Baby sleep: our expert's advice

As a first-time mum or dad, very often you can't help asking yourself, "Why is getting my baby to sleep so difficult?" Or even, "Why am I so hopeless at getting him to sleep?"

There's a welter of information out there on sleep techniques but no one rule that works for all. At the same time, there's no right or wrong way about getting your baby to sleep in the first year and it will take a bit of trial and error to work out what works best for you and your child. At OHbaby! we rely on our sleep expert and baby whisperer Dorothy Waide for advice on getting little ones off to dreamland.

Her techniques have worked for many and if you're struggling. Contact Dorothy at or her Facebook page .

Zero to six weeks
Dorothy says the main challenge for mums in this period is establishing breastfeeding.
The first 10 days is the cocoon phase: baby sleeps, wakes, feeds, sleeps again. After this, many babies wake up with a roar, ready to rock 'n' roll.
Suddenly, it's not so easy to get baby off to sleep. Ideally, babies should sleep two or three hours, then stay awake for 45 minutes to an hour, but Dorothy tells her mums to aim for one and a half hours because sleep is a learned thing.
But that doesn't mean Dorothy urges self-settling techniques in the early weeks. Getting your baby to sleep is about nurturing, holding close, patting, shushing and, if you like, using a dummy.
"Allowing your baby to sleep in your arms is not a cop-out," she says. "It's teaching them to settle and find their sleep.
"Newborn babies shouldn't be left to cry in their cots. They need your reassurance. You don't have babies to put them in a cot and leave. You have babies to nurture and love."
There's a big difference between grizzling and crying, she continues. A grizzle is a small, intermittent sound, a cry is a high-pitched wail. Dorothy doesn't leave any newborn to grizzle for more than one or two minutes.
But how do you know when baby's tired and wants to go to bed?
Dorothy says many mums look for tired signs to alert them to when their babies need to go to bed. But very often, these signs are confusing or unclear.
 "By the time the baby's 12 weeks old the mum is still confused about sleeping. They've heard so much about tired signs but the tired signs are generally missed and then baby's showing over-tired signs. So everything gets all skewiff."
Dorothy suggests working by the clock as a guide until you start recognising your baby's own signs.
This means in the first six weeks baby should be awake around 45 minutes to an hour and from six to 12 weeks, 60 to 90 minutes.
Sleep is a nutrient for your baby, it's needed just as much as food for growth, she says. "The two - sleep and feeding - go hand in hand."
But breastfeeding mums also need those nutrients if they're to survive the early days. Dorothy says, "When baby is feeding you should be snacking. When baby is sleeping, you should be resting."

Keeping your baby awake
This seems a crazy idea but dozing while feeding is a common problem for babies under four weeks old. It may be the result of low birth weight, jaundice or a difficult birth, or maybe little one is still enjoying the post-birth "cocoon" phase. But babies need to feed well so they can sleep well, therefore it's worth putting in the effort to wake them up.

  • You can try taking off some layers, even down to his singlet
  • Wipe his face, hands and feet with a cool, damp cloth
  • Stroke the feet
  • If all else fails try switching breasts each time he dozes off. He may suck only a couple of times on each side but he will wake up a little each time you change sides. It's hard work but he will eventually get a decent feed.

Getting baby to sleep
For the first 12 weeks it's okay during the day to let your baby sleep on you if that's what you want to do.
But the number one rule if you do this is to keep your own body as still as possible. Dorothy says you need to avoid rocking, as you won't be able to replicate this motion when it comes to getting your child to go to sleep in his cot.
If, however, you prefer your independence then try this:
Lie baby in the cot, when he cries pick him up and burp him again, then lie him down again and use Dorothy's technique of cupping or shushing. Cupping is a gentle rhythmic thrusting motion on baby's bottom, while shushing is a "long, low sound, resembling air being released from a tyre".
The alternative is to let your baby sleep on you until he's deeply asleep before attempting to lie him in his bed, with lots of patting and shushing. Yes, it's hard work, says Dorothy, but the main thing is to make sure baby sleeps for at least an hour and a half.

Keeping baby asleep
Very often, baby wakes up after 20 minutes if he's put straight in the cot after nodding off - very frustrating when it might have taken you 30 to get him off to sleep! This is when re-settling is called for.
For a newborn it's important to step in from the first cry because re-settling will be easier before he's properly awake. (Later, you can leave it for a minute or two to see if he can get back to sleep on his own.)
Initially, suggests Dorothy, respond by patting, cupping or shushing. Keep this up until baby is well asleep to prevent re-awakening.
If it doesn't work you may want to re-settle baby in your arms or even let him sleep on you.
Dorothy says many mums prefer to try re-settling in the cot in the mornings when they have more energy, and then re-settle their babies in their arms in the afternoons.

Sleep from three months
Now that the "fourth trimester" is over you can start teaching your baby to self-settle. Dorothy calls this "nurturing within boundaries". Here Dorothy recommends her RADAR technique which involves leaving your child to grizzle or cry for between five and 20 minutes, depending on the level of crying. Go in and use the cupping and shushing technique without getting him out of the cot. When he's calmed down, leave the room but say you'll be back in five minutes and then return in that time if he's upset.
Resume comforting, shushing him etc beside the cot. You'll need to repeat this process until he falls asleep.
It's not easy but over a few days you'll be able to cut down the time you spend settling and your child will learn to settle by himself, says Dorothy.

Dealing with upsets
Whether it's travel, illness or moving house, changes on the home front can upset carefully laid routines.

Where possible try to set off on journeys when baby is due to have his nap. If you're flying choose a night flight to keep baby as much as possible in his routine without too much extra feeding, says Dorothy.

The same applies to other major changes in family life. When baby gets sick you'll inevitably be up more often in the night but still, says Dorothy, try to avoid extra feeds. He'll need comforting in your arms and possibly medication but it's unlikely he'll be any hungrier than usual.

Teething is another cause of upsets and night-waking. Dorothy's stand-bys are Quintessence Teething Gel and Viburcol. And if those don't work, then she uses Pamol during the day and Nurofen at night. Dorothy says raising the head of the bed is also said to help relieve pain.

Watch a video of Dorothy using both the "Cross Your Heart" and "Snow Angel" swaddles here.

Dorothy's Facebook page - 


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