“Sleep baby, sleep!” You may find yourself saying this twenty times a day if your baby is prone to cat napping for ten minutes here and there, or sleeping for 45 minute sleep cycles, which are now labelled as ‘normal’ but are anything but.
Biology tells us that our newborns and infants require long sleep cycles of at least a couple of hours throughout the day and night for tissue growth and repair to occur, to increase blood supply to their muscles and of course restore energy.
Deep developmental sleep also aids the release of important hormones. So what are some of the ways you can establish healthy development sleep for your baby?
4 simple ways to create healthy sleep patterns for your baby
1. Nurture baby’s digestive capabilities and capacities
Unfortunately, these days many parents find themselves with a baby that doesn’t sleep well due to the widely taught care practices that actually push a child’s digestive system beyond what it can cope with in their first year of life.
When we respectfully nurture a baby alongside their natural digestive function, they sleep more deeply and for longer periods – a blessing for all.
This involves feeding baby amounts that are in tune with the size of their stomach at each age, feeding them at intervals that work alongside their digestion, and burping them well for their age (which means not feeding them to sleep, but instead waking them to burp after each feed so the air they take in doesn’t remain trapped and travel through their intestines, causing less sleep).
You must have your child checked for tongue and/or lip tie. And I always recommend at least one visit to an osteopath to aid the relationship between the vagus nerve and the digestion, reducing stress in the body to help create developmental sleep.
2. Set up the body clock early
Parents often get told their baby will find a natural rhythm of sleep as they grow.
But this can often take months. And it means baby actually struggles to gain the sleep they require for growth and development in those early months. And parents miss the optimal time to set up healthy sleep patterns for their baby.
This makes it harder on baby and themselves in the bigger picture.
Research from Otago University shows that development sleep, like food, aids a baby’s healthy weight gain, which adds to the importance of us helping our babies set up their body clocks, or what is otherwise known as their natural circadian rhythm, from birth.
This is achieved by sleeping and waking baby in accordance with their age and stage.
This may mean having them sleep on you during sleep time, in a pram or front pack. The important thing is to nurture sleep during sleep time, thus setting up their body clock early on in life.
An example of this sleep rhythm is when you’ve been in the same job for a year or so – you find yourself waking up at the same time in the morning for ‘work’, even when on holiday! This is the natural rhythm guiding your sleep patterns.
As an aside, parents are often worried about setting up bad habits if baby sleeps on them.
This is no concern until around 3 months of age, when a baby starts to become more aware of their environment. This is when it can be helpful to start placing baby to bed semi-awake.
Before this though your baby is used to hearing your heartbeat and feeling your breath, so giving them what they have been used to in the womb for those initial months of life is highly advantageous.
3. Be responsive
The quicker you respond to your baby’s wakeful noises, grizzling and crying the easier it is to calm them down.
Being responsive keeps their parasympathetic nervous system ‘turned on,’ aiding digestive processes, which is often what wakes baby in the first place.
4. Create the right body temperature
It can be instinctive to bundle our babies up with more layers in the winter months, but this isn’t always necessary, especially in bed.
The number one rule for regulating your newborn’s temperature is to dress them, or wrap them in one more layer than you have on, while being aware of the fabric used.
It’s also good to have a room temperature of 20-22C (which is actually quite warm, and much warmer than many Kiwi homes!).
These care practices will help your baby avoid overheating, which can lead to poor sleep patterns. You can check they’re not too hot by placing a few of your fingers down the back of their neck between their clothing and skin. If they feel hot then take off a layer.
Now you’ve discovered 4 simple ways to help create healthy sleep patterns for your baby. For more expert advice check out our Babies: Sleep time section.