Natural sleep remedies for babies

In any mother’s group, there will always be that one mom who has a baby that started sleeping through the night at 3 weeks. This can be soul crushing to hear for other moms struggling with sleep deprivation.

But it is totally normal for a baby to wake every 3 hours to  feed until they are at least 6 months old. This is because their little tummies can only hold a small amount of milk – definitely  not enough to see most babies through the night. But once a baby reaches 3 months old, there are definitely things you can do to encourage them to sleep for longer stretches. Read on for some natural sleep remedies for babies.

Establish a relaxing bedtime routine

To get your baby into a healthy sleep routine, give them cues that it is sleep time. This could include:

  • a baby massage.
  • turning down the lights and the noise
  • softly singing a lullaby
  • turning on some white or pink noise
  • having a consistent bed time.

The routine should be roughly the same each night so that the baby starts to associate the routine with needing to go to sleep.

Don’t make the routine overly complicated – you want to make sure that it a routine you can do over and over again even when you are tired.  Try to avoid developing a routine of  having to rock your baby to sleep every night. Not only is this tiring for the parents, it  does not teach the baby good sleep habits. Instead make sure to put the baby down when they appears drowsy but are not actually asleep so that they learn to fall  asleep on their own.

Incorporate a dream feed

One of the main reasons babies wake up at night is that they are hungry. If this is the reason your baby is waking up, dream feeding make help your baby sleep for longer stretches, especially if your baby is under 6 months old.

A dream feed involves waking your baby up to feed them just before you are ready to go to bed in the hopes that they will then be full enough to sleep through the night. Don’t forget to burp them afterwards too!

It’s important to keep your baby as drowsy as possible throughout the process. Try to minimize stimulation such as noise and lights. Avoid changing your baby’s diaper if possible also. When finished feeding, gently place the baby back in their crib.

Dream feeds can be very useful for parents who are sleep training their babies and are worried about their babies getting enough calories throughout the night.

Also if your baby isn’t exclusively breastfed, or will take a bottle with breastmilk, mom can go to sleep at say 8pm and let their partner do the dream feed at around 11pm. This way mom can get a decent stretch of sleep even if the baby wakes up again for another feed at around 3am.

Be aware that dream feeding won’t work for all babies. For these babies, the saying “Never wake a sleeping baby” is completely true as they will be wide awake after the dream feed, which is obviously the last thing you want. Other babies may still wake up a couple of hours later because the dream feed has disturbed their natural sleep pattern.

Support  your baby’s circadian rhythm

Frustratingly for parents, a baby’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock isn’t programmed from birth. It takes a while for their sleep schedule to be synched to day and night meaning they are unlikely to sleep for a significant stretch at night until they are at least 12 to 16 weeks.

To help develop and support their circadian rhythm, you can try the following:

  • Babies will usually be asleep before the sun goes down. Use black out curtains to keep the light out of their room. Open the curtains in the morning as soon as it is time to wake up. This will help them learn that night time is the time for sleeping.
  • Expose your baby to natural light, by for example, taking them for a walk in the daylight
  • Keep a consistent bedtime and morning wake-up
  • Limit light before bedtime and in particular, avoid artificial light exposure such as light from devices
  • Avoid letting your baby nap late in the afternoon as this may mean they go to bed later and may throw off their sleep schedule
  • When feeding baby throughout the night, dim the lights and use calm movements. This will reinforce that the night is the time for sleeping.

Keep to a consistent feed, play, sleep, wake routine

A newborn’s wake/ sleep cycle may be all over the place. But once a baby hits 3 months old, a feed, play, sleep wake routine can be introduced. This probably won’t result in baby instantly sleeping through the night, but it can help establish good sleep habits going forward.  The routine should be flexible  and follow your baby’s natural sleep habits. Put baby down to nap during the day and sleep at night at roughly the same time every day/ night while they are drowsy but still awake.

Just keep in mind that the routine can be thrown off by things like teething, growth spirts and illness.

Invest in some white or pink noise

White noise is a humming noise that blocks out other noise. Anxious babies in particular may love it because it’s similar to noise they heard in the womb. It’s also great for blocking out other noise in the house. Its soothing rhythmical sound can help create a calm environment conducive to helping a baby fall asleep. The repetitive sounds can help your baby stay asleep and drown out other noises. Even a creaking floorboard can wake a baby. Some babies find it difficult to sleep in a completely silent place. It can also be used to provide a cue to the baby that it is time to sleep.

Pink noise imitates natural sounds, such as waves lapping at the shore or heavy rain. It can be gentler on the ears than white noise. While white noise is excellent for masking loud, jarring sounds like older siblings playing, pink noise is better for creating a  calming, settling environment, leading to deeper sleep.

