5 Best Baby Sleep Hacks

This might be the only Sleep Mums Blog you ever have to read… kidding, read them all, they’re awesome. But this is your cheat sheet. The fast track baby hacks to better sleep.

Parenthood has required way more in the way of fast and creative thinking than we ever imagined - fashioning a baby grow out of a scarf after a poonami, not a problem! However, as well as these naturally acquired skills it’s also good to fill your bag with some decent baby hacks too, just leave room for the wet wipes!

As always we’ll share five practical and useful tips and tricks. They might not all be quick fixes but if you stick with them, you and your baby will get more sleep.

1 Breakfast o’ clock 2 – Bedtime alarm 3 – Baby Supper 4 – Another kind of baby bottle 5 – All change at night?

And if your want to listen to the podcast you can find it here

EP12 Baby Sleep Hacks Transcript

Cat: [00:00:00] This episode might be the only Sleep Mums you ever have to listen to. Kidding, listen to them all! They're awesome. But this is your cheat sheet, the fast track baby hacks to better sleep. I'm Cat Cubie presenter, broadcaster and podcaster. And this is, Sarah Carpenter, baby sleep consultant and now you're a podcaster too!

Sarah: [00:00:22] I'm not sure I'm ever going to feel like a podcaster but I get the bonus of having a lovely chat with you every Monday morning.

Cat: [00:00:28] Ahhh that's so lovely! Together we are The Sleep Mums. We like to keep it real, raw and as funny as your pelvic floor will allow. Parenthood has required way more in the way of fast and creative thinking than I ever imagined, especially where explosive nappies are concerned. Sure, I can totally fashion a baby, grow out of a scarf. I also don't think I'm alone when I say quite seriously that I have developed the skills of a ninja. I can leap over and catch a falling plate or child faster than you can say Cobra Kai! As well as all these naturally acquired skills, it's also good to fill your bag with some decent baby hacks too. Just leave room for the wet wipes. As I mentioned, this week's episode is five of the best baby suite packs. As with all of our pods, these tips and tricks are practical and always useful. They might not all be quick fixes, but if you stick with them, you and your baby will get more sleep.

Cat: [00:01:27] Let's start at the beginning of the day with my absolute favorite baby sleep hack. I honestly didn't believe it would work when Sarah first mentioned it to me, but it really does. Our first hack is how you can use baby as your alarm clock; at a reasonable 'oh, it's totally morning' kind of a time. In the past, we've spoken a lot about sleep associations for bedtime, but you can also create a awake cues for your baby. So, Sarah, can we really get baby to wake up at roughly the same time every morning? And if so, how do we make this magic happen? I'm sure parents everywhere want to know this one because it's a big one.

Sarah: [00:02:06] So you definitely can. I mean, as I always say, there has to be a degree of flexibility, but as long as you're consistent, then things are going to fall into place. So if you have your start time, for example, if you decide that 7am is your start time, then you know you've got your 30 minutes, either side of that. So between 6:30 to 7:00, 7:00 and 7:30 is a good amount of time to be flexible. But basically what you're going to do is make sure that you are consistent with offering your first feed of the day at seven o'clock. And if you're consistent with that, the baby is going to start to accept that as their wake up time. And you will always get like a little bit of a delay some mornings and a little bit of an early start other mornings. But you've got that consistent time. So if baby was to wake up at 6:30, you can do your nappy changes and things like that and start to push towards the seven o'clock and try to get as close as possible. And equally, if baby's still asleep and you just fancy a lie in one day, then you can meet them that little bit longer. But what you're aiming for is more often than not baby being awake at 7:00 and feeding at seven.

Cat: [00:03:21] In many ways, this is like what we've spoken about before, the habitual stuff that surrounds sleep, so that's where the bedtime routine comes in. And also in the morning, if you're feeding baby their breakfast feed at 7:00 every morning after a certain amount of time, that's when they begin to get hungry for that and then that's when they wake up for that feed because they're hungry. It doesn't work immediately but over time it does become ingrained because it becomes a habit. So, I mean, it's clearly not quite as simple as setting your alarm and choosing what perky song you're going to wake up to but what kind of time scale are we talking about? Like, say your baby is waking at 05:45 and you're going, Sarah, that's rubbish. I'm never going to get them anywhere near 7:00. How would you go about getting towards that time?

