Helen O’Callaghan on getting babies to sleep at night
WHEN it comes to getting children aged over six months to sleep at night, parents need to create sleep associations rather than rely on sleep aids.
So says baby sleep expert Niamh O’Reilly (thenursery.ie), who gives examples of sleep aids parents often use to get children to nod off — having them fall asleep on bottles or feeds, to all-night low music, with motion of car or buggy.
“Sometimes children expect to be pushed around in their buggy until they fall asleep. Then they’re transferred up to their cot. They wake later on and don’t know how they got there — the last they remember, they were in their buggy,” says O’Reilly, adding that being in a different environment to where they started confuses baby and isn’t conducive to settling.
“The child begins to fuss and cry and maybe not settle again until s/he’s back in the buggy, thinking it’s where they need to be to fall asleep. They haven’t been taught the skill of settling themselves. They’re using sleep aids rather than their own resources.”
Sleep’s natural — it’s what happens in the environment around it that causes problems, says O’Reilly. “Sleep associations are more subtle than sleep aids — dimming of lights, bringing baby into his/her bedroom, the one-liner at end of day all create a message around sleep and sleep-time. I’d love more associations and fewer aids.”
So what promotes sleep sleep? Giving the child a healthy supper and “a good milk feed” before bed can help. “It’s a healthy, happy end to the day,” says O’Reilly, who recommends definite routine. “If the last 30-40 minutes of the day is the same, it creates awareness of what’s coming next — sleep-time. The routine doesn’t have to be complicated. There doesn’t have to be a bath, though it’s a nice time of day for one. A small massage — even just rubbing in some moisturiser — and reading a story can all be part of it.”
Use a soother only to soothe, advises O’Reilly. “If it falls out while baby’s sleeping, don’t put it back in. This might disturb sleep or create a necessity to have the soother in the mouth all the time.”
Irish online company The Baby Box recently launched its new range of baby boxes. Research in Finland shows since introducing baby boxes in the 1930s, infant mortality rates dropped significantly from highest in Europe to fifth lowest worldwide. O’Reilly says the baby box “provides a comfortable and safe sleep environment for infants”.
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