SETTLE DOWN! Our best settling techniques for babies.
Written by: Nicky Barker, Founder of Little Ones & Paediatric Sleep Specialist
Despite words like “self-settling” and “sleep training” and “bad sleep habits” being thrown around in the direction of mums, the fact of the matter is that young babies very often need help to settle to sleep. There is NOTHING WRONG with this and up until around 3 months of age the way your baby falls asleep will have little to no impact on their ability to stay asleep (as it does in older babies - at around 4 months baby sleep changes quite dramatically. See here for more info!).
But young babies can very often seem impossible to settle. You feel like you spend all day trying to get them to sleep, for them to only sleep for 30 minutes! It is hard knowing why they're resisting going to sleep - are they hungry, uncomfortable, too tired, not tired enough? You're trying to avoid overtiredness but instead end up with a baby who is fighting sleep because they're under tired (no one told you about that!). If your baby is difficult to settle, it is likely their awake times just need a bit of a tweak to ensure they're totally ready for sleep come nap/bed time. A baby who isn't really ready for sleep will never settle easily!
To help get this balance right, our Sleep Programs follow the natural rhythm of your baby's day, leading to much easier settling and better sleep as a result.
Once your baby is ready for sleep, here are some ways to help your baby settle:
How to settle a baby with Swaddling:
Using a tight swaddle for babies under 4-5 months old is a crucial element in your baby settling and sleeping well. Swaddling replicates the tight, confined feeling of being in the womb and ensures babies can’t wake themselves up with their startle reflex. It is quite common that people assume their baby doesn’t like being swaddled, but more often than not, this is simply because the swaddle isn’t tight enough, the baby is already overtired or overstimulated, or they are too hot or cold. Persevere with it! In general, babies prefer to be swaddled.
How to settle a baby with Movement:
Movement is a really effective tool, especially if your baby is overtired or unsettled. They are used to a lot of swaying and jostling in the womb, so replicating this movement is a great way to calm them down. This is why many babies find it so easy to sleep in the car or stroller. Using a rocking bassinet, baby hammock or a baby swing are effective ways to use movement to settle your baby. Likewise a baby carrier or stretchy wrap is another great option.
Using Patting/Tapping to settle a baby:
Instinctively when we are comforting a baby we pat their back or tap their bottoms. This is actually mimicking the heartbeat sensation they would have been exposed to constantly in the womb, and in fact, when baby was in the birth position (head down) mum’s heartbeat would have been able to be felt near baby’s bottom!
How to use white noise to settle a baby:
This is very important for young babies but it also definitely also helps older babies settle and sleep for longer too. White noise replicates the loud whooshing sounds babies hear in the womb, sounds that are louder than a vacuum cleaner in utero. Hearing loud white noise triggers the calming response in babies, especially if they are overtired, overstimulated or crying. White noise also disguises any noises from the household which might startle or wake a sleeping baby. When babies reach around 4 months and start waking between sleep cycles, their senses fully switch on. Having white noise playing means they are hearing the same comforting sound they heard when they fell asleep and they’ll find it easier to transition between sleep cycles.
We have an album of excellent white noise tracks available for you to download. Experts recommend playing the white noise louder than the baby’s cries (if they are crying) or as loud as a shower to encourage good sleep.
How to settle a baby with shushing:
Similar to white noise, shushing replicates the loud whooshing sounds your baby heard in utero. For shushing to be effective, we recommend placing your mouth close to baby’s ear and doing loud ssshhhh sounds, rhythmically, in their ear. This can be combined with patting for maximum effect.
We have an audio track available on our website – our Baby Sleep Shhh which is ideal for recreating the calming shush in your baby’s room. This track quickly initiates the calming reflex in babies and gives them something to focus on and drift off to sleep.
How sucking helps your baby to settle:
This includes nursing your baby and also the use of a pacifier, which can be a really effective tool to help young babies settle and sleep. The desire to suck is very strong in babies and they find sucking incredibly calming. If you’re going to use a pacifier you do need to decide whether you’re prepared to go the distance with it. This can mean a few frustrating months of having to replace the pacifier each time it falls out once your baby reaches around 3-4 months old, however from 7 or 8 months onward babies can begin to learn to replace it themselves. Alternatively you can use the pacifier for the first few months and as long as you ditch it by around 3.5 months your baby shouldn’t have developed too strong a sleep association with it. See THIS blog for tonnes of info about using a pacifier and some methods if you'd like to get rid of it!
The winning combination - our side-settling method:
The most successful settling strategy for young babies is combining the above methods. This is especially effective for an overtired, overstimulated or crying baby. We recommend this as the best way to settle your baby to sleep (prior to 4 months), as it is helping teach them that their bed is where they fall asleep - something that will be very valuable to their sleep habits in the long term.
Here is what you’d do:
- Swaddle baby tightly
- Put her in a completely dark room (babies find the dark SUPER calming and it promotes the production of melatonin - one of the hormones responsible for sleep)
- Play loud white noise, or use our Baby Sleep Shhh track
- Put baby in her bassinet and roll her onto her side, supporting her tummy with one hand
- With the other hand, rhythmically pat (quite forcefully) her bottom in an upwards motion
- At the same time, if possible, rock the bassinet in a rhythmic motion
- If you don’t have the Baby Sleep Shhh audio track, or any other white noise, you can replicate this by shhh-ing loudly in baby’s ear while doing the patting and rocking
Here is our video on how to do the side-settling technique! The noise in the video is our Baby Sleep Shhh track.
You might need to keep side-settling for a while, depending on how overtired your baby is, however if they are ready for sleep they should fall asleep quite quickly with this method. Once asleep, roll baby onto her back for safe sleeping practices.
THEN TIPTOE OUT OF THE ROOM LIKE A HIGHLY TRAINED NINJA.
Once your baby is asleep, make a beeline for the couch, have a nice cuppa and some TV time mama, you deserve it xx
To make sure your baby is ready for sleep at the perfect times, our Sleep Programs take all the guesswork out.
If you liked this blog, make sure you check out Why is my newborn NOT sleeping (and screaming instead)? And Baby Sleep Series: The first 12 weeks for more great sleep advice!
*As always we advise safe sleeping practices