How to wrap your baby

Many newborns enjoy the security of being wrapped to sleep which also minimises them startling in sleep which can disturb them. It is important for you and your baby communicate with each to make sure baby’s tummy stays happy. Avoid tightly wrapping your baby as it restricts your baby’s arm and leg movements as well as their ability to move their hand to mouth. Instead, wrap your baby in a light muslin wrap to avoid missing any hunger cues. 

Settling your baby 

Patting or rocking your baby in their cot or crib may help them settle and drift into sleep. Some mothers will cradle or rock their baby until they are sleepy then put them into their bed using patting or rocking to complete the cycle. Many babies enjoy some background noise as life in-utero is quite noisy.

Soft music or commercial white noise soundtracks can be helpful. For the stubborn little settler, using a warm bath and gentle massage before sleep may help them relax enough to let sleep take over. It’s important to be aware of when to massage your baby, aiming for a window of opportunity when they are alert but calm, rather than exhibiting any tired signs.

Sleeping your baby

Babies, like us have sleep rhythms made up of active and quiet sleep cycles. Active sleep is a sleep phase which involves head and muscle movements, similar to rapid eye movement (REM) in adults. Quiet sleep is a sleep stage in which the muscles are relaxed. Limbs are still, and breathing is deep and regular. Babies cycle in and out of quiet sleep, and are less likely to wake during this stage.

In the early months of life, baby sleep tends to be 50 per cent active sleep and 50 per cent quiet sleep, often waking after phases of active sleep.

At around three months, the amount of active sleep decreases. Babies also begin to enter quiet sleep at the beginning of their sleep cycles. At this age, the sleep cycle for babies consists of alternating active and quiet sleep periods of 20 to 50 minutes each (compared with 90-minute sleep cycles for adults).

By six months, a baby’s sleep patterns are closer to those of a grown-up – which means less waking at night.

By eight months, 60 to 70 per cent of babies are able to self-soothe themselves back to sleep without a parent’s help. Others will continue to wake if they need help to settle back to sleep, or if their parents are continuing to feed them through the night.

Most new parents claim they've forgotten what it feels like to have an uninterrupted sleep during the first few months after birth. There are so many questions new parents have about when their babies should be sleeping, for how long and what to do if they just won’t go down! Here are some of those answers:

How much sleep does my baby need?

The amount of sleep babies require is quite individual. Like us, some require more, and others less. Most newborns will generally feed then settle to sleep for 1 to 3 hours before feeding again. This cycle continues around the clock. In older babies, it is common to have increased wakeful periods (from about 3 weeks) so that their patterns tend to be that of feed, play (up to an hour) then sleep.

How do I know if my baby is not getting enough sleep?

Most babies will naturally regulate their sleep according to their own requirements when presented the opportunity to do so. Babies have certain ‘signs’ they exhibit to let us know when they are tired. Yawning, facial grimacing, jerky limb movements, ear pulling or face rubbing and whinging or crying are some of the most common signs.

Try settling your baby when they begin demonstrating these tired signs as they will likely settle more quickly and efficiently. An ‘overtired’ baby is actually harder and takes longer to settle.

Should I try to establish a routine straight away?

Routines tend to suggest a rather black or white, inflexible approach which most newborn babies do not tend to react well to. Books that promote strict feed and sleep routines tend to have a negative impact on maternal milk supply and infant weight gains.

We prefer the term ‘patterns’ as this suggests responding to your babies natural feeding and sleeping cues however establishing recognisable patterns that let them know that they will be put down to sleep.

Should I let my baby cry themselves to sleep? How do I teach them to self-settle?

Scientific evidence has really demonstrated that this technique should not generally be used and may in fact be harmful except in rare situations under health professional supervision.

Babies can still be taught to settle without hours of crying. Decide on a settling technique that all in the family are comfortable with. Consistency is key here.

Whether you choose patting or rocking, swaddling or singing, it is important that you repeat the same method every time you settle your baby. Your baby will learn that when you use this method, that you want him to go off to sleep and the amount of time this takes will become shorter and shorter.

Should we stay really quiet while the baby is asleep so we don't disturb them?

No. Babies should learn to sleep in a normal environment. Often the babies that sleep best are in the noisiest, most hectic households. You want your baby to be able to settle in a variety of settings, including when you are out and about. Carry on as normal when at home.

How long is normal for a baby to settle?

This very much depends on the baby’s age. A newborn will typically settle for 1 to 3 hours between feeds and may even sleep up to 5 hours once in each 24 hour period. Newborn babies will also typically experience an unsettled period, once in each 24 hours which will generally last between one feed cycle and the next. This is a normal developmental stage for young babies but can be extremely challenging for parents. A bath, walk in the pram or just a cuddle may help pass through this period.

Older babies generally reduce the number of day sleeps but these sleeps then may be longer in length of time. A few start sleeping through the night between 4 to 6 months, however, many of these babies will then only have short day sleeps.

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For urgent assessment at any stage of your pregnancy, please present to your nearest emergency centre or Mater Mothers’ 24/7 Pregnancy Assessment Centre in South Brisbane.

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