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The Baby Whisperer: Sleep issues - 11 May

Is there a right or wrong way to settle your baby?

Sleep is the most important part of the day for most parents and babies. Without it we can struggle to cope!

Often I get asked, "What is the correct way to settle a baby to sleep?  Is it ok to do this and is it ok to do that?" There is no right or wrong, in my opinion, just what works for you as a mum and for you as a family - for now and the future.

Most babies will be very sleepy for the first 10 days to 2 weeks of life and settle well for parents, giving you such a sense of achievement and making you very proud of the baby you have just given birth to.

At around 3 weeks of age babies 'wake up'. They start being aware of their environment more (unless you have a baby who was born inquisitive from day dot!) and start expressing what their individual needs or likes are, especially when it comes to settling a baby to sleep.

These first 6 weeks are known as the 'grounding' weeks and this idea fits with my experience overseas as a maternity nurse. For example, if I chose to rock the baby to sleep each time they could not settle, then down the track I realized I had created a habit which sometime in the future I had to break as often the parents did not have time to, or did not wish to continue.

The same principle applies to walking and being out and about a lot in the first weeks. You can create a habit with your baby that means they learn to sleep while moving around ("movement sleep") and often wake up when the movement stops.

The Baby Whisperer's tips

When we look at sleeping, it is around the first 4 - 6 weeks that it is handy to know how to settle a baby, learning one or two techniques that you as a family are comfortable with.

Some parents don't mind listening to a baby cry a little, while others cannot bear their baby to make even a whimper. There is not right or wrong with either, just what you can cope with and are comfortable with.

Whether you choose to settle a baby by rocking in your arms, pushing in a buggy, rocking in a bassinet or hammock or tapping on their bottom while in bed, it does not matter. What matters most is that you and your baby are happy and can see light at the end of the tunnel with the technique you are using.

Consistency then is the key! Choose a technique and give yourself and your baby a chance to learn how to do it correctly - don't confusing one another by trying all options in one day.

Some things to think about

- Seek some basic knowledge to help you deal with settling sensibly as it is hard to think clearly when you are listening to a crying baby. And don't be afraid to ask for help!
- What settling technique are you most comfortable with? Talk about this with your partner and look into a couple of options for you to try.
- Do as you mean to go on. If you do not mind carrying your baby around or rocking to settle your baby that is fine but often new parents are happy to do this in the early weeks but run of energy and enthusiasm to do so when the weeks turn into months.
- Majority/Minority rule - You do not have to always put your baby down awake if you want them to learn how to self settle, rather just choosing to do this for the majority of their sleeps to create a consistent pattern and routine.
- Use common sense, most babies are very simplistic and it is often us as the adults to over-complicate things. Go back to basics and use the process of elimination: Are they hungry? Do they have wind?  How long have they been awake for?
- Trial and error - As long as you are not trying multiple different techniques in one day you often will find what works for you when you try 2-3 different settling techniques.
- Try to understand your baby's temperament, are they sensitive, are they visual or are they 'happy go lucky' and will they easily drop off to sleep anywhere you put them?  This makes a huge impact on how well they settle or how well they respond to the type of settling techniques you try.

Where to go for further info

- Sharlene Poole - Little Miracles Postnatal Care
- Plunket Nurse/Plunket Family Centre/Plunket help line: 0800933922
- Doctor
- The internet for various professionals who specialise in sleep issues.