Sarah: [00:04:16] So again, you want to be looking at your full day and you want to make sure that your naps are obviously correct as well, but then you want to start to just eke things out a little bit each day. So you remember your three to five days rule. And over that period of time, baby's waking up at 05:45, then you want to be resettling them for sort of 10, 15 minutes each day and just pushing it out gradually. And eventually you'll get to your magic time, wherever that might be,

Cat: [00:04:41] Like 10 o'clock in the morning and we'll go out for, like, coffee and a fry up!

Sarah: [00:04:46] That's my next point. You've got to be realistic. Think about your lifestyle. It's all well and good when you're both on mat leave or paternity leave and you can have a little bit of a lazy lie in. But once you're back at work or you want to go back to classes (when you're allowed) things like that, you've got to actually plan for that. So, yeah, as nice as it sounds to get up at 10 o'clock in the morning, it's not really a good long term goal.

Cat: [00:05:12] Obviously, the three to five rule is The Sleep Mum's golden rule, and there's an episode all about that. So if you've not listened to that, we would definitely recommend that you do.

Cat: [00:05:23] Is there a wee bit of personality involved in this? I would say this worked an absolute wonder with my daughter, partly, perhaps because I was really consistent about it. But she did go from, as we know, waking all hours of the night and early rises to being almost on the dot with seven o'clock every morning for close to the first three years of her life. After I met you, my son was not quite as consistent. So is there personality involved in this or was it actually just more down to the fact that I was more consistent with her?

Sarah: [00:05:58] There is definitely a degree of personality, not massively, and you can obviously, if you're consistent, stick to things then you can't really dictate things. But yes, you're naturally going to get some early risers and some later risers. But it's just tweaking it to within your time scales. Nothing before six o'clock really is acceptable.

Cat: [00:06:22] Yeah. You want to be pushing that because otherwise you've got, you know, a very long day ahead.

Sarah: [00:06:28] Exactly.

Cat: [00:06:29] We mentioned The Sleep Mum's Golden Rule, the three to five days. However, this hack can take a wee bit longer. But don't lose heart. Getting a solid and consistent wake up time is totally worth fighting for as it helps to set up your whole day. It's also probably worth noting that the later you start this idea with maybe not later in the morning, I mean, the older they are, the longer it's likely to take for them to get used to their or your breakfast a clock. So it's a good idea to try and get this in place depending on what time you want it to be, as soon as you're kind of beginning to formulate more of a routine in your day.

Cat: [00:07:09] OK, next up, the hack of helping baby to wake up at roughly the same time in the morning is genius, but it really only works if you look at the other end of the day. So our second hack is set a bedtime alarm. Going to bed at the same time every night is good for baby and it's actually good for you. Some research has shown that a regular bedtime for adults is as important as the hours we clock sleeping. In a way, this is a bedtime routine hack. We've spoken about the importance of putting the dominoes or the associations in place so baby falls down to sleep.But the timing is really important to too.

Sarah: [00:07:48] It is, it's not just the timings for the overnights, it's all the sleep. So you know, your morning alarm only going to work if the baby is getting the right amount of sleep at night and during the day. So you need to think about your bedtime. As we spoke about in a previous podcast, you don't want an overtired baby going to bed because it's just not going to work. You're then encroaching on that overnight sleep. So once you've got your wake up time, you can sort of work back to your bed time. But realistically, most babies aren't going to be going to bed between six thirty and seven thirty at the latest. In order to then wake up and start their day in time. Obviously, you're not going to put a baby to bed at six, seven o'clock at night, which is where they really need to and expect them to wake up much, much later in the morning. So you are still using your 10 to 12 hour rule and most babies will average out at that quite quickly. But take your naps into consideration as well. So you are definitely getting the right breaks between waking up from that and going to bed at night and waking up in the morning and having the first nap.

Cat: [00:09:00] We've spoken about this before. I think a lot of people and parents start with bed time sleep, because that's when we all want to be going to sleep and getting some rest. But you kind of have to look at your whole day in the morning. As we've spoken about the first hack is the absolute best place to start with setting up the foundation for your whole day and night. I think that would surprise a lot of people. And clearly, we talk about being a wee bit flexible in terms of routine because we know that families are different and set ups are different. And how you want your day to look like is different. But the requirements or needs of the baby are fairly across the board. Like it's both the surprising and comforting thing that all babies need the same sort of amount of milk and sleeps during the day.

