Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest causes of postnatal depression. A mother needs time to relax and wind down after a busy and demanding day with an infant. From as early as twelve weeks, gentle sleep training can be incorporated into a baby’s routine, to help them develop good sleep habits from an early age. You can teach an infant that bedtime is safe and help them to relax by regulating the environment where they sleep. Lights need to be dimmed and the room quietened, with no over-stimulating colours or objects. A baby in a calm environment will be easier to settle.
Aromatherapy, with its natural calming properties, can form an effective part of a bedtime routine. A recent study reported that mothers who used nursery aromatherapy in their infant’s bedtime routine were more relaxed, providing their child with more physical contact and positive cues (such as smiling). The mother’s relaxed state helped calm their child, who in turn provided more eye contact and smiled at their mother, crying less and finally spending a greater length of time in deep sleep. Reduced levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) were also exhibited by both mother and child.
Aromatherapy works be inhalation, with the scent of the (diluted) essential oils stimulating the olfactory senses. The oils produce signals that trigger the brain’s emotional response, resulting in the creation of mood-changing hormones. In time, the baby will begin to recognise the fragrance of the essential oils as part of their bedtime routine.
To disperse a calming aroma around the room where your baby sleeps, infuse the air with essential oils about half an hour before settling your baby. To do this, add 1 – 3 drops of lavender or Roman chamomile oil to around 400ml of steaming water in a bowl (you can use a diffuser, if you have one). Make sure the bowl is placed away from the infant’s head and out of reach of other children and animals. The steam will gently infuse the molecules of the essential oil into the room.
While waiting for the oil to evaporate, you can give your baby her night-time bath. Babies often enjoy warm water on their skin, the effect of which produces the hormone oxytocin, and when oxytocin levels are raised as part of the baby’s nightly routine, feelings of trust are elevated. After your baby’s bath, wrap her in a warm towel and take her to the nursery to continue with her bedtime routine. (For more information on bathing a baby check out our you tube channel).
The aromatherapy teamed with a bath will result in a very relaxed child! This feeling can be enhanced by incorporating a bedtime massage: this releases yet more oxytocin, while the increased flow of blood delivers oxygen and nutrients around the baby’s body, aiding a deeper, fuss-free sleep. (For more information on bedtime massage routines, check out our you tube channel).
Swaddle and Secure
After the massage, dress your baby for bed and supply one last feed before bedtime. Once your baby is ready, place her in her cot, in her still awake but drowsy state. Some infants like to be swaddled to promote a sense of security, as swaddling imitates the tight hug of the womb. This technique keeps your baby from experiencing jerky movements, which is a very common reason for night waking.
Babies are very settled by their mother’s sent, so you may want to consider leaving the swaddle blanket in your bed before swaddling your baby with it. This will leave your natural scent on the material, which will reassure your child. Once you have placed your baby in her cot, in her half-drowsy state, give her some encouraging gentle strokes. She may start to fuss at this time, as she’ll be tired, but give her a chance to settle, perhaps offering a pacifier as a way of relaxing her further.
If she still doesn’t settle, give her some more reassuring touches, allowing her to see, hear, smell and feel that you are still with her. You may leave the room for a few minutes, but keep coming back, allowing her to recognise your return. If your baby moves into a real crying state, meet her emotional needs by picking her up and soothing her with close contact, gently stoking her back. When she is calm and reaches a drowsy state again, place her back in the cot and give her gentle strokes. She will soon recognise that this is bedtime and that she is safe. And, when this is recognised, a routine will soon start to form. Repeat this routine over a period of time, and your baby will feel reassured that you will always come back if called, which helps to promote better sleeping habits and allows the baby to self-soothe.