Help & Advice – Newborn Self-Settling

Encouraging positive settling associations from the get-go helps your baby to self- settle to sleep from as early as week one. In fact, a baby of this age, once fed, burped and wrapped up for bed should be able to settle with ease.  Settling issues generally happen in the first few months for reasons such as; hungry and not fed enough, not in a secure sleep position, digestively uncomfortable and not getting enough awake time to be tired enough to settle to sleep. 

As your baby grows practicing putting down to sleep whilst still awake, but relaxed and calm, at night and for day naps encourages self-settling.

newborn yawning asleep lying on a blue patterned bed

I advise to keep a consistent sleep position day and night unless you are out and about in  the pram. Ideally sleeping in their own personal space with curtain drawn to dim the light for naps and completely blacked out at night.

A swaddle and a cuddle are the only sleep props I use. The swaddle becomes the settling cue and tool to sleep for up to 3-5 months.  A swaddle keeps a baby feeling safe, secure and cuddled to sleep. Mainly it’s used to stop the startle reflex from waking your baby unnecessarily.

See videos and images on sleep positions and swaddling

If swaddled, cuddled until calm and put down for a nap and then he or she starts to cry, allow a few minutes to settle. Use my 2-minute rule on settling and waking. Picking babies up and down will only cause confusion and discourage settling. Your baby needs to build confidence and be allowed the opportunity to settle.

If your baby is not settling after two minutes then try my shush and hold technique, this is a reverse cuddle without the need to put your baby back down once calm which can also disturb the settling process.  Put your hand firmly on your baby’s  body and cheek-to-cheek then shush until calm. Once calm release slowly and back out of the room quietly. 

Your shushing voice needs to be louder than your baby’s cry. For older babies I find a deep hum works better.

If you jump to your baby’s every cry and you are unable to leave for a few minutes, your baby will become reliant on you as the settling tool and the time taken to settle to sleep will increase with age, which results in the stories you hear of people pushing buggies around the streets for hours at 4am or driving around at midnight, nobody wants that! 

Mum, Baby, Dad's feet sticking out of the bottom of a duvet, funny picture

Rocking to sleep is also teaching your baby a way of settling which again, with age, you will find that the time taken to rock to sleep gets longer and longer until you are unable to put your baby down unless they are being rocked.

Factors to consider with self settling:

Milk or food intake
It’s hard for a baby to settle when caught between being tired and hungry.  No settling technique will work if your baby hasn’t had enough milk or food so try and make sure you feed until full at each day feed. Always offer both breasts and check your milk supply by expressing after feeds. If milk intake is too low, then work on increasing your milk supply and maybe give a top up bottle after breastfeeding if you suspect a low milk supply.

A Gas Free Baby
It’s hard for a baby to settle if air/wind/gas is trapped due to not being burped successfully or frequently enough during feeds. Air travelling through the intestines and out the other end can cause pain and discomfort for newborn babies. Wind frequently during feeds: every 1oz on the bottle under 8 weeks old, and every two to five minutes on the breast or when sucking becomes inactive. The time and quantity of milk taken between burping breaks increases with age and as the stomach strengthens.

newborn asleep after being self settled by Charmian

Tired Enough To Sleep?
Some babies are born into the world with the ability to stay awake for 2 hours at each feeding period during the day and some can barely stay awake to feed.  Do not assume a newborn only needs or wants to eat and sleep. Having some time awake after feeding helps to alleviate gas and ensures your baby is full and has mostly digested their milk before nap-time. This is also the best time of day to have playtime, once fed and winded your baby is content to play.  Often babies on the 7pm to 7am Sleeping Baby Routine have as much as 6-8 hours awake time by week 2 -4.  

Make sure you cuddle and calm before putting to bed but avoid letting them fall asleep on you (unless having a skin-on-skin nap together). Falling asleep on Mum or Dad increases the risk of waking when put down and left in the crib, waking up and realising they have been put down and not woken where they have fallen asleep.

Night Feeds

  1. Keep your baby’s room as dark as possible for night feeds. 
  2. Don’t bring your baby out of the room to watch TV whilst feeding or have stimulating music or lights on.
  3. Get yourself prepared for the feed before reacting to your baby,  avoiding overstimulation, even if this means preparing a bottle while your baby is still crying.
  4. Swaddle at night until solidly sleeping through the night. It’s common for babies in the first few weeks of life not like the process of swaddling, much like a newborn dislikes getting dressed, bathing and sometimes even a nappy change. Like all the above  they will get used to it and very quickly feel the swaddle as a sleep cue, once swaddled with their arms tucked in, they will sleep peacefully for longer periods.
  5. Change the nappy before the night feed to minimise stimulation when going back to bed. 
  6. For the last 5 minutes of a breastfeed or 1oz on a bottle, re-swaddle to achieve a calm, smooth transition back to the Moses basket, crib or cot.
  7. Tuck your baby in. Newborns startle and have no control over their movements. If they are not tucked in the moro/startle reflex can wake them or make it increasingly difficult to settle. Always tuck newborns in at chest height and tightly tuck the blanket into the sides of the basket or cot as this will make them feel cuddled and secure. It’s important that any blanket and swaddle is secure and not loose. 

Happy Parenting!

Hi I’m Charmian Mead, baby sleep consultant, baby digestion expert and author of the best selling parenting book 7pm to 7am Sleeping Baby Routine. Supporting new mums with baby digestion, bottle and breastfeeding.

My book and consultancy options can help you resolve any feeding or digestion issues.

For all consulting options and weekly bookings, please check out my consultancy page or contact me via my contact page.

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