For the next few weeks, Sleep Sisters is talking about sleep aids. No, not that large glass of red wine you had while watching The Good Wife before bed. We are focused on the tools that help our little ones fall asleep and stay asleep.
Sleep aids include:
items, such as pacifiers or loveys
actions, such as rocking and swinging or bedtime routines
changes in environment, such as hearing white noise or being tightly swaddled
As parents of young children, we need all the help we can get to ensure our kids are getting the sleep they need. And sleep aids offer valuable assistance. Between the two of us and our three kids, the Sleep Sisters have tried them all. In our upcoming blog posts, we will share our thoughts and recommendations for specific sleep aids, but this week, we wanted to talk about them in general.
Are sleep aids a good thing? As with many things in life, we believe the answer is yes, in moderation (or at the appropriate times). When sleep aids are used appropriately, they help parents calm fussy babies, create positive sleep associations for our children, and give them comfort when sleeping independently.
If misused or utilized at the wrong times, some sleep aids can actually interfere with sleep. For example, baby swings are great at calming fussy babies and the continuous, regular movement often lulls them to sleep quickly. However, after babies turn three to four months, the swing should only be used to help soothe and settle, and not used during sleep. Sleep in motion is not the restorative, high quality sleep that a growing child needs for optimum development.
Pediatrician and renowned sleep expert, Dr. Marc Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, explains that by soothing, we are trying to establish a state of calm and peacefulness, and in the best case, when our child is tired, to lull her into a relaxed, sleepy state.
Dr. Harvey Karp, another renowned pediatrician and author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, describes soothing techniques as “The 5 S’s.” Most of the effective sleep aids address one or more of these categories of soothing. In case you aren’t familiar, here they are:
Swaddling: Tight swaddling provides the continuous touching and support your baby is used to experiencing within the womb.
Side/stomach position: The infant is placed on their left side to assist in digestion, or on their stomach to provide reassuring support. “But never use the stomach position for putting your baby to sleep,” cautions Karp. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is linked to stomach-down sleep positions. When a baby is in a stomach down position do not leave them even for a moment.
Shushing sounds: These imitate the continual whooshing sound made by the blood flowing through arteries near the womb.
Swinging: Newborns are used to the swinging motions within their mother’s womb, so entering the gravity driven world of the outside is like a sailor adapting to land after nine months at sea. “It’s disorienting and unnatural,” says Karp. Rocking, car rides, and other swinging movements all can help.
Sucking: “Sucking has its effects deep within the nervous system,” notes Karp, “and triggers the calming reflex and releases natural chemicals within the brain.”
(excerpted from The Happiest Baby)
Do check with your pediatrician about the sleep aids you are using and make sure that you know the best ways to employ those tools, and when and how to stop.
What sleep aids work best for your kids? Any questions for us about specific tools or how to use (or quit) them? Submit them in the comments below or on our Facebook page and we will do our best to answer in our upcoming blogs.