Sarah: [00:09:50] You know, you're absolutely right. We all are desperate to get our nights back once we've had a baby, the automatic reaction is to think, OK, it's all about the overnight. But actually, if you do work backwards, you know, start in your day, t athe right time leading in to your naps into your second and third nap and then bedtime. You've actually achieved what you want much faster by focusing on your full day and one of the things to really remember is that if you are trying to work on a start time to your day, you need to think about your overnight feeding as well. So if baby does wake up at five o'clock in the morning and has a feed because they need that feed. Then you just want to resettle them and then wake them again for that seven o'clock feed. So you're not saying, OK, well, this morning they've woken up, so I'm just going to let them go and eseentially miss the morning feed. You are actually going to wake them for that one too.

Cat: [00:10:46] We're getting a little bit tongue tied with all of this because we're jumping back to talking about mornings. But I guess that just reinforces how tied in together they are. And also why we put the morning one as the very first hack, because if you sort that one out and then you have a wee look at your day and then you will come to the bedtime alarm, the time that you want or need that to be. And as you always say it's really, really useful to just note down, take a few days and then naturally when you feel like baby is ready for these things, whether it's naps or bedtime, and you will begin to see a natural routine coming out, you'd be surprised that they're always hungry at this time or they're always a bit sleepy or grumpy at this time.

Sarah: [00:11:33] Yeah, definitely. That's something that I always say to people to keep a diary. And it's amazing how many people I speak to who say, oh, we've not got a routine. Then they write things down for three days and they come back and say, OK, we've actually got the backbone of a routine. Then we just need to tweak it, so it is really worth doing.

Cat: [00:11:51] And just whilst we're on the bed time alarm, it's worth saying again, even though we've kind of touched on it, that just because you put baby to bed later does not mean they will sleep later. In fact, often the opposite is true.

Sarah: [00:12:05] Absolutely. That over-tired baby and you're not going to get a good settled sleep from them, so put them to bed later when they're overtired and they're going to wake up more frequently throughout the night and earlier.

Cat: [00:12:17] Yeah, unfortunately, you've got to wait for the teenage years, I think lie-in. And then you'll be booting them out of bed!

Cat: [00:12:27] So whilst we're at bedtime, let's talk about another bedtime hack, or maybe I should say bedtime snack, this hack is about doubling down on milk feeds as you get closer to bedtime. We've spoken about in the early days, planning a cluster feed so they work for you rather than feeling like your body or your kitchen become all night venues. But this idea really doesn't just stop with a newborn either.

Sarah: [00:12:51] No, it doesn't. So you want to be thinking about your feeds. The way I would describe is to split feed. So there's lots of variations of this, but the sort of the most popular one, I would say, is to give a feed around four o' clock and then another one just before a bath and then another one at bedtime. So really, you're aiming within the last three hours of the day to try and get three feeds in, which obviously across the other parts of the day you're looking at three to four hours between feeds. So, it really is condensing that back end of the day just to make sure that you've maximized what baby takes and they're ready and nice and full and ready to settle.

Cat: [00:13:32] Now, I call this a snack, and that kind of goes contrary to what we talk about, like not wanting baby to snack. So how does this work in terms of making sure they get full feeds? Why is it better this time of the day? Why does it work?

Sarah: [00:13:45] So the four o'clock feed is definitely still a full feed and then, because baby is starting to get tired, a little bit cranky, essentially the sort of middle feed is a bit of a snack feed. It might be half a bottle or it may be one side, if you're breastfeeding, but it's going to give them that little energy boost just to see them through bath time and getting ready for bed. So they've got the energy and they're then awake enough to take a proper feed at bedtime, what you find if you don't give them that little energy boost is the actually by they time they've done bath time and they've got their jammies on they're exhausted and they actually can't take a full feed because they're just falling asleep on it.

Cat: [00:14:24] And I guess that kind of can mean my kids still have dinner and then they have a snack before bed. So it's not something that disappears with babies or toddlers either. And I am still a bit paranoid about wanting to make sure that the last thing they're going to wake up for is, is because they're hungry.

Sarah: [00:14:40] Yeah, definitely. I think we all tend to sort of have our dinner and then have something else a little bit later on. So it goes right through to adulthood as well.

Cat: [00:14:48] I guess it's a bit Mary Poppins sounding to be like have supper darling! But I guess that kind of what is, it's a kind of hot milk and cookies idea after dinner vibe when they're older. And I guess maybe it might be helpful to think of that in terms of baby.

