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Helping your baby to sleep

Everyone has advice to give you on this.

 

 

Find out what sleep for babies is really all about.  

father holding sleeping baby

It seems that everyone has advice about how to get your baby to sleep and once they are asleep, how to get them to stay asleep. Many books and many sleep programs later, and parents are still wondering why their baby doesn't cooperate with the suggestions.  

Before thinking about what you can do, let’s look at what is unlikely to help. 

What doesn't help babies to sleep?

  • There is no evidence that introducing formula to your baby will make them sleep better. Evidence shows that breastfeeding mums get more sleep than those who formula-feed their young babies. 

  • Starting solids earlier than 6 months is unlikely to improve your baby’s sleep. In fact, if they are too young, their digestive system may not cope well with other foods and they may be more wakeful. 

  • Some parents try cutting short their baby’s daytime sleeps or keeping them up later at night so they are more tired. However, you may end up with an overtired, distraught baby who has an unrestful night and is cranky the next day.  

There are many common reasons why your baby may wake during the night. Knowing these may help you to take steps to manage them.  

Is there anything wrong with feeding my baby to sleep?

Many mums are advised not to feed their baby to sleep, or to stop feeding them to sleep as early as you can. However, most babies naturally feed to sleep, even older babies. There is physiological evidence that it is normal.  

When you breastfeed, a hormone called cholecystokinin (CCK) is released in your baby as they feed. This makes your baby sleepy which is why they often drift off during a feed. The levels of CCK rise to a peak at the end of a feed, then drop, then peak again 30 to 60 mins later. This later peak is thought to be caused by the breastmilk, especially the fat, in your baby’s stomach. Your baby feeds to sleep, then may wake again shortly. If you then give your baby a top-up feed, they will often drop off into a deeper sleep.  

Breastfeeding your baby to sleep gives them food, comfort and helps them relax. It doesn’t give them ‘bad habits’ and it won’t stop them being able to settle in a different way for other people.  
 

Knowing that breastfeeding helps babies go to sleep, means that it is a normal thing to do. It is certainly quick and convenient if you want your baby to go to sleep so you can eat dinner or go out! 
 

In some families, however, baby doesn’t easily feed to sleep and they need to find other ways to settle them.  

baby sleeping at breast

Other ways to get your baby to sleep 

  • The motion, warmth and comfort of your (or another adult’s) body is a common way to help babies get to sleep. 

  • Breastfeed while standing up and rocking. 

  • It may help to hold your baby until they are in a deeper sleep. When babies fall asleep, they are in what is called ‘active sleep’. Their breathing is faster and uneven and you'll still notice movements of their body or face. After about 20 minutes, they fall into a quiet, deeper sleep and are easier to transfer into their sleeping place. 

  • Many babies don’t like being put down into a cot for sleeps. You could try feeding your baby to sleep on a mattress on the floor. When baby has finished, you can easily roll away without having to move them. 

Changing the bed time routine

You may find as your baby gets older, that you can change the routine of getting them to sleep, either for naps or at night. You could change from ‘bath-breast-bed' to ‘bath-breast-book-bed'.

As your baby gets older, they may stay awake for the book. In this way, they may associate going to sleep with other parts of the bedtime routine.  

baby yawning

Helping baby stay asleep for longer

  • Sleep near your baby. It is quicker and easier to attend to your baby during the night, with minimal sleep disturbance. In fact, many babies actually sleep better if they are close to another family member. There are ways to co-sleep safely. 

  • Some babies sleep better if they are lightly wrapped. Because they are sleeping on their backs, baby’s startle reflex means they may wake themselves more easily. Being wrapped may help them feel secure and prevent this. Be careful that baby isn’t too tightly wrapped however. 

  • Use background noise eg soft music or white noise. 

  • Some mums like to give their baby a top-up breastfeed late at night when they aren’t fully awake and before they themselves go to sleep. This is often called ‘dream feeding’ and may help baby to sleep a bit longer. 

  • During the night, when you hear your baby stir, you might like to wait a bit to see if they wake fully. Some babies are able to resettle without mum’s help.  

  • Alternatively, reaching baby as soon as you can for a quick resettling feed, can help them not to wake fully. This is one way for everyone to get more sleep.  

  • Babies who ‘learn’ that their parents will respond to their needs promptly, may settle more easily as they get older.  

Your baby needs you at night 

A baby's need for closeness and physical contact is very real and important to their wellbeing. Every baby knows when their parents are close or not. 

If you aren't in the room, your baby has no way of knowing when or if you will return. They feel their most secure by being held by you, being able to see you or by being near the normal household sounds and activities.  

 

© Australian Breastfeeding Association April 2022

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