16 Feb 2017

Parenting: How to (and how not to) get a baby to sleep

From Nine To Noon, 11:25 am on 16 February 2017

Getting a baby to sleep – and the best way to do that – can be a dilemma for parents. There’s a plethora of advice out there, but much of it conflicting.

Baby sleeping

Photo: Public domain

Baby sleep consultants (and former neonatal nurses) Elspeth Witton and Amy Sherpa recommend a responsive, instinctive approach.

They tell Kathryn Ryan baby sleep advisors who don’t have the necessary education or skills overcomplicate the situation.

New parents are often advised to either not respond, delay response or not directly respond to their babies’ communications, the pair say.

Controlled crying, not letting your baby feed themselves to sleep and putting your baby to bed awake so they’ll learn to self-settle, can create anxiety for both parents and baby.

They recommend letting your baby form its own routine – getting fed when it’s hungry and getting an opportunity to sleep when it’s tired.

Experimenting to find out your baby’s unique cues is the way to build trust, says Witton.

“When you have a new-born baby, responding to your baby’s communications as best you can as promptly as you can, letting your baby regulate its own feeding and sleeping – so not putting them on feeding or sleeping schedules and, most importantly, try to be as relaxed as you can and enjoy the time with your baby, because that’s going to help reduce anxiety.”

The only sleep schedule or routine Witton and Sherpa recommend parents get into is one led by the baby.

“When you develop a baby-led routine you’ve been working with your baby and building your two-way communication and trust – that is what’s vital and that is what’s going to help you have a contented and well-balanced baby and toddler.”

They warn against parents getting stuck in an anxious cycle of staying home trying to settle their baby.

Instead, try and stop worrying about how much sleep the baby is getting – focus on enjoying the day together, getting outside if you can and - importantly - having some social contact, they say.

“Social isolation exacerbates anxiety and stress, which has a flow-on effect to your baby.”