Firstly, and I want to make this SUPER CLEAR… YOU’RE NOT GOING TO CREATE BAD SLEEP HABITS BY HOLDING, ROCKING OR FEEDING YOUR NEWBORN TO SLEEP…
Should I say it a little louder for the people in the back?!
Seriously, those first 3 – 5 months is a whole lot of “just do what works!”
The MAIN goal is to just SURVIVE; accept all the help you can get, tune into yourself, trust yourself, let go of unrealistic expectations and wherever you can, keep that sense of humour rocking!
Sleep deprivation is not for the faint-hearted, but we can keep it relatively short-lived by laying some healthy sleep foundations early on.
So before we go much further, let’s look into the biology of sleep in those first few months:
During the first few weeks your newborn is likely to sleep 16+ hours due to the maternal melatonin *sleepy hormone* onboard! Maternal melatonin will wear off around 4 – 6 weeks, baby will then start creating their own around 8 weeks old.
Day/night confusion can be the first fun sleep puzzle to figure out. We recommend sleeping baby in a well-lit room (not direct sunlight) for the first 3 weeks, then transitioning to a dark sleep space.
From around 4 – 6 weeks old, your baby may begin to develop tired signs such as; yawning, becoming disinterested in the environment, less vocal, decreased activity, spilling milk, jerky movements. However, some babies are particularly tricky to read so it will also be worth watching age-appropriate awake windows!
Weeks 7 – 12 see baby’s circadian rhythm begin to develop, this is the internal biological clock which is influenced by food, light and social interactions. It is also controlled by hormones; cortisol *awake hormone* and melatonin.
Newborns are designed to wake more frequently, this actually means safer sleep for baby as well as healthy brain growth and development. It’s also important for those much-needed weight gains – feed, feeds and more feeds! Catnapping tends to peak around 7 – 12 weeks too
Newborns have NO neurological ability to self-soothe or self-settle, so it’s all on you team! You have got this!
Using age-appropriate awake times to guide sleep will help to ensure your newborn is not overtired or under-tired when being settled *please use corrected age if bub was early*. An overtired or under-tired baby is not going to have a bar of any kind of bassinet settling! Check out our awake windows below:
Right, back to the initial question – how do we help our newborn settle to sleep in their bassinet?
Make sure baby has had a nice full feed prior to sleep, depending on how long ago you fed, it may be worth offering a top up! A hungry baby will not be a happy sleeping baby.
Ensure baby is dressed appropriately, most newborns LOVE to be swaddled. You can check out my blog on “what do newborns sleep in” for more information on this!
Before getting started baby needs to be calm, healthy and thriving! You can help turn on the calming reflex by offering a dummy, shushing long and low and loud past the ear and by using motion like swinging. *I highly recommend researching Dr Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s
Remember, there is no neurological ability for baby to learn how to self-settle at this stage. The technique discussed below is gentle and responsive and will help to lay the foundations of healthy sleep early on.
Now let’s chat the SHUSH-PAT technique!
Only use this technique 2 – 3 times before using whatever method you know will get your newborn back to sleep e.g. feeding, holding, rocking, wearing, the pram.
Each time you use this technique, do so for 20 minutes; it will take 20 minutes for your newborn to fall into the deep sleep part of their cycle and stopping too soon will mean your little one wakes up and you need to start over again.
We want to avoid overstimulation and we definitely want to avoid over-tiredness. There is a balance and it will take time to figure out your newborns tolerances.
If it doesn’t work at first, try again tomorrow! Perhaps even just one nap per day. You can take this slowly – there’s no rush.
How to use Shush-Pat technique:
The best way to use this technique is in your newborns safe sleep space, but you don’t have to start here! Hold baby over the shoulder, or in the football hold or try the reverse breastfeeding holding – it might take a few tries to figure out what your baby likes best!
Firmly pat on the centre of baby’s back or bottom (again find what your baby prefers) in a rhythmic motion e.g. tick-tock-tick-tock. Avoid patting the lower back as this is where the kidneys are located which won’t feel too good!
While patting, use your shushing! Shhh shh shhh past baby’s ear. Long, low, slow and loud. We need to be louder than baby. You might vary your pitch/tone to see what baby responds best to.
When baby is calm, place into the cot (if you are holding) – go feet first to prevent the startle reflex) on to baby’s back or side and continue to do shush-pat.
If baby prefers to be on their side, hold one hand on the tummy while the other hand pats the back. If baby is on their side, ensure they are tilted more towards the tummy – this will feel more secure!
If baby prefers to be on their back, you can continue to pat their side or shoulder.
If baby gets upset, give them a few minutes of continued shush-pat before picking up and settling baby on you until very drowsy and calm and then try Step 5 or 6 again.
When baby is deeply asleep (after 20 minutes of shush-pat), very slowly in small increments, roll baby onto their back (if you are using side-settling) and slowly remove your hands.
A VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: If your newborn is experiencing any kind of discomfort e.g. allergies, colic, reflux, please talk to your medical practitioner BEFORE using any settling technique, at any age/stage! No sleep training techniques should be used for babies who are experiencing discomfort.