Initial Steps in Baby Sleep Routine

By Vandita Rajesh

For newborn babies the circadian rhythm has not set in, so it is not a good time to start a sleep schedule. The two-four hour sleep cycle will continue for the first month. Planning to engage family members to assist you will be very helpful. 

Rocking and Nursing

In the early days it is ok to hold, carry, rock, bounce, or nurse your baby to sleep. Babies have been in the womb where they are used to slow swaying movement in the womb. However, carrying on these sleep associations for a prolonged time creates sleep dependence on the caregiver. It is important to remember that as babies mature they outgrow it.

Feed on Demand

Feeding on demand is crucial at this stage. This is not only essential for nourishment and good weight gain but also to build trust in the caregiver. It will tell the little one that ,"I am here for you". It builds the feeling of confidence and security that are important steps to being independent.

Time to be curious

Just as the baby is curious about everything around, it is time for you to be curious about the baby. Observe the baby and understand the temperament, identify signs that indicate discomfort, hunger, and tiredness. Every cry is not associated with hunger, so take the time to understand your baby's cues. These observations are very helpful as they tell you when the baby is tired, what will be calming, and when to put him/her down for a nap.

Set the sleep environment.

  • It is helpful from the beginning to designate the place that the baby will sleep, especially for the night. This could be a small baby bed, a bassinet, a co-sleeper, or your own bed. This association with the location will be helpful when you start developing a bedtime/naptime routine.
  • The baby’s neck muscles are not developed, so sleeping on fluffy surfaces is a risk. Do not let the baby sleep on soft pillows, poorly designed carriers, and rockers. Follow safety guidelines and use mattress with a firm back without any loose pillows and heavy blankets around.
  • Using white noise or music or just saying “sshhh” is a great way to calm your little one to sleep. Babies are used to listening to deep rumbling noises in the womb so you do not have to keep the room completely quiet. The rumble you hear when dunk your head in a pool of water is similar to the sounds in the womb. The sound of the fan or air conditioning in low rumble will also work. Research shows that babies love to listen to their mothers voice which is familiar and calming. So sing your favorite song and make it into a lullaby or if you cannot sing, just read aloud your story book, or chant. It is your voice that matters not the actual song.
  • Swaddling the baby can ensure good sleep. This is an age-old method which our great grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, aunts, and smart nurses have used for a long time. Swaddling helps babies sleep longer and it maintains their core temperature without getting overheated. After birth, the sudden absence of the womb wall around is upsetting for the little one. Swaddling mimics the cozy snug feeling that the baby felt in the mother’s womb. Some people say that their baby does not like swaddling. If you use the correct swaddling methods it is unlikely that the baby will hate swaddling. The swaddle should not be too tight or loose but snugly wrapped without any binding. For more information on this click on the link on Safe Swaddling and How to Swaddle.

The first few days are to help the baby to adjust to new environment. Eventually you will be able to wean the baby off some of the habits and create better self-soothing habits that help them to sleep longer without constantly depending on you.

Feature Image credit: Felipe Salgado

The author is a public health professional with expertise in child development, epidemiology, and behavioral science.

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