Pediatrician, author and parenting expert Dr Harvey Neil Karp on baby sleep.
Dr Harvey Neil Karp is a pediatrician and author of ‘The Happiest Baby on the Block’, the 2002 book on newborn sleeping and soothing techniques that has sold more than a million copies and still remains in Amazon’s top 10 best-selling parenting books. He also co-invented the SNOO Smart Sleeper with his wife Nina Montée, a robotic bassinet that lulls your baby to sleep using white noise and rocking motions. Here the parenting expert gives his advice on baby sleep.
Don’t let the phrase “sleeping like a baby” fool you. Babies sleep a lot, but it’s broken into a dozen bits and pieces scattered throughout the day and night. But, don’t lose heart! There is an absolutely miraculous solution to help babies sleep an extra hour or two…simply drive them all night long in the car! Trouble with that is the baby will sleep, but you won’t.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to imitate your baby’s beloved car ride—from the comfort of your home— to help your little bub fall asleep faster, sleep longer…and become an all-star sleeper!
After centuries of myths and confusion, it is now clear that the root of baby sleep woes is when we naively deprive babies of the calming rhythms of the womb. For three trimesters, babies live a happy life in the womb, where they are rocked with each breath mum makes, constantly shushed (with a rumbly noise—the placental blood flow) and embraced by the velvet walls of the womb. Is it any wonder that babies have a difficult time sleeping when we take all those comforting sensations away?
If I could teach all parents just one key idea about baby sleep, it should be…the 4th trimester. Parents who give their babies lots of rocking, white noise, and other womb-like sensations find that they sleep longer and better.
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So, how do you turn a Baby’s room into…a womb? Here are the top 5 soothing tips: Swaddling (snug holding), Side/stomach position, Shushing, Swinging, and Sucking . . . I call these the 5 S’s.
● Swaddling: Snug wrapping recreates the cozy embrace of the womb, decreases startling, and boosts sleep. It’s the cornerstone of calming, but needs to be stopped around 2 months when babies start to roll.
● Side/stomach position. Activate this S by holding your baby rolled to the stomach or side. This can help soothe them before placing them back in bed—on the back. Note: This is just for calming crying. The back is the only safe position for sleeping.
● Shush: In the womb, the rumble of the blood flow is louder than a Hoover! Imitate this sound with low pitch, white noise played for naps and through the night.
● Swing: Slow rocking quiets sleepy babies, but jiggles work better on squawking infants. In the womb, babies move the most when mum is working quietly or sleeping…and the little jiggles of the day have stopped.
● Suck: Give your baby a dummy! Lots of fussy babies are best able to relax when they suck on a pacifier.
Stretch baby sleep by filling their bellies.
Once you’ve mastered the 5 S’s and your baby is falling asleep, the key to fewer wakeups could be through your baby’s…tummy! For the first month, your little one will have to feed every two to three hours but by giving more daytime feeds— every hour to hour-and-a-half—many babies need fewer feeds at night.
Another helpful trick is dream feeding. Babies who hit the hay between 18:00 and 20:00 often wake out of hunger in the middle of the night. Research shows that sneaking in a dream feed between 22:00 and midnight often helps babies skip a night waking.
Build stellar sleeping habits by waking your baby.
Yes, you read that right…it’s called the wake-and-sleep approach. Here’s what you do: Turn on your white noise and top your baby off with a feeding. Then, cuddle and rock your little one, BUT after placing your lovebug in bed, jiggle them slightly awake.
Sound nuts? It actually quickly helps babies become better sleepers. When gently roused, babies are often so drowsy that they slip back into sleep in under a minute. And as a big bonus: This crazy little tip can prevent sleep problems before they develop and bring you hours of added slumber.
Above all, practice safe sleep.
Tragically, SIDS claims the lives of 230 babies a year in the UK…which is why the most important sleep advice I can give is to make sure your little one is snoozing safely: Alone—bed sharing definitely increases sleep-related deaths; on the back; and without any loose blankets or cot bumpers, which pose a suffocation risk.