There usually comes a time when parents feel ready to have their baby sleep in the bassinet for naps as opposed to only ‘on them’.
In the beginning, newborn snuggles on us are so precious. There’s nothing more loving and cosy than the warmth of your newborn baby’s body nestled into your chest. It’s normal for your baby to sleep best cuddling up to you because they can feel your warmth and smell your mother scent. It’s also normal for them not to nap as well in their bassinet (or crib), as lying on their own on a flat surface is not what they are used to. After all, they spent months being tucked up inside your warm and cosy womb and they’ve only been out in the world for just a few short weeks. It can, however, become exhausting and frustrating when your baby will only sleep on you. It’s hard to get anything done with a baby who will only have contact naps and it’s especially tricky for parents juggling the needs of more than one child. As lovely as contact naps can be, it’s okay to start to get your baby more used to sleeping in the bassinet, when you are ready. The best way to do this is to have a plan and be consistent with following through with your plan. Also, understand that working on naps in general, takes time.
1. Set your baby’s sleep environment up for nap success.
The idea here is to recreate a ‘womb like’ environment.
- Make sure your child’s room is completely dark. Even though they won’t be able to see you well in the darkness, your presence will help them sleep. The darkness will act as a cue for sleep and will help minimise any stimulation.
- Keep the room temperature regulated to avoid baby becoming too hot or too cold.
- Use white noise for the entire nap duration.
2. Pick a day when you will begin implementing your nap strategies.
The first thing to do is to pick a day on the calendar. Highlight this and get prepared well in advance. If you’ve been struggling with a baby who only naps on you, I want you to count down and get excited about the day when you are going to wake up and try something new.
3. Establish a pre-nap ritual.
Just as a bedtime routine is important for helping your baby transition into sleep at night, the predictability of a pre-nap ritual is just as important. This should be similar to what you do at bedtime but a shortened version of it. It doesn’t matter what you do but just that you do the same things in the same order each time. As part of your routine, include a feed and then swaddle your baby. Swaddling will help your infant feel calm, more secure and confident to fall asleep. Your baby might cry and seem to fight a swaddle but this doesn’t mean you should give up. You will find that once baby is snugly swaddled and offered a rock or a pat, they usually relax. One trick to avoid tears is to swaddle baby before they become overtired. Also, try and avoid an ‘arms up’ swaddle for newborns. These swaddles don’t tend to suppress the startle reflex which can wake baby after a short nap. The ‘Miracle Blanket’ is a great all round ‘Houdini proof’ swaddle.
4. Follow an age appropriate awake time between naps.
To ensure your baby has the best chance to settle for sleep easily and sleep for a decent stretch of time, follow age appropriate awake times. This is the amount of time a baby can happily stay awake for between naps, including time spent feeding. An under tired baby will not happily go to sleep for a nap or will go to sleep but wake after a short nap. An overtired baby will be hard to settle and might wake crying from a short nap. Look for your baby’s tired signs but also watch the clock. Tired signs are easy to miss in newborns, so keep an eye on the clock as a backup and pop your baby down for a nap if in doubt. It’s also important to consciously increase your baby’s time spent awake by a few minutes every few days. Your baby is developing rapidly which means they can tolerate more time awake over a relatively short time period. You need to move forward with your baby as he or she grows. Use the following times as a guide:
Up to 3 weeks: 45 to 60 min
6 weeks: 70 to 90 min
12 weeks: 90 to 115 min
5. Put baby down in the bassinet for their first nap.
The first nap of the day is like an extension of your baby’s mind and body’s sleep pressure. It’s almost like an extension from night-time. This is why that first nap of the day is usually easier for your child to fall asleep than any other time of day. If you feel okay with allowing your baby to cry for a few minutes whilst you attend to other children, don’t feel bad. Understand though, that your newborn will need your assistance to go to sleep. This might look like sitting beside your baby and holding them on their side with your hands in the bassinet whilst you ‘shush’ and pat their bottom. The technical term for this type of settling is the ‘Shush Pat’ technique and when done ‘just so’ it can work like magic for newborns. This is explained in detail in a video in the link below.Shush Pat Demo
Note: always roll your baby back on to his or her back for sleep.
6. Keep expectations realistic and choose one small goal each day.
Set yourself up for success and reduce overwhelm by focussing on one small goal each day. This might look like working on one nap in the bassinet and having baby sleep assisted the rest of the day. Realistically, it could take thirty minutes of settling for a nap. It can take this long because your baby won’t fall into the deepest phase of a sleep cycle until after about the twenty minute mark. So, if you stop too soon, your baby will be very likely to fully wake up. If after twenty to thirty minutes and your baby has not slept, get them up and offer a feed. Then, pop them back down and repeat the process. If your second attempt doesn’t end in sleep, you would get your baby up and allow them to nap in the carrier, pram or anyway you know they will sleep and move on with your day. This doesn’t mean you have failed but quite the opposite. You have given your baby the opportunity to sleep in the bassinet and with practice, comes learning.
7. Practice, practice, practice.
You are trying to help your baby connect the notion that sleep happens in their bassinet and the more you give them the opportunity, the more quickly your baby will ‘get it’. By working towards small goals and by practicing each day, you are helping your baby make new connections in their body and mind. Practice these strategies but also practice patience. Time and consistency are key.
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