Baby whisperer Dorothy Wade spills her secrets on getting new borns to sleep

Baby whisperer Dorothy Wade will be speaking at the Auckland Baby Show on the 18-20th August at the ASB Showgrounds. Here she shares her tips for getting new borns to sleep.

Why is it that my baby, when a newborn slept lots but now they are older, they don’t?

When a baby is born they have the maternal melanin passed through the placenta and once this is deleted in your baby’s body then they tend to start waking more. Also as a newborn you may have used large movements, dummies, fed to sleep. Babies don’t get the tools on board before 12 to 16 weeks so whatever you have done in those first 12 weeks your baby will look for these tools to help them fall asleep and stay asleep.  

Around 16 weeks babies sleep patterns are changing to more of an adult sleep pattern.  They have also gone to the biggest progressive milestone (commonly referred to as a regression). Also their sleep patterns change around this age.

How can I teach my baby to sleep more?

There are so many ways of helping a baby to sleep more.

Some of the things that I tend to practise when looking after babies are as follows:

I have social feeds and business feeds – the daytime feeds are social so I normally feed and the play and night time feeds are quiet and calm with no social activity going on.

Allowing them to self settle on their own – this isn’t about leaving a baby to cry for hours but being there and helping them find their sleep.

Have a short and simple bedtime routine.

Remember that baby’s need two nutrients food and sleep so a well fed will sleep well and a baby who sleeps well will feed well.

By ensuring they are not having two longer wake cycles, if they are overtired it is harder to get a baby to fall asleep.

Is daytime sleep linked with night time sleep?

Like anything to do with babies you will always get conflicting advice. I am a great believer that sleep breeds sleep and many clients I work with will comment that if their baby has good naps in the day they sleep better at night.

Why does my baby wake after 45 minutes?

It is normal for babies to wake after 45 minutes. Why? Babies tend to fall asleep very quickly into a light sleep, they then move into a deeper sleep and then again move into a lighter sleep. Around the 45-minute mark babies tend to be coming out of their deepest sleep and going into a lighter sleep, which they can easily wake from. 

How can I teach my baby to self settle?

Self-settling is all about nurturing! I can’t stress this enough. Self-settling — also known as self-soothing — helps your baby learn how to fall asleep unaided.

It enhances your baby’s quality of sleep and is the key to helping your baby establish healthy sleep patterns.


• Lays the foundations for babies to learn how to fall asleep independently, without the use of aids or props

• offers an opportunity to engulf your baby quietly in your arms — with no words, movement or props — instilling a confidence and sense of security that will help them find sleep

• requires TACT — time, acceptance, consistency and touch — as well as repetition, patience and commitment

Self-settling means stepping aside to allow your baby to find sleep independently, either in your arms or in the bassinet/cot. It might be for as little as half a minute or longer (up to a maximum of five minutes), depending on what you feel comfortable with, before you feel the time is right for you to intervene and support them to sleep.


Although at times it can be difficult for parents to listen to their baby crying as they attempt to find sleep, it is worth keeping in mind that as long as they are well, not in pain and being nurtured, these small intervals of crying — with you present — are a positive and necessary part of your baby’s progress. It will be worth it in the long run!

Self-settling is a learning process that begins as early as day one and evolves as your baby grows and their needs change. It can be done in your arms or in the cot — whichever works best for you and your baby.

From the outset, it is important that parents understand that most babies will not have the ability to self-settle (self-soothe) without your help until somewhere between 12 and 16 weeks at the earliest. Until then, they need your nurturing and guidance to encourage them to learn the skills.

If, during the first 12 weeks, you are able to spend time holding them in your arms or sitting with them to support and guide them as they learn to find sleep, your efforts will go a long way in laying foundations for healthy sleep patterns.

It is likely that man-hours will be spent supporting and comforting them — see it as a valuable opportunity to nurture your baby and bond with them as you discover which sleep cues your baby likes best and responds to.

Positive Sleep Cues

It is important parents realise what self-settling is not … It is not controlled crying or sleep training. It does not involve leaving your baby to cry it out alone to finally fall asleep depleted, distressed and exhausted.

Self-settling is always done with nurturing. The objective of self-settling is to provide your newborn with a sense of feeling completely protected and emotionally secure in their environment so they can switch off and fall asleep contented. When it comes to settling a baby, my advice is to keep it simple. In my experience, the most effective way to help your baby fall asleep is to sit quietly and use small and repetitive techniques, such as cupping and patting that can be done in your arms or in the cot. These subtle but firm movements are calming for a newborn and, when the time is right, can be gently tapered off so that eventually your baby will be able to fall asleep without the need for them. One of my favourite expressions is ‘Don’t start anything in your arms that you can’t replicate in a bassinet/cot. If circumstances allow, I encourage parents to predominantly self-settle their babies in their arms for the first 12 weeks, then follow their instincts when deciding whether to self-settle in the bassinet/cot. Perhaps your baby prefers certain settling techniques over others, or sleeps better at different times of the day. As they grow, self-settling becomes an integral part of their sleep ritual, and it is a skill they will have for life. If exclusively self-settling in arms, ideally aim to introduce self-settling in the bassinet/cot no later than 12 weeks — it makes it easier for all. Generally, it comes down to a mother’s gut instinct, which often coincides with their baby’s growing confidence. Be patient and don’t forget: babies simply do not have the ability to self-settle (self-soothe) until somewhere between 12 and 16 weeks. Once parents are aware of this, they can enjoy the process and be less fraught with expectation.

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