Sleep tips for newborns and toddlers
Shut-eye doesn't have to be a thing of the past now you're a mum - we've got some tips for newborns and toddlers that actually work
It’s normal for babies to wake up several times in the night – the goal is for them to wake without distress, says Andrea Grace, an independent sleep specialist working with Johnson’s. ‘Place your baby in the cot while they’re awake,’ she says. ‘It’s alarming for your baby to wake in the night and find they’re no longer in your arms. If they cry when you do this, spend a few nights beside them, paying and reassuring them. Once they feel safe, you can begin to withdraw your presence until they can settle by themselves.’
A routine is key to any new settling technique or sleep plan. ‘If you do something different one night, your little one will expect the same thing the next night. If it doesn’t happen, they may get confused and will complain – loudly,’ says Rebecca Welton, NHS-trained child sleep practitioner and author of Baby Sleeping Trust Techniques: Alternatives to Controlled Crying (£5.49, Spottiswoode). Emma, mum to Jacob, five, Ella, two and pregnant with her third, echoes this: ‘All babies are different, and you must do what works for you, but one thing is true – for any sleep routine to stick, you must be consistent.’
The natural body clock isn’t yet developed in newborns. ‘To encourage your baby to learn night and day, use blackout blinds and curtains to block out natural light,’suggests Lucy Shrimpton, sleep consultant and author of The Sleep Nanny System (£9.99, Spiffing Covers). Need an instant fix? Go to magicblackoutblind.co.uk
Swaddling is the art of wrapping your baby from the neck down so they resemble a cute ￼￼￼￼little burrito. It recreates the feeling of being in the womb, making them secure, and can prevent newborns waking with the ‘Moro reflex’ – when they throw their arms out. Choose a soft, breathable blanket or cotton wrap, making sure it’s looser at the bottom so they can bend their legs into a frog position. Learn how at mothercare.com – search for ‘how to swaddle’. Stop swaddling before they can roll (about three months).
A bedtime story is a traditional and important part of many little ones’ pre-sleep routine, but the choice of book can make a huge difference to how well they settle. Keep the noisy, button-pressing books or stories where you use your big, exciting voice for their daytime play, and instead choose a tale that can be read in calm, hushed tones.
Babies under 12 weeks can’t stay awake very long without getting overtired. ‘They need to be down and asleep within two hours of the last time they woke,’ says Lisa Clegg, maternity nurse and author of The Blissful Baby Expert (£12.99, Vermilion).
From 18 months onwards, a toddler may only be having one nap a day. So try not to let them sleep on past 3pm otherwise the nap will impact on their night-time sleep session. If you can, avoid late-afternoon pushchair trips or car journeys, where they will inevitably fall asleep in a nanosecond.
Lara, whose son is one, says, ‘From very young, Monty’s had a comforter that smells of me.’ This can be a soft toy or small muslin (knotted in the middle for safety), that you pop down your top now and then to give it your scent. Then your baby can have it when they’re settling to sleep.