safe motherhood


Helping your baby sleep

"I've always refused to leave my baby to cry, thinking this cruel and unnecessary - especially when young, when they need comfort." Emily, new mother.

Leaving a baby to cry is an emotive phrase. Leaving your baby to sleep is perhaps a better way of putting it. It means giving your baby the chance to fall asleep alone by putting them down sleepy but awake.

Here are a few tips:

• Put your baby on their back in the cot with a mobile to watch, or a musical chime to listen to. There are also night-lights available that throw a kaleidoscope of changing colours on the ceiling. Some babies find this is enough to help them drift off.

• Let your baby find their thumb. Love it or hate it, some babies just need to suck. A thumb works better than a dummy because the baby can't lose it, although long-term thumb-sucking does have an effect on the way teeth develop.

• Favourite toy/cloth. If you give your baby a cloth or an article of clothing that has your smell on it, he or she can hold it while they are feeding. Then, when they are on their own, they can hold on to it instead of holding on to you. If your baby gets very attached, cut the cloth in half so that you always have a 'spare'.

• Reduce stimulation. Some babies prefer less to look at while they are drifting off, so darken the room and keep the noise level down. They may grumble while they are 'moving down' towards sleep but there is no need to disturb them.

• It's worth watching your baby carefully to work out what is their preferred way of soothing themselves to sleep.

If you are having specific sleep problems with an older baby, ask your health visitor or GP about referral to a specialist sleep clinic, or e-mail the NCT experts with your question (click on 'ask us' above) who may be able to offer suggestions.

Ask your health visitor for advice about sleep problems. She will have heard them all and should be able to offer suggestions.

"I cannot bear to hear a baby cry at all. Some of my best memories of my babies' babyhood is rocking them to sleep. I think it helps build a bond of trust." Belinda, mother of three.

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