How to holistically optimise your baby’s sleep
How to holistically optimise your baby’s sleep
By Kara Wilson
‘You are not ‘spoiling’ your baby by responding, you are teaching your baby to love and to love life. Trust your child, trust yourself’
- Pinky McKay - Gentle Parenting Author, Lactation Consultant
I’m sorry to break the news, mama. Babies sadly aren’t supposed to sleep a blissful twelve hours every night. Or have perfect and consistent naps.
They simply don’t have the tools to.
I mean, I have to laugh or I might cry; I can’t tell you how many times I sat down to write this — an article about baby sleep — only to be interrupted by my own baby, no matter how long he’d been asleep for!
Think about your own sleep, and how many times you wake. If you wake up because you’re hot, you remove a layer of bedding. If the cold wakes you, you cuddle up to your partner or put the heating on. If you’re feeling unwell, you might get yourself a glass of water. If you’re hungry, you can make something to eat. If you hear an unusual sound, you can turn on a light to investigate. If you can’t shut your mind off, you could put on some soothing music, or write down your (neverending!) to-do list.
I think you get the picture here. As adults, we wake for countless reasons like babies do, but the difference is that more often than not, they need our help and reassurance. And as exhausted as we all are (me included!), we might relax a little if we can accept this, and acknowledge that they rely on us for so many things both day and night.
Disrupted sleep is just life with a baby.
In saying all of that, there are quite a few gentle and intuitive ways that we can encourage a more restful night’s sleep. Anything’s worth a try, right? What we can do is look at a baby’s whole day, so here are six ways you can (hopefully) optimise your beautiful baby’s sleep:
(Please note that this list is intended for babies of all ages, but remember that newborns are supposed to wake often. Their tummies are tiny so they need frequent feeds, as well as human contact, and endless diaper changes!)
Your baby is a tiny unique person, so it’s important not to compare his or her sleep habits to another baby’s (even to your other children’s).
Closely observe your special little one and as soon as you see their tired signs, respond by preparing them for sleep. An overtired baby will often resist sleep, and wake more frequently.
And equally if your precious bundle loves long luxurious naps during the day, they might be under-tired at night.
It can be trial and error to find the right balance, especially since their sleep needs are constantly changing as they grow. Let your baby guide you, as it may be a little different each day.
Let’s keep that small tummy full, nourished, and comfortable.
If you’re breastfeeding, look at your own diet and whether certain foods seem to impact your baby’s sleep. Could stimulants like coffee and chocolate late in the day be affecting them? If you think it does and you still want to have some of these foods, you could express using a breastpump - if you want to try if that works for you, you could rent a medical grade breastpump like the Spectra S2 from another parent
If your baby has started solids, does there seem to be a pattern where they’ve eaten a certain food, and then woken more than usual? It doesn’t even have to be food intolerance, but maybe something causes them excess gas (like broccoli for my baby). If you suspect that there is any kind of link between their diet and their sleep, keep a food diary for 2-3 weeks and speak to a baby health professional.
Ensuring that they’re eating protein each lunchtime could also be beneficial. Tryptophan is found in most protein-based foods, like poultry, eggs, chickpeas, almonds, seeds, fish, and dairy products. Tryptophan is needed to make serotonin, which then makes melatonin – the hormone that controls wake and sleep cycles.
Babies of all ages need activity, whether it’s their daily recommended tummy time, playing with toys on a mat, or space to crawl and explore.
It can be easy, particularly in winter or if you have other children, to transport your baby here and there in the car or stroller, or carry them around in a baby carrier all day to get the chores done (or is that just me?). We’re all busy, and we’d like our lives to be somewhat simpler, but keeping your baby active (and therefore wearing them out) will help them settle for sleep that bit easier.
It also gives them opportunities to master exciting new skills, like laughing, grasping toys, sitting, rolling, and crawling. They’ll only want to try these new tricks out in their beds otherwise, and I’m sure you know what that’s like!
Don’t forget to get outdoors every day. Fresh air and sunlight also helps to boost that wonderful sleep hormone, melatonin.
Babies have a biological need for connection and affection. If you can carve out some quality one-on-one time each day to nurture those needs and fill up their adorable and adoring emotional cups, they’ll go to bed feeling warm, valued, secure, and loved.
This could be as simple as snuggling up on the sofa with them, singing to them, playing peekaboo, reading to them, tickling them, cuddling, and just relishing in their deliciousness. They’ll probably still seek you out for more of this special time during the night, but savour it while it lasts.
Making the bedroom or nursery into a serene sanctuary can only help to inspire lovely and longed-for rest. An idea might be to keep the color palette calm, and to remove any clutter and stimulating toys. If you want to keep them close a co-sleeper may be for you
You could play white noise to emulate the sounds of the womb, or lullabies to block out any household sounds.
If you think the room is too light during the day and is stimulating your baby at naptime, try to make the room as dark as possible (there are some great DIY techniques as well as block-out window coverings you could install).
If you use essential oils in the home, you could enquire about using some baby-safe oils that help to promote peace and sleep, like lavender and chamomile.
Even if you prefer not to stick to a schedule during the day, it’s a lovely idea to have a flexible bedtime routine to help build a strong foundation for healthy sleep habits. It doesn’t have to be extensive, but it will give your baby the necessary cues that signal to him or her that it’s time for bed.
This will look different for every family, since it has to work for you all. It could be a warm soothing bath, followed by a calming baby massage, a story or lullaby, and finally a milk feed and a cuddle. Whatever it might be, doing the same thing most nights consistently will allow your baby to predict what’s coming up next, and babies do thrive on that kind of security. You can even do a condensed version for naps.
I hope you find these six holistic sleep tips beneficial, but I also want to conclude with this: A baby’s sleep (or lack of it!) can become stressful, confusing, and overwhelming for most of us at some stage, so please share your experiences and challenges with other mums, or get professional sleep guidance. Put your needs first, sleep deprivation is debilitating. Listen to your inner voice. Trust your instincts. Respect your baby’s cues. Most of all, know that you WILL sleep again, mama.
Kara Wilson is a mama, parenting writer, and early childhood consultant. If she actually had some spare time, you would find her either cooking, reading, daydreaming about travelling, or sleeping. You can check out her other published articles at KaraWilson.com.