by Nicky Ward, 6th May 2020
As a newborn photographer, I often need to settle many of my little clients into a deep sleep so that I can create those sweet, sleepy images that so many parents love.
Over the years, I have learnt a few useful techniques to settle a newborn & help them fall asleep as quickly as possible. As I am regularly asked for help in this area by parents in my studio, I thought I would share some tips with you.
Firstly, before trying to settle a baby, always check the basics – does their nappy need to be changed, do they need to be fed, were they burped after their last feed?
Ideas on swaddling change all the time (and, judging by feedback from my clients, seem to differ from one midwife to another) so you will need to reach your own conclusion on this one.
In my experience, swaddling, without doubt, has a role to play in calming a baby down & putting them into a restful state. Swaddling creates a slight pressure around your baby & gives them a sense of security as they adjust to life outside the womb.
When swaddled, a baby is less likely to be disturbed/woken by a startle reflex that causes a flailing of the arms and legs. (A startle reflex is usually triggered by sudden changes – a loud noise, a bright light, a sudden movement.)
(Please be aware: Health practitioners strongly advise that a swaddled baby should NEVER be put to sleep on their stomach)
We call this the ‘magic spot’ because it works EVERY time.
We used this technique with all three of our children & it works like a charm with our little clients too!
It involves gently running your finger from the centre of the forehead and down the bridge of the nose. You will find that babies reflexively close their eyes as you continue, until they eventually completely relax & fall asleep!
You will find babies respond to this fairly instantly. Loud ‘Shhh’ing about 2 – 4 inches from the baby’s ear initiates their calming reflex. Your ‘shhh’ will need to be as loud as the baby’s cry in order for them to notice you. As they begin to calm down, you can adjust to a gentle volume that continues to keep them in a calm, eventually sleepy state.
Why does this work so well? Well, from the time your baby is able to hear (during the 1st trimester) they have heard the comforting ‘shhh’ sound of your blood rushing through your body. The familiarity of the sound seems to instantly trigger their calming reflex.
(Make sure that you don’t ‘shh’ INTO your baby’s ear, but rather PAST it.)
Newborns respond to movement as it is something that is so familiar & comforting to them – life in the womb is definitely not static! Babies are best settled while on their side or stomach. Once sleeping they can then be rolled onto their back.
As mentioned previously, swaddle your baby to help them to settle quicker. Lay your baby on its side, place one hand on your baby’s body to keep them secure. With your other hand, start patting their bottom (bottom NOT lower back) with rhythmic upward movement.
Combine your patting with the ‘shhh’ sounds mentioned above. As your baby starts to fall asleep, slow your patting, until you finally come to a complete stop when you can see they have fallen into a deep sleep. Be patient & persevere – it can take babies up to 20 minutes to fall into a deep sleep. As they learn to self-soothe & fall asleep (yes, falling sleep is something they need to learn), this process should become quicker.
White noise has become an essential in all my newborn sessions to settle my little clients during their shoots.
Your baby spent 9 months listening to the reassuring ‘white noise’ of your body – your rhythmic breathing, your flowing blood, your beating heart…
Then. They are born into a world where we use hushed tones, tiptoe over creeky floorboards & hold in our sneezes. This artificially silent environment can have the opposite effect & leave your little one feeling anxious & isolated.
White noise machines fill this gap wonderfully for your little one. I will post a separate blog on white noise machines in the next couple weeks to outline a little more on why I have found newborns respond so well to them.
I hope that this has been helpful to you (even if only in some small way) in settling your little one.
Newborn, Maternity & Family Photographer based in Hampton, London