensure that they aren’t going right back to sleep before poking your head into their room. Sometimes babies startle themselves awake, cry for a few moments and then drift back to sleep, which is a great self-comforting skill for them to develop on their own.
- Do what you can and let go of the rest. If you are feeling overwhelmed with your baby’s nocturnal habits, ask for help from your partner or a family member. If your baby really needs a sound machine, a special sleep sack, or another device meant to help babies sleep safely and securely, then go for it. Just remember that products purchased should be in addition to, not in replacement of, healthy sleep habits.
These may seem like simple recommendations, but that’s the point. Most of the time, babies will do what babies do, and parents are just along for the ride. Instead of grabbing the latest sleep machine that will probably just complicate bedtime, test out these tried-and-true techniques first. Helping your baby rely on a routine, getting them in tune with their own circadian rhythm and setting up a safe sleep environment will ensure that they remain good sleepers throughout their entire life. Now that is something parents everywhere can buy in to!
If you’re a new parent and need some extra help, we’re here to support you. That’s one way we’re making health possible for East Central Indiana and beyond. Contact us at 317-462-5544 and find your care team.