Not only was Erica Knecht’s daughter, Stella, a colicky newborn, she fought sleep off like a champ. “For the first several months, Stella barely stopped crying enough to doze off, and when she did, her eyes would pop open and send us back to square one. She would actively fight sleep,” says the Ottawa-born, now Jakarta, Indonesia, resident.
It wasn’t until Knecht’s Swiss mother-in-law sent her a Hängematte, a cotton baby hammock that rocks, bounces and swings, that relief finally arrived. “She had visited a maternity ward in Switzerland and saw that all the babies in the nursery were rocking away, and thought it might help Stella. My husband and I were a bit skeptical, but once we saw how it calmed Stella and helped her sleep, let me tell you, I would have given my right arm for that hammock.” The hammock soon became part of Knecht’s nightly sleep routine to help Stella during her colic attacks and to nod off.
A Uniquely Canadian Problem?
According to Debbie Fazio, an international certified sleep consultant, newborn care specialist and doula, though sleeping practices and tools can be vastly different from country to country, the driving force behind their popularity remains the same: parental exhaustion. “Sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity. It’s crucial to our body’s ability to function properly, and when a new parent doesn’t get enough for an extended period of time, it can cause physical, psychological and emotional stress,” she says.
“In many countries, new parents are surrounded by family who help raise children, enabling the passing down of certain rituals that may have come from grandparents or great-grandparents,” Fazio says. “In a multicultural country like Canada, it’s not uncommon that young adults will have immigrated here without their extended families and, once they have families of their own, they do not have the support and guidance they need as new parents. That often leads to a try-anything-once approach to encouraging their baby to sleep,” she says.
It’s no wonder, then, that moms and dads are tempted by any product or tactic that may coax their restless cherub to sleep.
Read more: Busting the 5 Biggest Baby Sleep Myths
Six Tried-and-True Sleep Solutions for Baby
While foreign tools and traditions may be worth investigating, Fazio suggests new moms and dads try a few of these tips first to encourage sleep.
♦Embrace the dark. Sleeping in a dark room increases melatonin, the natural sleep hormone produced by our brain. Since babies also produce this hormone, Fazio suggests it is best to block out as much light as possible from their sleep environment. Use blackout shades or dark curtains. “If using a night light, be sure to use a bulb around four to seven watts, and don’t use a blue light, which has been shown to suppress the melatonin hormone.”
♦Make noise. If there’s one thing the womb isn’t, it’s quiet. Invest in a white noise machine, and place it near baby’s crib. “A baby spends nine months in its mother’s belly, which is very loud,” says Fazio. “Once he is born, parents tend to tippy toe around him, which is not a usual environment for them. Therefore using white noise will offer a familiar sound, as well as help baby wake up less often from normal noises happening within the environment.” Translation: Deeper, more restful sleep.
♦Be sure your child is on an age-appropriate schedule. The schedule should be the same every day with wakes, sleeps and feeds happening at the same time each day. “This will help set your baby’s circadian clock and encourage him to sleep better.”
♦Establish nap and bedtime routines. “Calming and soothing nap routines should be approximately five to 10 minutes in length, whereas a bedtime routine should be approximately 20 to 30 minutes long and could include a bath or massage,” says Fazio.
♦Try not to rock your baby to sleep. Encourage him to fall asleep in his crib on his own by shushing and patting him or staying with him until he falls asleep. Each night, you can then pat, shush and stay less and less until he is able to sleep fall asleep without holding him.
♦And if swaddling… Babies who aren’t yet rolling benefit from swaddling because this type of secure feeling is so similar to what they experienced in the womb. “What’s more, having their arms secure means they’re less likely to be woken by the startle reflex,” says Fazio. “It is not recommended to swaddle the legs tightly, as you can cause hip dysplasia. Always place babies on their backs.”