Figuring out baby’s sleep is an ongoing journey, and may be the biggest challenge mamas face - especially type As who love things planned and on schedule. Baby’s sleep is constantly changing as they go through developmental milestones, teething, illness, new sleep schedules. That said, there are some foundational practices you can put in place to set your baby up for sleep success, and smoother transitions when sleep disturbances and regressions occur.
Safe sleep guidelines
Before diving into the sleep hacks, we must emphasize the importance of following safe sleep guidelines. This means, lying baby down on their back in their crib or bassinet, without any loose bedding items (like blankets, pillows), crib bumpers or toys. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends room sharing for the first 6 months, and refraining from co-sleeping.
6 Tips to Get Your Baby to Sleep
The swaddle. Swadding gives baby the sensation of being snuggled tightly in the womb, and prevents the startle reflex that often causes them to wake themselves up mid-snooze. Tight swaddling has been proven to keep baby sleeping longer (hallelujah). Halo Sleepsack Swaddles are a top pick - they have wings that wrap around baby to keep them swaddled snugly with virtually no chance of breaking free. They’re also super easy for mom or dad because putting them on involves zero swaddling skills. Swaddling is recommended until baby is able to roll over or wriggle out, typically by the time they are 3 or 4 months old. Once it’s time to say goodbye to the swaddle, the Baby Merlin's Magic Sleepsuit or Nested Bean Zen Sack are good transition options.
Sound machine. It may seem crazy to crank a sound machine all night and during naps, but remember, this is what your baby heard while in the womb! Not only are sound machines soothing to your little one, but they block out noises that might interfere with sleep. It’s recommended The Hatch Rest is a wonderful programmable sound machine that doubles as a night light (great for toddler years). You can choose from 11 soothing sounds. The Baby Shusher is also considered a miracle when babies just won’t settle! It’s portable, so is great for car trips, strolls or other naps on-the-go. The continuous shushing sound breaks the crying spell and lulls them into a deep sleep.
Blackout curtains. Again, think about recreating the womb with a pitch black environment (even for naps!). Before going to the effort to install black out curtains, you may want to purchase these travel curtains from Amazon (a much cheaper, temporary option) to see if they help. It'll take a week to see meaningful results, since your baby's circadian rhythm, which regulates their sleep patterns, needs time to adjust. You can find a great selection of nursery-appropriate blackout curtains at West Elm, Pottery Barn and Target.
The perfect temperature. Just like adults, babies sleep best when the temperature is just right. You’ll want to find the sweet spot for your babe, typically between 68 to 72 degrees F. The trick is to feel their neck after a nap. If it’s sweaty, the temperature is too warm. If it’s cold to touch, you may want to increase the temp slightly, or bundle your baby up a little more. Preemies will likely need a warmer temperature (closer to 72 degrees F) for the first month or so, since their body temperature takes longer to self-regulate.
Age appropriate, flexible schedules. The keys to implementing a sleep schedule are to find one that's right for your baby's developmental stage, committing for a week and, ideally, implementing the same environment for each nap. A crib or bassinet is best, but if a late afternoon nap in the swing or car is what works, do what you gotta do! Try to replicate it every day for a week and then reassess. Most babies begin to more predictably adopt a schedule around 3-4 months, but from the time they are born, routine is important. For newborns, take schedules with a grain of salt. Think of them as a guide to detecting when it might be time for your baby to get some rest. Babywise offers easy to follow sleep schedule guides (they’re printable - so put them on your fridge). The book, On Becoming Baby Wise, and the Babywise Mom blog are fabulous resources when you have specific sleep questions or need quality sleep advice. Taking Cara Babies is perhaps the modern spin on Babywise, and has a strong following of (now) sleeping mamas.
Drowsy but awake. You will hear this saying over and over and over in books, blogs, and from other mamas. It can be hard to grasp at first, but it really is the key to teaching your baby how to put themselves to sleep. And once babies know how to put themselves to sleep, it means if they wake up from a nap early (or during the night), they can put themselves back to sleep almost instantly. Start by noticing your baby’s sleep cues (rubbing eyes, yawning, fussiness, becoming quiet). Then make your way to the nursery, and begin rocking, swaying, patting, massaging your baby, or singing a lullaby - whatever gets them 90% of the way to slumber. Once their eyes are just starting to close, place them gently into the crib or bassinet. It helps to already be in a dark, cool room with the sound machine playing, that way the transition to crib is as smooth as it can be. At first, your baby will likely stir and may even begin to cry. Give them a minute or two to see if they settle on their own.
Good luck mama, sending plenty of sleep dust your way.