How to settle your newborn in their own bed at night


Written by Jenny, from Midwife and Life

If you haven’t had your baby yet, you’ll want to bookmark or pin this post for future reference, trust me!

When I visit a new Mum one of the most asked questions I get is ‘How can I get my baby to settle in his/her cot at night?’ Most babies will be happy to be put down after feeding,  changing, winding etc. during the day but at night the minute you tuck them up all peaceful and seemingly fast asleep, a few minutes later they’re wriggling around and building up to crying and wanting to be held or fed again (bottle or breast).

Firstly why do they do it? Picture yourself as a newborn in a primal environment: weak, underdeveloped organs, poor sight, unreliable temperature control, sensitive skin just to name a few things, but with a fierce instinct to survive.  During daylight hours it feels safer, there’s lots of people around, possibly a fire burning to keep predators away and lots of reassuring background noise.  At night an ancient circadian rhythm kicks in, the temperature drops and there’s a scent of danger in the air.  Our instinct is to feel the warmth of another, with a reassuring heartbeat sound and even better, milk.  The act of breastfeeding is a huge comfort and a source of vital nutrients.  The levels of the hormone Prolactin are higher at night, and breastfeeding at night time will help establish a good milk supply.  If you’re bottle feeding, they still have this instinct to be next to you.  Being close to you will help regulate their breathing and temperature.  It is normal baby behaviour to wake frequently and want to stay close.  The amount of women and couples I see who say, “S/he sleeps fine on my chest but the minute I put him/her down s/he wakes up!”  Believe me, it’s normal and nothing you’re doing wrong, and generally speaking, if baby is weeing and pooing and gaining weight, you will have enough milk.

Some families choose to co-sleep or bed share to get more sleep as a family.  The adorable picture you see above is my (not so little now) baby who for this photo had to be put down quickly for a few shots before he wanted to be held again!  The only way I could get any sleep in the early weeks was to co-sleep, especially with two others to look after.  He now (age 13 months at the time of writing) sleeps in his own room and bed, but still comes in with us when he’s ill or teething at times, but not for the whole night.  This is not for everyone and must be practiced safely.  The La leche league (LLL) have produced an infographic entitled ‘The Safe Sleep 7’ which I find highlights how to co-sleep perfectly:

However, co-sleeping isn’t for everyone, so how can we gently coerce our newborns to stay in their own space?  The safest place for a newborn for their first six months is in a crib near your bed.  Here are my top tips for settling your baby at night:

  • Swaddle or wrap the baby, not too tightly but enough for them to feel secure
  • Keep baby swaddled during feeding and don’t disturb unless needing a nappy change
  • After the feed gently wind the baby
  • ensure the feed is of good quality and quantity
  • when ready to transfer to the crib do so from a horizontal position and keep the baby the same level during transfer to avoid the falling reflex
  • Keep the crib warm by using a hot water bottle wrapped in a blanket or muslin inside the moses basket until baby is ready to go in and then remove it but place the warmed blanket over the baby
  • Use a rolled up cellular blanket either side of the baby to make them feel secure
  • Keep the room warm, but don’t let the baby overheat
  • Place an item of your clothing or something with your scent on in the baby’s bed
  • The same toy or comforter in the crib each time baby sleeps will eventually help them associate that toy with sleep
  • Play baby’s music mobile/ lullaby music when putting down for a sleep, the same each time so they begin to associate it with sleep
  • Try a white noise app or CD
  • Don’t change baby at night unless soiled
  • Keep the lights low
  • Avoid TV or computers and phones as the blue light can affect sleep patterns
  • Keep noise to a minimum
  • If baby starts waking a few minutes after being put down, reach over and place a hand over their body to reassure them – if their movements and sounds are escalating, tilt them onto their side and gently pat them on the back whilst making a shhhh shhhh sound.  If they don’t re settle with 5-10 minutes then they will need to be fed/soothed back to sleep again

I hope this list is of some use to you, remember babies do not know how to manipulate you, nor should you worry about making ‘habits’ in the early weeks.  They need your love and nurturing day and night and this phase will soon pass.  Accept help where you can and grab sleep when possible.  Look after yourself and don’t beat yourself up.  If well meaning people are asking how is baby sleeping, reply with ‘Like a baby!’

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