As we all know, babies do not come with an instruction manual!!! However, if there was a one size fits all guide, the ‘ how to get my baby to sleep’ chapter would surely be the most read, dog eared, highlighted section with post it notes sticking out the side.
Sleep is so important! Science tells us this. However, knowing the importance of sleep while finding it incredibly difficult to help your baby sleep (and being sleep deprived yourself), is the exact opposite of helpful.
So what can you do to help your baby sleep (and possibly grab a few more zzz’s for yourself)? First of all, stop beating yourself up - every baby is different and can't be changed. Some babies fall asleep at the drop of a hat, and sleep all night long from very early on, while other babies seem to be able to charge on through with very little sleep through the day, and like to check regularly through the night that you're still there (and fill up their little tummies with a bit more delicious milk!).
The very best thing you can do as a parent is be gentle with yourself (don't expect too much of yourself when you're not getting enough sleep), and be gentle with your baby and realise that it is normal for babies to wake up at night and have trouble falling asleep (even if your friends baby falls asleep easily!).
We can also help to gently encourage babies to establish sleep routines to help them nap better during the day, and sleep longer through the night. Sometimes it is also a matter of waiting for a stage to pass (hello teething!), or realising that bubs is going through a developmental leap that means she is waking up all night because her little brain is processing so many new things.
Babies circadian rhythms develop between 2 to 4 months of age
Babies are not born with an internal clock. This means that they do not understand the difference between night and day and won't develop this skill until around 2 to 4 months of age. There are some things you can do to help establish these rhythms such as:
- Breastfeeding is thought to help contribute to babies telling the time. Night time breastmilk contains melatonin, the sleep hormones, and day time breastmilk contains other hormones to help baby's body start to understand the daily rhythms. It sounds crazy but its true! Breast milk changes all the time to create the perfect mix for your baby!
- Light has an impact on baby's rhythms. Limit baby's exposure to blue light in the evening and night time. Studies show that Red LED light can actually help your body relax and sleep better, but on the other hand, blue light (most artificial lights are blue light) will inhibit melatonin hormones, which are the hormones to help with sleep.
- During the day, expose baby to the normal hustle and bustle of the day as appropriate for your baby.
- Watch your baby for tired signs (looking away from you, rubbing eyes, yawning) and help her to fall asleep before she becomes overtired.
Your baby should start to fall into a regular rhythm by around 3-4 months (or as early as 2 months for some over achievers!). By watching baby's tired signs you should be able to start to establish a routine where you put baby to sleep at around the same time every day, within half an hour each day. This will obviously change as your baby grows and needs less sleep, but it is good to start to work with a rhythm for a couple of reasons:
- having the same sleep time every day helps baby predict what will happen next which is reassuring
- baby will start to get tired at the same time every day which makes it easier for them to fall asleep
- humans have always worked in rhythms and routines. It can provide security and be helpful for us as parents too.
If you're having trouble working out what a good routine is, you can try keeping a daily diary and note when he is waking, eating, engaging and playing with you, and when he seems to be getting tired - rubbing ears or eyes, looking away from you, and yawning are some of the signs. Try to keep approximately the same sleep times from day to day (although there will always be changes as baby grows and starts to drop nap times). If you can establish nap times (within half an hour) each day it helps set a rhythm that baby's body clock will fall into, making it easier to fall asleep every day.
Be open to change though, and don't get too discouraged if it doesn't work immediately. Remember that this stage will pass! Sometimes you just need to wait for baby to be ready too (not teething, no developmental leaps or growth spurts, or illnesses).
Using Red Light to Increase Sleep
Daylight is the cue for us to all be more awake. Both blue and white light found in the early morning and during the day suppress the production of melatonin which is the hormone that makes us sleepy. Taking your baby for walks and exposing them to daytime light as well as including them in daytime activities will help their bodies get used to the difference between day and night.
When night time comes, minimising bright light, particularly blue light from screens and other such sources is very beneficial. In addition, research shows that there is one light that can really help with sleep. Red LED light increases the production of melatonin in the body and helps us fall asleep and stay asleep for longer - babies included!
Our favourite diffusers are helpful to use for red light. The Aroma-Snooze Ultrasonic Diffusers offer a soft red glow that also functions as a night light to help you navigate baby feed times without having to turn on a bright or white light at night time. They have the melatonin producing red glow that can help your baby sleep.
Using Pink Noise As A Sleep Cue For Baby
Another way to help baby stay asleep is using a background noise that minimises the impact of other sudden noises. You may have heard of White Noise (humming noises that block out other sounds) to help baby sleep, but new technology favours Pink Noise to help with sleep. Pink Noise is a variant of White Noise but it has lower pitch and intensity and is more deep, rich and monotonous - like ocean waves, rainfall or rustling leaves.
Often it's not the actual noise that wakes us up, rather the sudden and contrasting nature of the noise. Pink noise is a foil for day time sounds and is also effective at night when it can seem too quiet. It also slows down and regulates brain waves allowing for a deeper, longer sleep.
Pink noise and other sound options are also a feature of the Aroma-Snooze diffuser. Volume can be adjusted for day or night use.
Cuing for Sleep with Relaxing Smells using Aromatherapy and Essential Oils
Before we start, please note that babies under 3 months should not be exposed to essential oils. At this age it is best to limit all fragrances around baby, and just help them to get to know your smell (try to use fragrance free products).
As your baby gets older though you can start with a drop of the Essential Oil and work up to your preferred amount. Essential Oils are a great addition to your household sleep routine through the use of a diffuser, massage or bath time. Here is what to look for and how to use essential oils to promote calm and help your baby to sleep.
- Essential Oils. We love blends that complimentary essential oils put together for a particular purpose such as calm or sleep. Always ensure that you use high quality essential oils. Certified organic is best!
- Diffusers. The Aroma-Snooze and Aroma-Dream diffusers have really moved on from those of the past. These electric diffusers use no heat which means that they are safe and that the integrity of the oils are maintained. Oils can change when heated so we recommend an Ultrasonic cool mist diffuser such as these. These models also have the advantage of being Air purifiers and Humidifiers.
- Massage: Essential Oils can also be used for massage. As these are very concentrated you will need to start with a drop added to 2 tablespoons of carrier oil such as fractionated coconut. As your baby gets older work up to 2-3 drops.
- Bath time: Essential Oils can also be added to the bath, however, they also need to be diluted first.
Essential Oils such as Child Calming Remedy contain Lavendar and Sweet Orange which can help to calm babies but also mums who sometimes need a little bit of help too. When mums are calm it has a positive effect on the whole family. Shop all of our Natural Sleep Remedies for Babies
Finally, remember that you are not alone!!! Babies are hard wired to keep mum close by and to feed through the night. For every person who tells you that their baby is sleeping through the night, rest assured that somewhere there is a sleep deprived mum who just didn't make it out of the house this week because she's getting less sleep than you!
You can connect with our community of Milk and Love Mums over in our Facebook group here: Milk and Love Mums
About the Author
Corryn is a lover of coffee, hugs and sunshine. Mum of 3 and founder of Milk and Love, Corryn loves chatting to new mums and pregnant mums. She has extensive breastfeeding experience, and is an advocate for gentle parenting, cosleeping and looking after Mum's mental health... read more about Corryn here