14 ways to help your baby sleep better

This simple advice can help your newborn – and you – enjoy a happier, healthier slumber, says author and parenting expert Elizabeth Pantley

 1. Get to know your new baby
Your baby will tell you what she needs – but you need to watch, listen and learn. Your newborn will communicate to you with body language and sounds: hunger, tiredness, discomfort, or a need to be held. If you understand what baby is trying to tell you, she will cry less and her sleep will improve.

2. Have realistic expectations
Newborns sleep a lot, but here’s the challenge: their 15-18 hours of daily sleep are distributed over four to seven (or more!) brief periods. These sleep periods can be as short as 20 minutes or as long as five hours. Your baby will not sleep through the night. Her naps will not adhere to any specific schedule. You cannot ‘sleep train’ a newborn  – it takes time and patience.

3. Use pink-hued white noise
The environment your baby enjoyed in the womb was filled with a constant symphony of sound, so many newborns find a totally quiet room disconcerting. Pink noise is a variant of white noise that sounds rich and monotonous – you can purchase it through machines or apps. Turn on baby’s white noise whenever she is showing signs of tiredness.

4. Learn to read baby’s sleepy signals
A very common mistake is to misread a baby’s signals and respond in the opposite way that your baby means for you to. Many people interpret a baby’s actions and sounds to mean ‘I need you to sing louder’ or ‘bounce me more’  – when what baby is desperately trying to say is, ‘I am tired, please put me to bed.’

5. Respect the span of ‘happily awake time’
Newborns can only stay happily awake for an hour or two at a time. After a month or two, some can be awake as long as three hours if they are routinely sleeping well. However, most – good sleepers and frequent-wakers alike – do best with short awake spans. An overtired baby will be fussy and find it hard to sleep, yet won’t be able to stay happily awake, either, so do not let your newborn stay awake for too long at a time.

6. Differentiate between sleeping noises and ‘awake’ noises
The majority of newborns are not quiet sleepers. Most babies groan, coo, whimper and sometimes even cry during sleep. These noises don’t always signal awakening, and they don’t always require action on your part. If you respond too quickly to every peep, you can teach your baby to wake up frequently. Be patient, pretend to be asleep (that should be easy) and respond only if she really needs to nurse.

7. Set baby’s biological clock
Human sleep is regulated by an internal body clock. Babies are born with an undeveloped biological clock that takes months to mature. During the day, be sure to provide ample feeds; make baby’s awake times interesting, but avoid over-stimulation; have a bit of outside time daily, and aim for an early bedtime aligned with baby’s signs of tiredness. At night, feed baby whenever she’s hungry and keep feedings dark, quiet and toy-free; keep the house dimly lit in the hour before bedtime and use only a nightlight for nappy changes.

8. Ensure your baby has adequate daily naps
Before birth, your baby slept 20 hours a day or more. After birth, newborns still need a lot of sleep and need to nap anywhere from five to eight hours each day. In the womb, the environment was always perfect for sleep, and suddenly, one day, everything changed. Since your baby cannot control her environment, she must rely on you to create a perfect napping situation for her when she is tired.

9. Provide motion for peaceful sleep
Prior to birth, your baby’s sleep occurred in a cosy bed of fluid that sloshed and moved with your every step. That’s why lying on a rigid crib surface can be unsettling to your baby. The next best solution is a swing, glider, hammock, rocking cradle or vibrating infant seat. They are very often a baby’s favoured location for napping over a stationary crib or bed. After the first few weeks of your baby’s life, I recommend that you intentionally balance motion naps with some stationary crib naps.

10. Help your baby make friends with the bassinet
Many babies don’t like sleeping alone in a bed, and many new parents give in to their basic instinct to hold their sleeping newborns for naps and then bed-share all night. But as difficult as it may be, I recommend that when your baby is asleep, at least once every day: put her baby down in a bassinet. If you start this from the beginning, she will learn to enjoy independent sleep.

11. Understand your baby’s sucking reflex
Babies are born with a strong sucking reflex that is probably their most important instinct. It’s also a method of relaxation. It’s likely that your baby will fall asleep after expending the energy that feeding requires, and it’s nearly impossible to prevent your baby from becoming drowsy as she sucks, particularly if you are breastfeeding. However, when a baby continues to always fall asleep this way, she comes to associate sucking with falling asleep; over time, there is a good chance she will not be able to fall asleep any other way. If you want baby to be able to fall asleep without your help a few months from now, it’s essential to sometimes let your baby suck on the nipple until she is sleepy, but not totally-limp asleep.

12. Swaddle appropriately
After nine months of a snug, body-hugging space, your newborn can find it unsettling to be put on her back on a flat surface – yet this is the safest way for your newborn to sleep. Many babies sleep better  when parents create a womb-like experience by wrapping them securely in a receiving blanket – swaddling. Your midwife can teach you how to swaddle your newborn.

13. Have a peaceful bedtime routine
Newborn babies don’t require much of a bedtime routine, but there are things you can do to help the sleep process: help baby wind down for 10-20 minutes before sleep time by turning down the TV and keeping voices hushed; bright lights are an alerting factor in the biological clock process, so dim the lights in the 15-30 minutes before bedtime; use pink or white noise to create a soothing pre-bed mood; warm touches are relaxing, so hold and rock your baby or give her a massage; your voice is your baby’s favourite sound – so read a book or sing a lullaby, and take the last feed in a specific and relaxing location.

14. Enjoy your family
Enjoy the moments and rise to the challenges. Don’t be so focused on sleep issues or any other distraction that you miss the glorious loveliness of your new baby – this time passes in a blink of an eye.

The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns by Elizabeth Pantley (£13.99, McGraw-Hill Education) is out now