You have a baby on the way, perhaps your new-born bundle has arrived and you are in the throes of those early weeks with cosy snuggles on the sofa and what feels like a constant carousel of feeding and nappy changing…and sleep deprivation. Baby is only sleeping on you currently but you just want to go have a shower...
In this article I am going to talk about all the sleep aids that claim your baby “will sleep better” if you use it and what is really not needed because either they have been certified unsafe or you just genuinely, in my opinion just don’t need.
Sleep aids are something that yes, can help your baby fall asleep, however, when that aid is not there they may be unable to fall asleep without it. Falling asleep is a learned skill and comes with time, patience and consistency.
So What Are These Sleep Aids?
The first one is ....YOU!
Skin to skin contact
In modern-day hunter-gatherer societies, babies are often carried in slings against their mothers’ naked skin. They also sleep with their mothers at night (Konner 2007).
As a tiny new-born we know that the first cuddle is skin to skin. This helps with bonding and boosts levels of oxytocin between mother and baby. Skin to skin contact is also known as “kangaroo care”!
The new-born weeks go by in a haze, every day being different and every day being somewhat tired and sleep deprived. It is EXTREMLY NORMAL for your baby to only want to sleep on you. Your baby has been all cosy inside you for 9 months and they love you, they want to be held and snuggled by you and to have support to sleep. Skin to skin, cuddle, rocking, supporting your new-born to sleep is a great sleep aid!
A swaddle will replicate in some way the close snuggle feeling a baby has inside the womb. It will reduce the Moro Reflex and in turn reduce the startle waking’s from these reflexes kicking in.
Used from birth until around 4-5 months they are a wonderful sleep aid I would always encourage. Please follow safe sleep guidelines and safe swaddling guidelines. As soon as you see signs your baby is rolling over or attempting to roll over then you need to switch to a sleep bag pronto!
Ensure the swaddle is wrapped in a hip dysplasia safe way. Your baby’s hips/legs need to be in the “froggy” position”.
One of my favourites is below, The Miracle Blanket.
White Or Pink Noise Used from birth your baby will become accustomed and recognise this noise with falling asleep. These “colourful” noises can replicate the loud sounds your baby heard in the womb. It will drown out external noises and if twins or siblings are sharing then place the machine in between the two children for effective results. How loud should this white or pink noise be? About 50Dcb. Place at least 30cms away from your child ears. Did you know in an experimental study of new-borns, 80% of infants that had white noise played at sleep time fell asleep spontaneously within 5 minutes. Only 25% of infants fell asleep spontaneously (Spencer et al 1990). My favourite white noise machine is THIS ONE as pictured below. It can be played all night long which is what you ideally need, small and compact and easy to use.
Perhaps you call it a pacifier, paci or dodo! First of all we need to know that babies are born with an innate desire to suck. Giving a baby a dummy will aid sleep. Sucking releases relaxing hormones and lulls baby into a sleep. That’s normal. That is ok. It can also help with reflux symptoms.
As baby gets older they may come to rely on the dummy to fall asleep and if it works for them great, if you find you are needing to replace it alllll the time then this is exhausting and disruptive and your baby has built a strong reliance on the dummy to fall asleep. It is aiding sleep and waking. This is a sleep aid that needs to be removed.
You can read all about how to do that HERE.
Rocking, Feeding, Bouncing To Sleep
These “sleep aids” are again a natural way to help your baby fall asleep and yes, they work. If they work for you and your baby then no need to stop doing it. If you find it is becoming unsustainable because you are up every 2 hours in the night rocking and feeding your baby back to sleep then it may be time to start thinking about reducing this sleep aid action and think about some other solutions.
Feeding to sleep is the number 1 method parents use to help support a baby to sleep. Mother’s milk contains melatonin, the sleep hormone and raises oxytocin levels, the closeness and cosiness of breastfeeding lulls baby into sleep. This is normal and natural.
If your baby is under 4 months of age it is very normal expected development that they do wake so often but as your baby grows and nears 6 months then perhaps it is time to think about some gentle sleep training techniques. It may just be a tweak in day time schedule, naps or even feeds and solids that is all that is needed to tweak.
If your baby is falling fully asleep whilst being rocked fed, bounced then there is evidence to suggest these babies do wake more often and rely on these methods to fall asleep. They wake more often because as they come into a lighter stage of sleep (every 2 hours at night) then they seem to register they are not being rocked, fed or bounced and cry for that help to repeat to help them back to sleep again.
Dock-A-Tot / Sleep Pods and Nests
These items are widely used and widely advertised to help your baby have a peaceful night’s sleep, with pretty patterns and colours at vast expense so why would you not invest and purchase one? BECAUSE THEY ARE UNSAFE and your baby is waking up for other reasons, not because they are not in asleep in one of these products!
These sleep aids are not firm, nor are they breathable. If your baby rolls around they may become stuck on their tummy and unable breath. The raised edges may obstruct their windpipe if their head is resting on the side. Please do not use them for sleep purposes.
The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) released an article last year 2021 advising pods and nest as well as swings and hammocks are unsafe and should not be used for sleep. Sadly these products are still available to buy until March 2022 in the States.
Again, they are not flat so while you may be able to see your baby sleeping next to you, you are not able to see their windpipe and how much it may be obstructed as their head fall forward.
Introducing a Comforter / Lovey
From the age of 12 months you can safely offer and encourage your child to take a comforter. It may be a little teddy, rabbit, something soft and washable. It must be safe to use so no loose eyes, strings, anything that can be pulled off and cause a choking hazard. Something you can have a few of in the cupboard while one may be in the wash or left at nursery! Often children become attached to their comforter by offering it at feed times, quite times, story times, and during the bedtime routine.
You may like to “wear it” yourself during the day so your scent transfers to the comforter. Having it close when feeding can also help attachment grow. It can be also known as a “transitional object”
Your child may become very attached to it and this is lovely. Some children however do not and that is ok. Keep offering and persevere. The love may come later!
Perhaps burning lavender oils or aromatherapy scents in your child’s room may help aid sleep, seems to work for me when I go for a massage! All I can say is burning some delicate lovely scents will not help your child sleep longer periods of time.
There does not seem to be any specific evidence to say it will or won’t work, it can be calming, perhaps great to have at bath time and story time but to spend money on a contraption to think it will stop those night waking’s and aid better sleep, that in my experience is a no!
I hope this blog has helped bring some clarity to your questions over sleep aids and what are good to use and not so good to use.
If you would like any help to reduce the use of a sleep aid to help your baby sleep more peacefully click here to book in a free 15 minute discovery call to chat and find out how I can help you and your family in that journey!
Peaceful nights to you all,
Your paediatric sleep consultant