As your baby moves beyond being a newborn, it’s a great time to look at some behaviours that can help grow great sleep habits for the future.
These behaviours can help your baby have longer day naps and sleep for longer stretches during the night as they get older. These techniques can help avoid the need for 'sleep training' in the future, as your baby will have gently and gradually learned to self settle over time.
These techniques will gently encourage the skills necessary for your baby to consolidate their night sleep into longer, more restful stretches.
1. Fall asleep in bed rather than on you
Newborns often need a lot of patting, rocking and jiggling to get to sleep. And some will only sleep on Mum or Dad when they are little! However learning to actually fall asleep in bed is a very useful skill to teach your baby gradually over their first few months.
Its worth having this in your mind and slowly working towards falling asleep in bed. It might be a gradual process where you still pat to sleep or stroke babies forehead, but baby actually does the last part of falling asleep lying in their bed rather than on you.
2. Sleeps in bed
As above, actually having some sleeps in bed each day is a great step to consolidating sleep. Babies often sleep very well in a buggy or carrier, as the movement helps both fall asleep and stay asleep.
Our recommendation is to aim to have at least one sleep a day in bed so baby knows they can sleep without movement.
Have a think about which sleep baby settles most easily for and try this one in their bed. Often this is the first sleep in the morning, when your baby is well rested from overnight and has had a good morning feed. Babies can become gradually harder to settle through the day if they are over-tired, and those grumpy times can continue to work well in a baby carrier or a walk in the buggy.
You can also experiment with stretching out shorter sleeps by having the first sleep cycle in bed and resettling in a baby carrier or buggy.
3. Feeds after sleep rather than in order to get to sleep
A very common settling technique with babies is to either feed to sleep or to offer a ‘top-up’ right prior to a nap to help baby get drowsy. Over time this can reinforce to your baby that they can only fall asleep by being fed and can lead to more night feeds and more catnapping.
Using the feed/awake time/sleep routine can help with this, by feeding your baby when they wake and are alert and hungry.
4. Bedtime feeds & awake time
At bedtime, it can be a good idea to gradually increase the time between the end of your bedtime feed and when baby goes into to bed to sleep.
So rather than baby falling asleep on the breast or bottle, you could feed until drowsy then have a story or say your goodnights to other members of the family. Use whatever else you need to help baby fall asleep, such as head stroking or patting. Then over time you can gradually reduce that help too.
Our rule of thumb would be to gradually increase the awake time to about 10 minutes from the end of feed until baby goes into bed, so they are slowly learning to relax and fall asleep without help.
5. Not every night waking needs a feed
As your baby moves through the 3-6 months stage and beyond, not every night waking necessarily means your baby is hungry! However they will likely always be happy to take the breast or bottle, particularly if this is how you settle them for bedtime or to get back to sleep. And as parents, we are in the habit of always offering a feed first rather than looking at other options for resettling.
But there are lots of reasons babies wake in the night, including being cold, disturbed by parents making noise or startling awake between sleep cycles.
Night waking can really increase once the physiological changes happen around 4-5 months when babies start to wake fully between every sleep cycle. Over time, night waking will often increase in frequency rather than decrease and often it has nothing to do with hunger!
So it is well worth having a range of resettling options for during the night and trying some of these options before automatically offering a feed.
6. Introduce some helpful sleep associations
Babies learn over time what to associate with sleep and what they rely on to get to sleep. Newborns often learn to associate being swaddled with falling asleep, as well as techniques like feeding or rocking to sleep.
A dummy is another common sleep association.
We recommend you add in some sleep associations that don't require Mum or Dad, as over time these can help your little one to fall back to sleep without needing your help.
These can include a snuggly sleeping bag, a safe comforter such as a Cuski and continuous white noise.
Where to from here:
Browse sleeping bags
Browse Cuski Comforters
Read about Resettling Techniques
Join our Sleep Support Group.