There’s no denying it: if a product claims to help your child sleep, you’re going to be tempted to buy it. So what products are really worth it?
Sleep deprivation is one of the most debilitating and emotionally challenging aspects of parenthood. We spend hours mulling over the topic discussing our little one’s sleep with anyone who is prepared to listen. And we’re always on the lookout for the thing that will get our baby to sleep faster and longer. No product on its own will miraculously teach your child to sleep, so choosing the right product and using it effectively are the keys to maximising your baby’s sleeping potential. Here are my top five bedtime essentials:
the swaddle blanket
There’s nothing new or revolutionary about swaddling. In fact, babies around the globe have been swaddled for centuries. So why is this ancient practice so beneficial?
Babies are born with a primitive survival reflex, known as the “startle” or “Moro” reflex. This reflex produces involuntary, jerky movements, causing your baby’s sleep to be regularly interrupted. By swaddling your baby, you’ll significantly reduce these movements and help to create the familiar restricted conditions evoked by the womb. And if you consistently swaddle your baby for each sleep, he will quickly interpret it as a cue for sleep and start to wind down. At 14-18 weeks of age, the startle reflex fades and your baby should no longer need to be swaddled. If you want to do this gradually, loosen the wrap over time and switch to a sleeping bag.
tip I’ve found the Miracle Blanket to be one of the most popular and widely used swaddles. It’s easy to use, has special flaps to tuck baby’s feet and arms into, and babies tend not to wriggle out of it due to its length.
tip If you don’t like fiddling with a swaddle wrap, then a great alternative is a swaddle bag, which is a fitted zip-up sleeping bag that keeps their arms tucked inside.
Contrary to what you may expect, babies settle more quickly and sleep more deeply when exposed to “white noise”. Common soothing sounds are water trickling, waves crashing on the beach, dolphins underwater, rain falling, or even the vacuum cleaner.
Babies can get stressed and overtired easily, especially when their world is filled with movement and brightness. White noise helps them unwind and block out distractions. It will also help them interpret the sound as a sleep cue.
Parents can download free white noise apps to their gadgets and play them continuously throughout the night. “Sleep Pillow” and “White Noise” are two of the apps I use during my sleep consults and they have a huge range of different sounds: rainforest, rain on roof, birds, whales, waves etc.
For parents who don’t want to surrender their smart phone to their child’s bedroom, buy a white noise CD and play it on repeat throughout the night. You can also get soft toys that play white noise and have timers. (For safety, don’t leave soft toys in the bed or cot.)
tip Another top-selling product, the “Baby Shusher”, makes a rhythmic “shush” noise that reminds the baby of being inside the womb, where there is a constant inundation of loud sounds from blood flow and other in-utero noises.
tip Most children can successfully be weaned off white noise at around the age of 12–18 months, and you can do this by gradually turning it down lower each night.
Snuggly toys, blankets, and comforters are all beneficial for teaching your child to sleep independently and learn to self-soothe. The best time to introduce a comforter is when your baby has stopped being swaddled and can easily reach out, grab and snuggle the toy.
Before you introduce a snuggly to your baby, try sleeping with it or wearing it inside your clothing for a few days, so it absorbs all your comforting mummy smells.
If your baby is securely attached to their snuggly toy, instead of crying out or needing you to comfort him back to sleep, he will find his snuggly, sniff it, snuggle it, rub it on his face, and often suck on it to go back to sleep. This is your baby learning to self-soothe.
tip It’s always worth investing in two identical comforters, and switch them round regularly so they both smell and wear the same, just in case one gets lost.
sleep trainer clocks
These gadgets are designed to help toddlers stay in bed longer so they get their full quota of sleep. Sleep trainer clocks can be used effectively with children from two years of age and should remain a consistent part of their sleep routine. It’s best to address the problem gradually over a few weeks, to give their body clock time to adjust.
At first, set the trainer clock to come on close to your child’s usual wake-up time. For example, if your child usually wakes around 5am but you would like him to sleep till 6:30am, then first set the clock to come on at 5:10am and get him up at this time. Once your child has grasped the concept, move the time forward by 10 minutes every three days until you get to the desired time, allowing your child time to adjust.
tip Look for one with a clock face that can be dimmed or switched off, stars that disappear each hour showing the passing of time, and a lock so little fingers can’t tamper with it.
Sleeping bags provide a cosy, safe alternative to traditional sheets and blankets. Your baby will remain covered throughout the night, as there are no blankets to kick off causing your baby to wake up feeling cold. It also creates a safer sleeping environment since there are no sheets or blankets to wriggle under that may pose a suffocation threat.
Most sleeping bag manufacturers follow the international TOG rating system to indicate how warm the sleeping bag is and how many blankets it is equivalent to. The higher the TOG, the warmer the sleeping bag. Bags with a rating of 1-2 or below are suitable for spring/summer use and ratings of 2-2.5 are suitable for autumn and winter.
Sleeping bags are also a great way of preventing your child from climbing out of her cot. They are also very handy when going away, as your child will be able to sleep in something familiar that smells of and reminds her of home.
tip Some brands also cater for children over 3 years and can go up to 130cm in length.
Annette Faamausili is a children’s sleep consultant who offers support, advice, and solutions to parents of children with sleep problems. www.serenesleep.co.nz