There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep — and for parents, that extends to both themselves and their babies. That’s where the experts can help.
Speaking to PEOPLE, prominent pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp — author of The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block, as well as founder and CEO of Happiest Baby — shares his five tips for helping babies get their Zs safely and effectively.
“As a pediatrician, I have always found that the best tips weave together the latest science with time-tested ancient traditions,” says Karp. “As you’ll see in my top five tips, I’m a big believer in both!”
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1. Put Your Baby Back in the Womb
Okay, that’s not really possible. But babies are happiest — and sleep best — when we give them a virtual fourth trimester of womb-like rhythms, for hours and hours a day. Why? Because all babies have a special, soothing, calming reflex that is switched on by mimicking five womb sensations babies love, called the 5 S’s: swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking. (Note: Side position is just for calming babies in your arms. The back is the only safe position for sleep.)
Once you are a master at turning on the calming reflex, you can use the S’s to help your baby’s sleep.
2. Swaddle Your Baby for Nights and Naps
Swaddling reminds your baby of the embrace of the womb, and it also prevents upsetting flailing. Your baby may initially resist swaddling, but stick with it because once snug and contained, the other S’s can work their magic. And by reducing wild startles, swaddling reduces night wakings. It’s that simple. (Note: Swaddling should be hip safe and stopped once your baby can roll over swaddled.)
Babies are wriggly little creatures, so swaddling works best if you wrap the arms very snugly down — to prevent your little “Houdini” from sneaking out. Lots of parents master the “baby origami” of swaddling with a muslin blanket or use a pre-made sleep sack, like SleePea, Happiest Baby’s new 5-second swaddle.
3. Shushing = Sleep
All babies sleep better with rumbly white noise … and most parents do, too! That’s because it reminds them of their happy place — the womb!
In a pregnant mom’s belly, there is constant sound — the blood whooshing through the uterine arteries — that’s as loud as a vacuum cleaner, 24/7. (I suggest using white noise for all baby sleep until at least the 1st birthday.)
4. Rock-a-Bye Baby
There’s a reason why lullabies talk about rocking. In fact, most of us fall asleep with rocking (think train, car, plane, hammocks). The only catch is pediatricians warn against sleeping in a swing or rocker, because a baby’s head can roll too far forward, causing suffocation. So, only rock your sleeping baby in your arms — or a smart sleeper, like SNOO, which provides safe motion on a flat surface.
5. Get Support
Most of today’s parents have it harder than ever because they have little or no help. Parents throughout history always had three to four “nannies” to help them (their mom, grandma, cousin, etc.). So don’t hesitate to ask a friend or relative to help out by caring for the baby, doing some chores or bringing over some food. I beg you, don’t feel guilty about it. You deserve it! And feeling guilty certainly won’t help you sleep!