Sarah: [00:15:05] Yes, absolutely.

Cat: [00:15:09] Moving on from milk and bottles, here's another genius bedtime hack, the other kind of baby bottle. So that's our fourth hack. You probably know the one about hot milk before bedtime. We've been talking about that in terms of supper and that kind of Mary Poppins idea. But the reason that hot milk works both for babies and adults is it raises our core temperature. And when we go to sleep, our body temperature naturally cools. So if you raise it more then normal, i.e. having hot milk and drinking it, then we actually speed up the process of going to sleep.

Cat: [00:15:42] That all sounds a bit 'listen to the science'. But it's actually really clever. I love that it actually has this methodology behind it. But another way to do this and ensure a drowsy baby stays drowsy when we put them down to bed is...

Sarah: [00:15:58] Either a hot water bottle or a little wheat pack. So you can just pop them into the crib and it just warms the sheets up and warms the little area up for them. But really, really, really important to make sure you always remove it before you put the baby in. And obviously just check, if you're using a hot water bottle, that there's been no leaks and just check that it's not too hot. And talking about the sciency bit, that also is really important to remember when you're doing baby's bath, because you don't want to keep them in the bath for too long, as their body temperature then starts to cool too much when they come out. So baby bath should be baby short and sweet just to keep the body temperature stable so that they are also ready for going to bed. So it's important that they're not getting too cool when they come out of the bath.

Cat: [00:16:50] You reminded me because there's an ideal time for a bath, isn't there? Before bedtime is something like an hour or so before bed is the ideal time to get baby in the right temperature or cooling point, I guess, for sleepiness?

Sarah: [00:17:03] Yes, about 45 minutes to an hour before bed. And that just means that, you know, like I said, just keeping it a bit short. So your baby baby bath, as we've spoken about a previous podcasts, is like five minutes. Where people think, you know, they allocate all this time of day for a bath and actually it's a really quick dip. And you want to keep them really cozy when they're in the bath. I think we've talked about the hack of using a muslin in one of our other episodes.

[00:17:29] I don't think we have, you're getting a bonus hack! Go for it. We could keep it for another one. But while we're here, people would be like, no, tell me the muslin hack! Right. Go for it. Another thing to use muslins for, amazing!

Sarah: [00:17:45] So, yeah, anytime you're doing a baby bath, you want to just pop up muslin into the bath when you've got the bath at the right temperature, get it nice and wet, pop baby in and then just cover the baby with the muslin. So it's like a little blanket in the bath and it just means that the body temperature is staying static.

Cat: [00:18:02] Just having spoken about being a ninja at the beginning of the episode, my son really liked the area around his sheets being warm, air temperature being warmer. And if I ever forgot to make up a hot water bottle or the heat pack, what I would try and in a kind of very ninja style do, if I was feeding him with one arm, use my hand to rub quite vigorously on his cot to kind of warm it up. So you can also do that if you don't want to be using any kind of heat source, you can just literally kind of rub the sheet with your hands, which will transfer the warmth from your hand.

[00:18:37] And also tight blankets really well, as well. So before you put baby down, just remove any of the blankets that you're not going to use, but you can layer up the blankets before you baby in. So they're just tightly wrapped around the mattress and that will just warm up the area that baby's actually going into and then just remove what you don't need.

Cat: [00:18:56] I just realised that I was very vigorously rubbing the air there, to show what I meant but that doesn't really work as this is a podcast, I'm also quite glad that I record at home and not in a cafe or something because I think I would have been getting some pretty strange looks. [laughter]

Cat: [00:19:15] We talk about habit a lot when it comes to sleep, whether it's the comforting, habitual pattern of a bedtime routine or the hacks we've already mentioned earlier in this episode: going to bed at the same time or, of course, getting up at the same time. This final hack is one that works for the long term. You are setting up another habit and it is a really important one, but it's also one that surprises a lot of parents. So, Sarah, what is our final sleep hack?

Sarah: [00:19:41] It's one of my favorites. Don't change babies nappy overnight, unless it's a poo.

Cat: [00:19:49] What!

Sarah: [00:19:49] So we're not saying that you've got to leave baby in a saturated nappy, of course, if the nappy is full and you can tell it's full you're going to change. But what you don't want is to create a baby who is happy to sleep through the night because they're not hungry, but suddenly start to wake up because of the pee that they've just done. And as soon as they've done that pee, they want that nappy changed... I'm going to sneeze!

