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We offer some advice on how to cultivate a bedtime routine and set the scene for quality sleep – for you and baby.

Don’t let bedtime become a battle of the wills when your child gets older. Start getting them in into a sleep routine very early on.

Of course disrupted nights are to be expected when your baby is very new. However, sleep trainer Una van Staden recommends introducing a flexible routine at around four to six weeks. Consistency can help baby identify the cues of sleep, sending a message of security and reassurance.

Some experts offer their advice to help baby settle into a sleep-conducive bedtime routine.

Also read our other articles on sleep training and ensuring a quality sleep, here, here and here.

create a calm zone

Set the scene for fuss-free naps by following a calm sequence to help baby wind down.

Bath time could be followed by a quiet massage for baby, which soothes and encourages bonding. Gentle touch stimulates the central nervous system, making the brain produce more serotonin and less cortisol (the stress hormone).

After feeding, van Staden recommends placing babies into their cot drowsy but awake. “Most babies prefer to be put down on their side. They will roll onto their back at some stage, which is the safest position. Tummy sleeping is not recommended,” advises van Staden.

At night, she advises total darkness for babies. However, she says, allow some form of natural light into the room during the day to prevent a baby from developing day-night reversal.

swaddled and contained

Starting baby in a small crib or Moses basket can help the transition to the outside world. “Newborns sleep much better in a contained, elevated position,” explains van Staden.

According to Dr Natalie Arkin, a Joburg-based chiropractor, babies tend to hold their foetal position for the first weeks of life. “That’s why they often like to be swaddled or curl their legs up,” she says.

Correctly positioning the arms is key when swaddling. Traditionally swaddles keep arms by the baby’s side or across their chest, but some allow for the natural arms-up position, which enables movement of the hands to the mouth to self-soothe.

 lulled to sleep

You can simulate the womb further with sleep aids that play heartbeat sounds and white noise –  different frequencies of sound combined together at one level to create a shushing sound similar to what babies here in utero.

“White noise helps a baby transition from light sleep to deep sleep much quicker. It is particularly beneficial for reflux babies, but it is crucial that it plays for at least one hour, so that the baby completes one sleep cycle,” says van Staden.

comfort is king

Keep the nursery at the ideal temperature of 21–22°C and decorate it in muted colours and minimise visual stimulation. “Mobiles and toys in the cot signal a play zone when in fact it is a sleep zone,” says van Staden.

Find out how a few small changes to the sleep area can improve your child’s sleep pattern.

For babies struggling to settle even when fed, burped and changed, consider consulting a paediatric chiropractor who will use gentle adjustments to correct misalignments to the spine and nervous system. It also helps stimulate the digestive system, which is why chiropractic works so well on colicky babies.

If you hold your baby up under their arms and their legs don’t hang straight down but like a banana, it’s a good indication that they are not comfortable. “They may need a chiropractor,” says Arkin. “Research has shown that chiropractically treated babies sleep better.”

Tips for parents

  • Partners should alternate the bedtime routine to avoid a situation where baby cannot go down if one particular parent is not present. “The most important principle here is that everyone is on the same page regarding the sleep routine,” Arkin advises.
  • Move baby out of your room at roughly 3.5–4 months. “The baby and adult sleep cycles don’t always coincide and this could be the reason for frequent night waking in babies,” explains Arkin.
  • Partners can help by taking over one or two night feeds of expressed breastmilk or formula. If your baby won’t take a bottle, let your partner handle burping and nappy changes so Mom can get back to bed immediately after a feed.
  • It isn’t always possible to nap when baby naps if there are bottles to be sterilised and laundry to be done. Relinquishing as many of these tasks to your partner or a nanny will free up some rest time.


Philippa Selfe