Babies need consistent periods of good quality sleep in order for their brains to develop healthily from early on. Good Night Sleep Consultant Jolandi Becker discusses how to prepare an environment that is conducive to encouraging your baby to sleep well and for long enough.
When it comes to our babies’ sleep, we moms want to feel in control and to positively change our babies’ habits for their own benefit. In this instance, taking charge means proactively creating the optimal sleep environment.
When setting the stage for good sleep, there are a few fundamental environmental factors to consider:
- Safe sleeping
The first and most important thing about a good sleep environment is for it to be a safe one. The mattress should be firm and covered by a fitted sheet. You should not use pillows, blankets, sheepskins or crib bumpers anywhere in your baby’s sleep area, and always place your baby on his back to sleep. Safety is also important when you decide where your baby should sleep. The World Health Organization recommends that your baby sleeps in the same room as you (especially as a newborn), but he should not sleep in an adult bed, on a couch, or in a chair alone, with you or with anyone else. It is not a problem to feed your baby in your bed, but once you are done feeding, put your baby back in a safe, separate sleep area such as a crib, a bassinet next to your bed, or a safe co-sleeper.
- The cot or bed is for zzz
Your baby’s cot or bed is purposed for sleeping. Mobiles and toys in or attached to your baby’s cot can send the message that the cot is for playtime rather than for sleeping. Also, giving your little one a feed in their cot strengthens the sleep-feed association, so rather feed your baby in your arms while you’re in the rocking chair.
Once your baby can hold their own bottle, don’t be tempted to give it to them in their cot. Rather allow your baby to feed himself from the bottle while on a pillow on the floor, or in your arms. This also allows for some bonding and cuddle time.
A common query amongst new moms is when it’s appropriate to move a toddler from a cot to a bed. This can be influenced by many factors such as your toddler climbing out of his cot, a new baby arriving, or your toddler just being too big for the cot. Changing to a bed means that you won’t have to worry about your toddler getting hurt if he climbs out of his cot. However, it also means that he’ll be able to move about more freely at night, so you’ll need to use safety gates to keep him away from any area of your home that isn’t childproofed.
- Good quality darkness
Our sleep patterns are strongly regulated by our exposure to natural light and darkness (part of the circadian rhythm or “body clock”). When it is dark our bodies naturally produce melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate sleep as well as the metabolism and other body systems. Sunlight and artificial indoor lighting can be bright enough to prevent the release of melatonin and interrupt your baby’s ability to get good quality sleep. To prevent this from happening, take note of the following:
- Be sure to make your child’s room as dark as possible when it is time to sleep. Naps can also be taken in a dark room from eight weeks onward to assist with the production of melatonin. Black-out curtains or blinds can help extend naps and prevent early wake ups.
- A night light is only needed if your child asks for one. In this case, choose one that does not project blue light. While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light at night does so more aggressively.
- Breastfeeding moms should use a dim nightlight when feeding to help baby and herself fall asleep better after the feed. Once again rather choose a light that does not project blue light.
- Environmental noise
Just like adults, most babies sleep better when it is quiet. It’s a widespread myth that if you allow your baby to sleep anywhere, they will become toddlers who can sleep anywhere. This has a lot more to do with temperament. Just like some adults can sleep anywhere, most can’t, and so some babies can sleep anywhere, but most need peace and quiet.
White noise can be especially helpful to encourage newborn babies to sleep, as they spent nine months in an extremely noisy womb and the current silence can be very distressing for them. White noise can also help in a noisy environment for older babies to filter out dogs barking, dads getting ready for work, or older siblings running around.
- Be sure to choose white noise with continuous sound throughout the night or nap. A white noise machine with a timer can be disruptive to sleep.
- Choose a device that does not project light – as mentioned before, light inhibits the production of melatonin.
- Ideal sleeping temperature
Babies cannot regulate their body temperature as easily as adults can, so the correct temperature is even more important for babies’ sleep.
- The ideal temperature for baby’s sleep is between 19 and 21°C.
- During South African summers, try to keep a child’s room cool with air conditioning or a fan.
- A sleeping bag helps to maintain an even temperature throughout the night, and keeps your baby warm when temperatures drop in the early morning.
While these are general guidelines for setting the stage for your baby’s good night’s sleep, it’s also important to read your baby’s cues, especially if he’s not sleeping well. Make an appointment with a sleep consultant if you’re struggling with your baby’s quantity and quality of sleep.