To most people, a new baby means midnight feedings, dirty diapers, and no sleep for mom and dad. And while those first two might be unavoidable, let me assure you it is possible to have a baby and still get enough rest. It goes against common perception, and occasionally might go against your wishes (who doesn’t want to just snuggle their brand new baby ALL. THE. TIME?), but I promise you, with these suggestions you will get your baby on a sleep schedule (and dare I say sleeping through the entire night) in no time, allowing you to get the much needed rest you need.
And just in case the thought of sleep itself isn’t incentive enough, let me remind you that happy, rested, patient parents mean happy, patient, secure babies. In other words – less crying!
1. Find the right sleeping arrangement. Newborn babies have very inexperienced digestive systems, which is why they need help burping and so often spit up everywhere. It also means they can have problems with reflux that prevents deep sleep. Start your baby in an inclined sleeping position, gradually lowering down until they are completely flat. My last two babies slept in a bouncy chair on the floor by my bed the first week or two because it was where I could get the longest stretches (3-4 hours at a time) out of them. After that, I transitioned to a bassinet with rolled towels under the mattress, and then finally flat in the bassinet or crib. For the first month, find wherever your baby will sleep the longest, and use that to establish a nighttime-is-for-sleeping habit. Once that is established, you can worry about sleeping in the “correct” place.
2. Nighttime is for sleeping. Babies don’t have set circadian rhythms like adults do, so it is our job to teach them that day is for play, nighttime is for sleep. They also sleep 18-20 hours a day, so it can be difficult to make this distinction. Let baby nap all she wants during the day in the room where activity happens. Keep it light, don’t worry too much about people making noise or talking. This will help baby take shorter naps, waking and interacting with your more frequently, and hopefully eating often enough to get their daily nourishment without the need for too much overnight.
Then, at night, keep everything to a minimum. This is the hardest but most important part. When you get up to tend to baby, everything must be done as quickly, efficiently and calmly as possible. Don’t turn on the lights in baby’s room. Use a hall light or nightlight to help you see. Don’t talk to the baby or play any games. Keep all interaction to a minimum. I know it is hard, but you are teaching the baby that when it is dark, his needs will be met but it isn’t time for fun. Change his diaper, feed him, and promptly put him back to bed. Obviously you can kiss and snuggle a little bit (you aren’t made of stone!), but the less you do, the easier baby will go back to sleep.
3. Turn down the monitor. Trust me. You know your baby is clean and dry and fed. It is okay if he babbles to himself in his crib for a few minutes before falling back asleep. It is even okay if he cries a little – you know his needs have been met. You are allowed to ignore small complaints and go back to sleep. I am a super light sleeper, so even hearing a baby’s little grunts and breathing noises will keep me awake, and most likely super cranky. Invest in a baby monitor that can be turned all the way down, but beep to wake you if baby makes noise above a certain decibel. There are a ton on the market that will do this, either with a tone or vibration (or both), and they make it possible to turn off the sound and get some sleep, but still be aware if the baby starts crying.
4. Let baby fall asleep on her own. This most likely won’t come until a little bit later (my fourth baby had to fall asleep cuddled on my chest until she was about three months old), but the sooner you can start putting baby into her crib drowsy but awake the better. A little time alone in the crib will teach baby that she is capable of falling asleep on her own, which means all those little wake ups in the middle of the night that don’t require feeding can be solved without your intervention. Which means you can stay in bed. It also teaches her to entertain herself, which just might come in handy if she is an early riser and you are not.
There you have it. Four easy steps to get your baby off to the great start sleeping through each and every night right from the beginning. Just wait until people start asking how you manage to look so rested with a new baby at home.