These days, the greatest challenges to enabling my children to fall asleep promptly include finishing homework and turning off the television. Yet, it was not that long ago when my three kids were too young for such concepts. Instead, they were kept awake by such intimidating problems as hunger, teething, and bad dreams. Helping an unhappy baby to fall asleep in these times is a daunting task, especially for a new parent, and usually leads to late nights and extra coffee in the morning. However, there are many simple steps a parent can follow to deal with restlessness and prevent it from becoming a regular part of baby’s life.
Here are 10 tips to help your baby sleep.
Make Sure Crib is Away from Distractions
While many parents have a separate nursery for baby, others must improvise with less than ideal spacing. When our children first came along, living in a small apartment required the crib placed inside our bedroom. Though sleeping near an infant is comforting to first-time parents, experience teaches it also demands sacrifices. Be aware of nearby distractions, including lights, television, and even a snoring mom or dad. Adjust your own routine accordingly when baby needs sleep.
Sing, Sing, Sing
I have a confession: I’m a bad singer. But it never stops me from singing to my children. Even from an early age, babies respond to their parents voices. When your child is upset, the sound of song is almost always comforting, and soothing tunes from a parent is as good as it gets. Crooning nursery rhymes is tried-and-true, but I preferred singing my babies to sleep with a short, unique song that I personalized for each of them.
Find a Comfortable Spot
Whether baby has a bedroom, or shares space with others, make sure the child sleeps in comfortable surroundings. While a quality crib mattress, soft blankets, and plush toys are critical, comfort can be derived in additional forms, including wall colors, light, furniture, decor, music, and more. Baby monitors reveal infants often wake up and, if remaining at ease in the crib, quickly fall back to sleep.
Never Too Young for Reading
Overwhelmed new parents may think reading begins with toddlers. While such an age does make children more receptive, do not wait that long to read; start reading to your kids when they are babies. It helps familiarity with the tone of your voice, learn to concentrate on a definite object, and even provides a head start on building vocabulary. An additional advantage is that it often proves relaxing and baby will fall asleep as you read.
Time Meals Carefully
Providing a well-timed meal is typically the most effective asset in getting a child to relax. Hungry infants are rarely capable of sleep, so a parent must tend to the food urge first. As parents of newborns quickly learn, babies rarely sleep more than a few hours before hunger returns. Whether breast or bottle feeding, always be prepared for a new baby to become hungry and you will see more productive rest. Furthermore, as the child rapidly matures, be aware that liquid nutrition will soon become insufficient.
Don’t Stop Rocking
From their earliest days, our children found contentment from an array of devices using gentle motion to rock a baby to sleep. In addition to our familiar rocking chair, we placed our kids in swings, rockers, and bouncers, where they often peacefully drifted to sleep. Even a baby’s car seat carrier is designed to rock when sitting loosely on the floor. Be careful though. If a child falls asleep to the feel and sound of motion, stopping it suddenly can rudely end the respite.
Blankets Make Happy Babies
No single object was more associated with our children’s early years than “blankeys.” At each of their baby showers, we were given adorable, soft blankets by wise guests. Using these items from day one, our children quickly turned a preferred blankey into the source of great comfort. For two years, these tattered pieces of fabric went everywhere and the kids would not sleep without them. Warning: make sure never to lose their blankeys and be willing to search high and low (including fast food garbage cans!) if you do.
While parents of young children inevitably become exhausted from caring for their needs, I cannot begin to count how frequently I fell asleep while otherwise raising our kids. If babies are struggling to settle down, set an example by relaxing yourself. When holding their tiny bodies in my arms in the confines of a favored chair, I often drifted away before they did. While these cat naps proved brief, they often ended with me putting a sleeping child into a crib or bassinet.
Go For A Drive
Despite potential distractions, babies frequently fall asleep in the car, just like older (non-driving) adults. We sometimes used this knowledge as an emergency plan to help an unhappy child sleep. On some nights, there is not much a parent can do to sooth a little one effectively, due to illness, teething, or an upset stomach. Make coffee and prepare to watch a midnight movie or ballgame. However, going for a late drive sometimes did the trick. As an added benefit, the sound of crying is then limited to the car, so siblings are not disturbed by the fuss.
This is my most general, but arguably most significant tip. Though schedules, work, childcare, and the busier lives of siblings present obstacles, find ways to establish routines for your baby. Just as adults are creatures of habit, so too do babies get accustomed to doing things at certain times. You definitely want bedtime (or nap-time) to become such a routine. And while timing may be the most important consideration, do not ignore the importance of familiar settings, manners, and methods to fostering peaceful sleep.
Father of three school-age children, Jeff Briscoe is an attorney and writer from Port Charlotte, Fla.