Just be aware when using white or pink noise that it should be played with the volume down low and positioned away from the crib so as to avoid damaging baby’s hearing. The American Academy of Padiatrics has found that anything above 50 decibels could damage baby’s hearing and cause other developmental delays.

There are plenty of white  apps available and even YouTube videos that will play continuous white noise for 8 hours. But if you don’t want to run your phone battery down, consider buying a white or pink noise machine. Some machines will have both pink and white noise settings.

Sleep in the same room

Up until the baby is around 6 months, consider having your baby sleep in the same room as you. Not only is it more convenient when doing night time feeds, it also reduces the risks of SIDS and can help regulate a baby’s sleep patterns.

Use calming essential oils such as lavender

Lavender is commonly used for stress, anxiety and insomnia. It contains an oil that may have a sedating effect  and help  calm baby down so they can sleep. Used repeatedly, it will also provide another cue for baby that it is time to sleep.

There a couple of ways you can use  lavender oil such as:

  • a lavender massage oil used after a bath -such as this one. A baby massage with lavender oil has also be shown to reduce colic in infants
  • by putting a few drops of oil in baby’s bath water
  •  in a room spray – such as this one
  • in a diffuser which releases the aroma of lavender into the air (be sure to follow the instructions on the diffuser and use in a well ventilated room).

It is  very important to note however that essential essential oils at all on babies younger than 3 months.

Swaddle your baby

Swaddling is a natural sleep remedy for very young babies. A nurse or your midwife may have shown you how to swaddle your baby when you were in the hospital. Swaddling a baby involves wrapping a baby tightly in cloths or blankets that restrict movement, in order to mimic the womb. Swaddling can result in better sleep for baby as it limits their startle reflex. Swaddling can also help anxious babies by making them feel snug and secure.

Just be careful not to swaddle your baby too tightly and make sure baby is not too hot.

It is safe to swaddle your baby until around 2 months of age or when your baby shows signs of trying to roll over.

This Youtube video demonstrates how to swaddle a baby.

 

 

Use a humidifier 

A humidifier may help your baby sleep better by letting them breathe easier and preventing their skin from getting dry.  They’ve especially beneficial if your baby has a cold, as they can clear nasal passages and reduce coughing, which is important given the limited number of over the counter cold remedies for babies.  An additional benefit of humidifiers are the white noise they create.
Just remember to clean the humidifier regularly as per the manufacturer’s instructions to prevent mould growth.

FAQs on infant sleep

Why won’t my baby sleep through the night?

A common reason for a newborn to wake during the night is because they are hungry which is totally appropriate for their age. They also might be uncomfortable either because they have wind, are hot or too cold or need to be changed.

After a baby reaches 6 months of age, the main reasons they are not sleeping through the night include:
  • they are not in a good sleep routine.
  • they are hungry
  • they are anxious
  • they are startled awake by something in their environment
  • they are teething
  • they are ill
  • they are too hot or too cold; or
  • they’ve learnt to rely on a parent to help sooth them back to sleep.

When should a baby start sleeping through the night?

Babies are physiologically capable of sleeping through the night by 6 months. By then they have a big enough stomach capacity to not to need to feed during the night. But this doesn’t mean all babies will start sleeping for long stretches of time during the night. In a study reported in the Journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics 28% to 57% of 6- 12-month-old infants did not sleep through the night.

But after 6 months of age, it is generally accepted that various sleep training methods can be used.

What are the signs that a baby is tired?

It is crucial to put your baby down to sleep as soon as they show signs that they are tired.  Once they are overtired, it will be harder to get them to sleep. Signs that they are ready for sleep include in they start yawning, grizzling, frowning, staring, rubbing their eyes, if they are fussy or start crying.

Should I use a pacifier to get my baby to sleep?

There are pros and cons to using pacifiers. While they can definitely help settle  a baby and have been know to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), they may actually cause more  middle of the night wakings when the baby loses the pacifier in the middle of the night. Long term use has also been associated with dental problems later on.

Should I shorten day time naps so my baby sleeps longer at night?

This will probably have the opposite effect. It will likely just lead to a tired grumpy baby who is  likely to fall asleep at an inappropriate time

Is it safe to give babies melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone that helps support the body’s circadian rhythm.  It is available in various supplements and gummies. It is not recommended for infants to be given Melatonin as there are no long-term studies on the safety of Melatonin for this age group.

None of the above are magic bullets that will get your infant sleeping through the night straight away. In the early days, the focus should be on managing the impact of sleep deprivation on the parents rather than trying to get an infant to sleep through the night. Setting up good sleep habits as soon as possible however will get baby into a healthy sleep routine and pave the way for baby to sleep for long stretches of time throughout the night once they are able to so.

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