Newborns need frequent feedings and won't yet sleep through the night. But swaddling a newborn can help promote good quality sleep because it creates an environment like the mother's womb. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that when swaddling is done correctly, with the infant always on his back and well wrapped (see this video on how to swaddle), it can be a good technique to help calm infants into a sound sleep. The AAP advises parents to monitor swaddled infants (to help prevent SIDS), and to stop swaddling when your baby begins to roll intentionally from his back. Talk with your pediatrician about when to stop swaddling and how to wean your infant from it by leaving one arm out at first (stopping cold turkey can cause sleep problems all over again).
When it's time to stop swaddling, or even instead of swaddling, many parents turn to sleep sacks, or wearable blankets made in a range of sizes for infants on up to toddlers. Sleep sacks have become popular because regular, loose blankets should not be used in a baby's crib due to the risk of SIDS. Putting baby in a sleep sack can help keep him warm on a cool night (choose from lightweight muslin sacks to warm fleece ones) and also cue him that it's time for bed.
Blackout curtains or shades can be a parent's best friend, especially during baby's daytime naps. Even when the sun is shining or headlights are flickering by, your little one's nursery will stay cozy and dark with the help of these light-blocking window treatments. Blackout curtains come in a variety of nursery-friendly colors and prints, and not just in solid dark colors. Infant sleep experts recommend holding off on using blackout curtains until after the newborn phase so that infants establish an internal clock or understanding of day (a time for naps) and night (a time for deeper, longer periods of sleep — eventually!). Once you do use blackout curtains, crack them open to let in some daylight a little while before it's time for your baby to start waking up. Print this guide to sleep needs by age to see how many hours your child should be sleeping or napping per day.
White Noise Machine or Music Player
Many parents sing the praises of white noise machines, which can help drown out household sounds and lull babies to sleep with a womb-like "shhhh" or hum. The popular parenting book The Happiest Baby on the Block by pediatrician Harvey Karp, M.D., advocates the use of white noise machines, making them even more of a hot commodity. But be careful: A 2014 Pediatrics study found that the machines can potentially harm babies' hearing if played at maximum volume, in close proximity to the child, and/or for long durations. Experts recommend placing the machines farther from the crib and playing them at a volume comparable to a quiet shower rather than a loud hairdryer. Also keep those tips in mind with other types of sound machines (such as nature sound machines and mobile apps), as well as lullaby-playing mobiles and music players.
Real Lavender Bath Products or Essential Oils
The scent of lavender promotes relaxation, so it's used in many bath and body products for babies. So if bath time is part of your little one's nightly routine, look for real lavender-scented products or consider adding a drop of lavender essential oil to the bath water. The AAP suggests reading a product's ingredients to make sure it is made from natural essential oils and plant extracts rather than chemical impostors (the word 'fragrance' in an ingredient list means it is synthetic, and most popular baby washes use artificial fragrances). The AAP also advises being careful with essential oils — even though they are natural, they are strong and can irritate the skin, so they shouldn't be applied directly. As with any new body product you try, test it out by using a very small amount to make sure baby's skin doesn't have a bad reaction. Chamomile, clary sage, and neroli are other essential oils that can promote calm, according to the AAP.
Rocking Chair or Glider
Rocking chairs date back hundreds of years and are here to stay because of their knack for relaxing people of all ages. Moms looking to streamline their baby registry checklist might be tempted to skip a glider or rocker (they're not the prettiest chairs and they do take up space). But most parents will tell you to ditch your design concerns and opt for the comfiest, cushiest glider or rocker you can get — it will become your little retreat during midnight feedings and fussy nights. Gliders tend to cost more but usually come with more cushioning and a padded ottoman to rest your legs.
Lovey or Blankie
If you're up on the latest SIDS prevention guidelines, you know that any loose bedding or objects such as blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, or sheepskin are a no-no until a baby is at least 12 months old (pacifiers are still OK for all ages — phew). After your pediatrician gives the green light, you may want to introduce a "lovey," stuffed animal, or small blanket that your older baby or toddler can hold and use to self-soothe in the crib. When choosing a lovey, read the manufacturer's age guidelines and check that there are no choking hazards (such as sewn-on eyes or poorly attached tails). Not every child likes or needs a lovey, but most kids find great comfort in holding, caressing, and babbling to them, especially when they're sleeping somewhere away from home.
Younger babies aren't afraid of the dark; they're used to it after months in the womb. But older babies and toddlers can be afraid of the dark or have night terrors, where they suddenly wake up disoriented and scared. If this is becoming a common problem for your tot, consider trying a dim night light. Today's night lights are more fun and creative than ever. The Twilight Constellation Turtle night light by Cloud b, and the Light My Way handheld toddler nightlight by Munchkin are both cool options for soothing kids ages 2 and older. The OK to Wake! by Onaroo doubles as a night light and an alarm clock that parents can set to turn green at an acceptable wake time (perfect for that transition time from crib to 'big kid bed').