How to help your baby sleep - advice from MORI experts
Expert advice from psychotherapists, Heather & Julie, on how to softly guide your baby to sleep.
As a new parent or expectant parent, you know just how much your little one needs to sleep. Sometimes sleep doesn’t come as easy as it should, for both baby and for you, which can lead to problems with attachment, development and health. We recently spoke to Heather and Julie, authors of The Happy Sleeper, scientists and psychotherapists in the field of child sleep, about how sleep is fundamental to creating healthy & happy relationships between new families. By understanding that babies naturally need to rest, it only takes a gentle guiding hand to help ensure that your little one is sleeping well and growing healthily for the best future possible.
With evidence from science, The Happy Sleeper talks parents through how to nurture & care for little ones whilst being clear and concise in their approach to getting babies to sleep and naturally self-soothe. Heather & Julie also do sleep consultations, in person and over Skype, where they walk parents through how to help baby with sleeping without the need to completely detach emotionally.
Julie, you’re a psychotherapist specialising in babies, children and their parents. Could you explain a little bit more about what this entails and what drove you to take this path?
Julie: During my training, I did an internship at a place here called Cedars-Sinia Early Childhood Centre, where I was able to learn about the 0-3 years, which you usually don't learn about when studying clinical psychology. I've always loved children, and was happy to have a unique opportunity to learn about how the brain develops, and how relationships and attachments matter during those first years. What I learned inspired my Mommy and Me programme in Los Angeles that implements not only sleep, but also the attuned and mindful parenting approach.
Heather you write the Science of Kids column for Babble and you also write for the National Sleep Foundation. Science is truly the key to everything, but how does it help with general parenting? And why did you decide to take this direction?
Heather: I also studied psychotherapy, but when I had my son who's 8 now, I started researching as I've always been fascinated by the brain. Learning about brain development and how relationships affect children, and how their first relationships are the most important and formative are what really inspired me. With regards to sleep, it's been great to see that science backs up what we know to be true about sleep. Sleep is really natural and actually comes very easily, it's a basic biological function.
It’s known that sleep is an important aspect to everyone’s daily lives, but especially little ones. What benefits are babies gaining from sleeping soundly for a good amount of time and how does it help them with their ongoing development?
Heather: There are so many functions that sleep has; it is how you consolidate information and memories that you have from the day, and that’s why babies sleep so much, because they’re learning so much. They need 11 hours of nighttime sleep, and regular naps, to transfer information from short-term memory to long-term memory. Sleep is important for emotional regulation, therefore babies that don’t sleep enough tend to be more emotionally fragile and fussy. It also helps regulate the immune system, so if you don’t have a certain amount of sleep, the immune system doesn’t function as it should and you’re more likely to get sick. Also, when parents and babies are sleeping well it supports the attachment relationship they have, and the way they enjoy each other, which is so important. If parent and baby are not tired all the time, they will have more time to bond with one another in a happy way.
When both parents and little ones are sleeping well, does it have a significant connection in making the relationship stronger?
Julie: When parents are sleep deprived, all they think about is sleep, meaning they have so much dread and anxiety as their days are groundhog days, which are spent thinking about getting their baby to sleep. If sleep deprivation goes on beyond 3 or 4 months, it becomes a problem and definitely affects a parent's ability to be present, attuned and loving during the day.
Sometimes maintaining a sleep routine and implementing ways to help a newborn sleep through the night can be a struggle. What do you suggest to help new parents to get their little one to sleep?
Julie: For newborn to 4 months, you definitely want to attend to them, and we want you to help them to sleep well. Depending on how much a baby needs rocking, bouncing and moving, it’s important to think about starting to give them a little more space. You need to be helpful, but not over-help, so you need to understand your baby’s sounds. Newborn babies make more noise than most parents expect, so it’s very common for parents to go running in at the first sound of fuss. You need to wait because babies are usually just resettling or trying to figure things out, and you don’t want to interrupt that.
By waiting, they might resettle themselves, and even if they don’t, you’re giving them space to do so in the future. However, you shouldn’t let a young baby from newborn to 5 months cry for more than a minute, but you can wait 30 - 45 seconds if they start to cry. Some babies cry a little just to release stress, and as soon as they’ve had that moment they will go to sleep.
Heather: Another helpful technique is to practice putting baby down awake by knowing that it’s time for sleeping. Babies can be awake for an hour and a half during the day, therefore by knowing it’s nearly time to sleep, you should put them down in their regular sleeping spot awake. Eventually they will fall asleep on their own. Also, don’t keep little ones up too late.
Julie: It seems 7pm is the magical hour. Babies that go to sleep around 9-10pm are usually chronically sleep deprived. If they’re sleeping a full night, they are going to be more regulated and organised, which means they will be better at sleeping on their own, without help.
When practicing good sleeping habits, what would you advise parents to avoid?
Heather: Letting them cry it out. Parents shouldn’t feel like that is the only option left for them. We also advise against weaning feedings and cutting out some feeds completely. Some techniques suggest removing night feeds, but we always advise that until a baby is 5 months, you should make sure they are fed throughout the night.
At MORI, making sure that little one is comfortable during the night to ensure they have a good night’s sleep is important to us. What type of clothing would you suggest parents dress their little ones in to promote better sleep?
Heather: Many parents overdress their babies for sleep, therefore we encourage them to dress them in less layers and make sure the room isn’t too warm. There is a misconception that heat is good for sleep, however, science explains that cooler temperatures help with sleep. When they’re learning to self-soothe, it’s important they also have space to move, like in the MORI Clever Sleeping Bag. If they’re in something too confining they can’t roll and get comfortable.
Julie: Swaddling is also definitely a plus for most newborn to 3 month babies, as they like to feel secure and need to stay on their backs. Therefore we believe in swaddling, but once a baby can roll and move they need to have freedom to move.
As a new parent you often become overly anxious about how much baby is sleeping, how much they should sleep, and how you’re going to get them to sleep. What one piece of advice would you give to parents?
Julie: Believe that your baby is built to sleep, and it is a natural function. Give them credit for what they’re capable of doing. Humans can’t be trained to breathe or swallow, and it is the same with sleep. Helpful sleep association means you can help your baby to sleep in the environment they’re in, with the right timing, and with everything they need.
From tickling tricks to lullabies; do you have any particular techniques you’ve found to help a little one to sleep soundly? Let us & other parents know over at @babymoriuk