A good night’s sleep has always been the goal of any parent with a new baby. Lack of sleep not only affects mum and baby, but the wider family too. There have always been, and always will be, many opinions on the “best” way to sleep a baby.
It is little wonder new mums and grandmas are confused. Do I swaddle or don’t I? Should my baby sleep in my room or have their own room? When to move from Moses basket to cot? What about a sleeping bag? On their back or on the side? These are just some of the questions that plague us.
Let me start by saying there is NO right or wrong answer. It is important to find what works for YOU and your baby. The following may help you make your way through a minefield of decisions. This is what I do and find works for me, most of the time!
Firstly we have to consider safety, cot death regulations now recommend that babies be put down to sleep on their back, with their feet touching the base of crib. They also recommend that ALL extra bedding and toys be removed from the crib, anything that could cause the baby to become entangled and suffocate. This has helped to reduce the number of cases of cot death, a great thing. These things are important regardless of whether the baby is swaddled or in a sleeping bag.
However, some babies find it difficult to sleep this way, particularly those with reflux. In this situation, it is acceptable to put the baby on their side with a firmly rolled blanket or specially made cushion to support the back. But still with their feet touching the bottom of the cot or crib, so that they can’t wriggle down under the covers.
To swaddle or not to swaddle?
I prefer to swaddle (wrap) the baby from birth. I find this prevents the startle reflex, allowing the baby to remain calm and settled for longer. A large muslin or stretchy wrap that can be snugly wrapped around is best.
The smaller wraps tend to come undone and when the baby manages to get an arm out they can wake themselves when startled. I continue to wrap, arms down, or for some up, for the first 6-8 weeks, until the baby is able to wriggle their arms out easily. At this stage wrapping with one or both arms, out helps them to gradually move to a sleeping bag.
Sleeping bags are best introduced around the 4-month mark. By this time, hopefully, good sleeping patterns are already established, the baby is used to having movement of their arms, and they have become quite “wriggly”. By introducing them to a sleeping bag now, you can prevent them from becoming entangled in the wrap as they move around the cot.
My preference is always for pure cotton sleeping bags; they breathe with the baby and help them regulate their body temperature. While some of the synthetic types look cute and are undeniably cheaper, they can cause overheating of the baby as they are not able to get the excess heat away from their bodies.
A sleeping bag also saves them from kicking off the blankets in the middle of the night and becoming cold, a very common reason for night waking. Blankets are not recommended by cot death authorities as they may enable a baby to become entangled and suffocate.
Sleeping bags come in different Tog levels from 1.5 for the hotter months to 3.5 for very cold climates. Dress baby according to the weather, then place in sleeping bag. Sleeping bags are designed to be used by babies and toddlers up to 2 years. Nothing else should be placed in the cot with the sleeping child.
Where to sleep the baby
This is purely a personal preference. A baby will quite happily sleep in a Moses basket, a crib or a larger cot from the very beginning, in your bedroom or their own. If you can tolerate all the baby “noises” by all means have them room in for a few months. It is more about the wrapping and security than the actual bed.
The advantage of a Moses basket or crib is that they take up less space and are more easily carried for room to room.
Routine, routine, routine
By always sleeping baby in crib/cot upstairs between 7pm and 7am, we help to establish an important routine around which babies learn night from day. A regular routine is more important in establishing sleeping habits than anything else. Sleeping them downstairs or out and about during the day is fine, but nighttime routines, even before they are old enough to differentiate day from night, need to be firmly established.
With a quiet, darkened room and soft voices, babies soon learn that this means no fun, no play, and quite quickly start to sleep longer stretches. More interaction, more light and noise, more talking, means day and its fun to be awake. By lavishing attention during waking hours and restricting it during the night, babies quickly fall into a good sleeping habit that lasts a lifetime.
Whether a new mum or new grandma, giving loads of hugs and attention is important at any age, but equally important is NOT always letting baby fall asleep in your arms. Babies are very capable of putting themselves to sleep from a young age; we just have to give them to opportunity. More on how to achieve this next time.