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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Get Your Baby To Sleep: 4 Steps

You thought pulling all-nighters to finish term papers was hard. Imagine goingdays without sleep, enduring a high-pitched wail that cuts to the bone and strangles every nerve in your body. That's the harsh reality of the first few months of fatherhood. Most newborns are understandably distraught. The world is an alien place to them, blasted with light and awash with new sounds. And if that wasn't enough, their digestive tracts are still trying to figure things out and their tummies are painfully bloated with gas that can't easily escape. Oh, and they just so happen to be nocturnal for the first few weeks; during pregnancy, babies are lulled to sleep by mommy's movements during the day. When they're born, they're still on the night shift.

It all adds up to some tough nights. But they don't have to be disastrous for your sleep. There are a few simple tricks to get your baby to sleep that can work wonders; tricks that calm a seemingly hysterical baby. You and your partner will sleep more and you'll look like Super Dad. Plus, you'll bond with your baby, which can lead to a lifetime of happy parenting.

After your baby is fed, bathed and ready for bed, following these simple steps will almost always help you get your baby to sleep.


Burp your baby

Gas is a major midnight disruptor. To a little baby, it's excruciating and confusing. It’s understandable that when baby has gas, he’s exceedingly upset. You can score some major points with your partner if you take over the calming duties for a night or two. And that means getting rid of the gas.

So, you think you know how to burp a baby, huh? Pat them on the back, right? Nope. The back pat can work, but there are better ways to burp your baby without pounding on them like conga drums.

The bounce: Hold your baby close and bounce on the balls of your feet. Gently rub your baby's back, up and down his spine. Baby will automatically straighten his posture, which gives gas a clear shot from tummy to mouth. This technique works wonders for clearing gas and ultimately will help you get your baby to sleep.

The clock: Proceed carefully. Sometime gas can get trapped above the opening of the esophagus, in the bubble of the stomach. The best way to free it is to gently sway your baby like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. Firmly, but gently, grasp baby around the ribs, just under the arms. Keeping him close, sway him from side to side. Imagine the baby is on a pendulum and his feet are at the end. This side-to-side motion will allow the gas to slide over and up the esophagus, and out of your baby's mouth with a satisfying burp.


Baby burrito

Newborns like to feel secure; they miss the warm embrace of the womb. That's why ingenious moms invented the swaddle (it's not a great American invention, but damn we should have thought of it), a method of wrapping a baby up tight in a blanket. It gives baby a sense of security and calm which, again, will help you get your baby to sleep. But simply wrapping your baby up in a blanket won't do. You need a special technique that will keep him snug. (Newborns are so new that they can be spooked by their own flailing limbs, so swaddles need to be secure.) To make a secure swaddle, place the blanket on the bed at a diagonal, making a diamond. Fold the top corner straight down. Place your baby on the blanket with his neck lined up with the top of the fold you just made. Wrap the top left part of the blanket over baby's right shoulder and arm. Now take the bottom corner of the blanket and bring it up your baby's chest. Finally, wrap your baby's left arm and shoulder up with the right corner of the blanket and tuck it in beneath his right side. Bon appetite! Kidding, but this should definitely help you get your baby to sleep.


Sideways soothing

This is a trick that famous baby whisperer Dr. Harvey Karp teaches in his fantastic book and video The Happiest Baby on the Block. If, after swaddling, your baby is still inconsolable, move your baby to his side. Karp says this induces the calming reflex, and it really works -- especially for newborns. Gently turn your baby on his side and stay close. Crying usually ceases in a matter of minutes. If it doesn't, follow the next step.


The sound of music

Newborns don't like quiet. They've spent nine months in a pretty noisy place; a place full of whooshing white noise, of blood pumping through mommy's veins, of amniotic fluid sloshing around, and of the muffled sound of voices and music. When things get quiet in your bedroom at night, it's scary and alien. If, after swaddling and sideways soothing, your baby is still upset, try shushing in his ear. Not too loudly, but remember, baby needs to hear the "shhhhhhhh" white noise over his own screams. Later on you can tune a clock radio to static and play that near the bed or crib to sooth baby.

Finally, if all else fails, give baby something to suck on. This doesn't always have to be a pacifier or mommy's nipple (or your man boobs if you have them -- and if you're doing that, you should know that's just wrong); a newborn will happily suck on your finger or thumb for comfort. But beware: A newborn can create deep-space levels of vacuum that can really hurt your fingers.

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