Cat: [00:20:22] Bless you!

Sarah: [00:20:22] I thought I could get to the end of that!

Cat: [00:20:22] And you could just feel it tickling! [laughter]

Sarah: [00:20:26] Right [deep breath!] We're not saying have baby lying in a heavy, wet, saturated nappy, but ideally, yes, if they have not pooed, they don't want to be faffing around changing them. One it can overstimulate them and two, you don't want to have a baby that's then waking up overnight for the nappy change. They're not hungry, they're just waking to get their nappy changed and then they get into the habit of having a little snack because that's how you choose to settle them. So, yeah, really, really important, if there's no poo, don't change them

Cat: [00:21:01] I think in those early days when you have newborn, some of the nappies that have that line that tells you whether they've wee'd or not. And because they do so many poos in those early days, you become quite anxious about making sure you're changing nappies all the time and I remember being so surprised about this one. I was like, no, I can't possibly let them be in a wet nappy overnight, particularly with my son, who had had skin issues and continues to be eczema prone and was allergic to all manner of creams and things. You just couldn't put anything on him without him reacting to it. But it totally is the right way to go. And as you say, even if it's not just for the fact that they're getting used to it, the stimulation of getting baby up, getting them changed is such a palaver that unless it is a poo, it's definitely worth avoiding to keep everyone sleeping better overnight.

Sarah: [00:21:53] Absolutely. It really is. And the thing is as well, what you're saying about nappies, a lot of people will think that when they start to leave them that that longer they might have an occasional leak. It's always good to not be stuck on one type of nappy. So think about other brands. Think about going up a size overnight. And, if you need to, like you're saying about skin conditions, eczema, and things like that, you can use lots of barrier cream, if you need to before bed, just to help that area.

Cat: [00:22:23] I have a friend who used to put a sanitary towel in the nappy, so that it was so it was like a double nappy situation because she would put like a bigger nappy on. I don't know maybe it was like the placement or something, I'm not quite sure. But yeah, basically to make it even more absorbent.

Sarah: [00:22:42] Mm hmm. Yeah. I mean sometimes unappeased are bad for boys because they have extra absorbency at the front and some brands are better for girls because it's more in the middle.

Cat: [00:22:50] Really?

Sarah: [00:22:50] Oh yeah, 100 percent.

Cat: [00:22:54] So there's like gender bias nappies! Wow, although I guess it kind of makes sense. They don't they don't say that on the wrapper though, do they.

Sarah: [00:23:02] I mean, over the 20 plus years of using nappies, it's definitely something that I've become very, very aware of. And between the boys and Emily, I changed my nappies completely.

Cat: [00:23:16] Fascinating! But also, as you briefly mentioned, that it's also really worth going up a size at certain points. Obviously, if you've got a wee teeny tiny baby, that can be difficult, because you don't want to have leaks around the legs. But I definitely noticed the bigger that they got that going up a size at nighttime worked better.

Sarah: [00:23:39] Yeah, absolutely. It's constant changes, as with everything.

Cat: [00:23:46] So normally we do a listener question at this point in the show, but what we wanted to do, rather than doing a question we wanted to throw out to you guys and for you to get in touch with your best baby sleep hacks, and we can share them with all the parents that I think will really, really appreciate them. So get in touch with us online @thesleepmums, both on Instagram or Facebook, or on our website. And let us know your best baby sleep hacks.

Cat: [00:24:14] So that's five baby sleep hacks that really work. You might have seen the memes or heard the stories about stroking a tissue down a baby's face or rubbing the bit in between their eyes as being some sort of life-changing hack to get baby to sleep. I know I've seen the videos, too, but anecdotally, me, my pals, Sarah, I don't think I've ever seen this actually work! The hacks we've chatted about today are tried and tested and whilst some might take a wee bit of perseverance to be effective, they really do work. Like I said at the start, this episode is kind of like a crib sheet of hacks. But if you haven't listened to the other Sleep Mums episodes, there's plenty more shortcuts to better baby sleep in those too. And if you've been listening for a while - you're amazing! - And we'd love it if you'd subscribe to our podcast, write us a lovely review. They really do help. And come and find us on social media and give us a wee follow or a like. We're on a mission to help all parents get more sleep. And you can help us simply by getting the word out there because we believe we're all in this together.

Cat: [00:25:15] Look after yourselves and sleep soon.

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