As a Baby Nurse, Infant Sleep Consultant, Newborn Care Specialist and Postpartum Doula the topic of infant sleep comes up a lot. I am called in to not help only reverse sleep issues, but to establish healthy sleep habits from birth.
So, what are the most important things you can do to create a healthy sleep environment for your baby? Below are my top 5.
#1 Have a dedicated nursery for your baby and get him or her used to sleeping there from birth
Not only will it help prevent transferring problems down the road, but when taught from birth, babies learn very easily and early, that they sleep in their own room, in their own crib. Having their own dedicated sleep space also allows new parents to be respectful of their baby’s need to sleep. Newborns need a lot of sleep, and you will be asking them to sleep roughly 16-18 hours per day. I often ask my clients to consider this: How well would you sleep if you were in the living room where it is bright, with the tv on while someone was in the kitchen talking and cooking dinner? It’s too much stimulation. In the initial few weeks of life your baby may seem to sleep there just fine. But keep in mind that this ‘baby coma’ phase fades quickly. You baby will soon be much more alert and will get the most restful, consolidated sleep in his or her own crib. Not in the living room. Not in a swing. And not in your arms.
#2 Invest in some really good black out blinds and or curtains
As your baby grows during the weeks following their birth, their mental development changes rapidly. Any light that hits their eyelids not only interferes with their natural melatonin production, it becomes a huge distraction for your baby. I have seen it many times. A very tired four to six week old laying wide awake in their crib, staring at the shadows and light on the wall, unable to fall asleep. It is very hard for them to shut it down and fall asleep with these distractions.
How dark should it be? Pretty darn dark. Think walk-in closet, with no windows dark. Not as dark as it would be at night, but pretty close. Depending on the light and the way the sun hits the nursery, I have had clients use both black out blinds and room darkening curtains in tandem. A dark sleeping environment will help your baby sleep so much better. These cut to size blackout blinds are a client favorite from Home Depot. Home Depot will cut them to size for free for you. Just make sure to have them cut to their minimum requirement for space clearance on each side so there isn’t a big gap of light shining through (less than a ¼” total between both sides if possible). These paper black out blinds are a cheaper, less permanent option from Amazon that you cut to size yourself.
#3 Use a white noise machine for all naps and bedtime
Parents are becoming more and more aware that white noise truly does help most babies sleep better. This is for a few reasons:
- White noise mimics the sounds heard in the womb.
- White noise helps to drown out, but not completely eliminate any external noises in the home such as older siblings, dogs barking, lawn mowers running, someone putting away dishes etc.
- White noise helps babies, children and adults get deeper sleep with more consolidated REM cycles.
When selecting a white noise machine, make sure it contains constant sounds like what a fan or airplane would make. Ocean waves, birds chirping or classical music aren’t favorable because of their changing pitch. This change of pitch can cause some people and babies to sub-consciously focus on that, interfering with their ability to fall and stay asleep.
This is my favorite white noise machine. I like the lowest sounding fan setting. Available in white or black.
#4 Keep the decor in the nursery minimal
It is my opinion that in the first few years of life your baby’s nursery should be established primarily as their sleep environment. It should be warm, practical and inviting. You want your baby to know that this is where they go to sleep and it should be set up in a way that allows for peaceful sleep. It should also be functional.
Here are a few tips:
- Keep the colors neutral
- Don’t add too many knick knacks
- Keep any pictures minimal and make sure they are hung securely. Above the crib is not the best place for pictures as they could fall off and onto your baby.
- No mobile above the crib
- Toys should be reserved for playtime and kept in another area of the home.
- Watch out for brightly colored items such as quilts
#5 Swaddle your baby for naps and at bedtime
This last tip isn’t part of creating a suitable sleep environment, but I wanted to mention it, because it is crucial if you want your baby to follow the ABC’s of safe sleep. Alone, on their Back and in a Crib. Swaddling is important, because, until roughly 4 months old, babies have a primitive reflex know as the Moro Reflex (startle reflex). The startle reflex is activated when you place your baby on their back. If left un-swaddled your baby will continually ‘startle’ himself, preventing him from sleeping. Newborns also don’t have the ability to control their arms for the first several months of life. If left un-swaddled, the moro reflex and their inability to control their limbs will cause your baby to flail around, continually moving their arms and legs. This is very upsetting to their nervous system. A baby in this state can be extremely difficult to calm down.
It is important when swaddling to do it correctly and to stop swaddling when your baby shows signs of rolling. Below are a few of my favorite all in one swaddles:
There you have it! From your Boise Baby Nurse, the top 5 things you can do to create the perfect sleeping environment for you baby.
The content contained in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice or to replace the advice of any medical professional. It is based on our opinions and experience working with newborns and their families. Other’s opinions may vary. It does not represent the views of any affiliated organizations. The reader understands that term “Babynurse” is often a word used to describe a newborn caregiver. However, unless otherwise disclosed, we are not licensed nurses in any state. By reading and/or utilizing any information or suggestions contained in this blog, the reader acknowledges that we are not medical professionals and agrees to and waives any claim, known or unknown, past, present or future.
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