During a child’s first few months, good sleep — for both parents and babies — can feel like an unaffordable luxury. And while the concept of sleep training gets a lot of parents nervous, it doesn’t have to be a scary thing. “Sleep training just means changing the way you manage your child’s behavior to encourage better sleep,” says Dr. Craig Canapari, a pediatrician at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut, and the director of the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center. Luckily, there are practical tools to help children sleep better. We spoke to Canapari; Dr. Harvey Karp of the popular Happiest Baby book and DVD series and inventor of the SNOO smart bassinet; and Lauren Kay, deputy editor of the Bump for their recommendations on the best accessories for helping your child — and you — enjoy a good night’s sleep.
“A really good bedroom should be dark,” says Canapari. “A night-light is okay, but having the lights on is really pretty counterproductive. Limiting light coming into the room in the morning if you have a child that’s rising earlier than you would like is also very helpful.” To help with light pollution, Canapari recommends blackout shades, both to block morning light, and if you’re living in the city, lights from the street and businesses. He likes simple paper blackout shades.
Or try ones with suction cups, which are good for taking with you on vacation, according to Canapari. Kay also recommends blackout curtains to help babies distinguish between night and day, which is especially tricky during the newborn phase.
“In general I’m not a huge fan of really complicated technology,” says Canapari. “I almost feel like it’s counterproductive to know too much.” Instead of newfangled baby monitors that feature heart rate and temperature monitoring, for instance, he prefers a simple audio monitor.
“I like sound machines in rooms because they mask outside sounds,” says Canapari. His favorite (and a Strategist staple) is the Marpac: “We have two of them and they’re essentially indestructible. My older son’s one has been running nightly for 11 years without a hiccup. I think it’s probably going to outlive me. It has a nice, calming quality to it.” Kay agrees and also swears by the Dohm in her own home.
One of the three main tools that Karp uses for promoting infant sleep in his books and DVDs is swaddling, in addition to the use of white noise and motion. Swaddling gives the baby a sense of security and prevents their arms from flailing about and startling themselves awake. But there’s an art to swaddling safely and correctly: “You need the arms very securely down, but you also need the hips to be open and relaxed. You also don’t want to overheat the baby or for the blanket to get unraveled.” While you can use a regular blanket to create a swaddle, it may take a little bit more skill and practice, according to Karp. Parents and caretakers may find it easier to wrap up an infant with a specially made swaddle, like Happiest Baby’s Sleepea 5-Second Swaddle. Not only does it have an internal band that easily secures the arms, it has a quiet Velcro, vented panels, is made from organic cotton, and a zipper that unzips from the top and the bottom. And according to writer Julia McVeigh: “If you’re a sleep-deprived parent of an infant, you need the good news first: This swaddle is magic.”
Canapari recommends the Miracle Blanket, which he says is very popular with parents.
For babies older than three months that are transitioning out of the swaddle, Kay recommends Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit. “It has a nice and firm but plush exterior so it’s kind of like putting your baby in a snowsuit,” she says. “It’s a great option especially if you have a baby who really loves his or her swaddle. This is a nice way to transition from the swaddle to the Merlin and then to some sort of sleep sack.”