This post describes the tried and tested tricks that parents use to help baby drop off to sleep. Some can be incorporated into your nightly pre-bed ritual but some should be kept for emergencies. Experiment and see which work for you.
• Nursing. During the fist year it’s very normal and developmentally appropriate for babies to be nursed to sleep. Breast feed or bottle feed her until she drifts off naturally.
• Swaddling. This is a traditional technique for making a baby feel secure. To swaddle your baby, spread a cotton cot sheet out flat, with one corner folded over a little. Lay your baby face up on the sheet with her neck resting against the fold. Wrap the left corner of the sheet over her body and tuck it beneath her. Bring the bottom corner over her feet, and then wrap the right corner around her, leaving only her head and neck exposed. Don’t cover your baby’s face with the sheet, since that could cause her to overheat or suffocate. Beware of overheating your baby; the aim is to make her feel secure rather than to keep her warm. Avoid using a blanket for this and make sure you don’t wrap your baby too tightly, or his circulation could be impaired.
Swaddling creates a slight pressure around your baby’s body that gives most newborns a sense of security because it mirrors the pressure they would have felt in the uterus. For some babies it becomes the trigger for sleep, but it can irritate others. You should stop swaddling your baby once she is about a month old because after that it can interfere with mobility and development. When your baby begins to kick off the covers, it’s a sign she no longer appreciates being bundled snugly (Bates et.al.. 2007).
• Try a dummy. This is a great comforter to baby and she will often be able to fall asleep more quickly with one. It has been shown to be completely safe and there is evidence to suggest it even lowers the risk of SIDS. The obvious disadvantage is that if the dummy falls out of baby’s mouth, you will be woken each and every time to retrieve it!
• Fathering down. Just before placing the baby into bed, the father should cradle the baby in such a way that the baby’s head rests on the father’s neck. The father should then talk gently to the child. Because the male’s voice is much deeper than the female’s, babies are often more soothed by it, and will fall asleep more easily after being exposed to it for some time. Once baby is asleep, ease the sleeping baby into his bed and sneak away. Obviously, if dad is not around to perform this technique regularly, move on to the next one (technique I mean!)
• Rocking or walking down. Try rocking baby to sleep in a bedside rocking chair, or walk with baby, patting her back with a lullaby playing.
• Wearing down. Works well if you have an active child that has trouble winding down at night. Place your baby in a baby sling and wear her around the house for a half-hour or so before the designated bedtime. When she reaches the deep stage of sleep, ease her out of the sling and onto her bed.
• Last resort:Place your baby in a car seat and drive around the block until she falls asleep. This has a high success rate but its impracticality means that it should be saved for the times when you’re getting desperate and really need some sleep. If baby is in a deep sleep when you return home, you may safely ease her out of the car seat and onto her bed (Lavin, Glaser 2007).
Remember, babies will associate falling asleep with the sights, sounds and experiences of the pre-bed routine. Routine is the key to a consistent sleeping pattern and it’s obviously impractical to employ all of the above techniques every night. Therefore, start with some of these more active techniques (if needed) and then slowly ease baby out of them and develop a consistent and practical pre-bed ritual.