What were we thinking! promote confidence and reduce distress in parents with a first baby
settling your baby

Settling Your Baby

Babies need cues or prompts that they learn to associate with being relaxed and going to sleep. Sleep and settling strategies need to be simple and easy to follow, whether you are at home or out. Remember that when overtired or overstimulated your baby may find it more difficult to go to sleep.

STEP 1: Recognise that your baby is tired

STEP 2: Make the baby comfortable

Check and change the nappy if required.

Newborn babies can have a strong jerky response to something unexpected - the “startle reflex” - which can happen as they are falling asleep and cause them to wake up. Many little babies therefore like to be wrapped. After three or four months this becomes less necessary, and many babies then settle well in a sleeping bag.

STEP 3: Soothe your baby

Having consistent soothing or settling strategies is important, but some are more effective or sustainable than others. Strategies shown in italic text may cause difficulties over time.

As sleep time approaches, have a brief quiet time together using one of the strategies you and your baby prefer. Don’t make eye contact with your baby or say his name while you are doing this. If very tired, your baby may grizzle or cry even when being soothed and it is better then to move on to the next step.

STEP 4: Put your baby into bed

Babies sleep better in a darkened room with few distractions. Tuck your baby firmly into bed lying on her back with her feet at the end of the bassinet or cot.

Use a short phrase like "goodnight" or "off to sleep now" to indicate that this is time for a rest and that you are leaving the room. If your baby is quiet, leave now and let her go to sleep.

If your baby is crying and unsettled, try:

1.  A “heart beat” pat: a double-handed firm but gentle pat with a cupped hand at the pace of a slow heart beat.

If this does not work, then you can roll her on to her side and try:

2.  Gentle slow body rocking.

When your baby is quiet, put her on her back, leave her and let her go to sleep.

STEP 5: Reassure your baby

If your baby grizzles after being put to bed, it is usually better to leave her until she quietens. If your baby is crying intensely for more than 30 seconds, go back in and repeat Step 4 but don’t get your baby out of bed.

After 5-10 minutes of re-settling you might like to leave the room and give your baby a brief opportunity to practise self-settling.

STEP 6: Re-settle your baby if necessary

Sometimes babies wake after 30 to 40 minutes of sleep, which is after only one sleep cycle. Repeat Step 5 so that the baby learns to have daytime sleeps that are one and a half to two hours long.

Praise your baby when she has had a long sleep.

Learning from your answers

It takes some weeks for these strategies to become familiar and we all need support from our partners, family members and friends as we introduce them. You will be able to refine them to suit your baby and your own situation with time.