You have to expect that sleep will be an elusive thing for awhile, but good habits start early!
A few posts ago, we talked about SAFE sleep and the AAP’s latest guidelines for making sure your little one is sleeping in a safe environment, with an aim to preventing SIDS or other sleep related deaths.
So assuming you have that all covered, including the safe crib, without blankets, pillows or bumper pads, it’s time to look at GOOD sleep. These tips will help you and your baby get into some good sleep habits that will stand the test of time.
Start right with sleep habits
When it comes to sleep, ‘start as you mean to finish’ is a very applicable mantra! While you don’t have to have your newborn set up in their own room from night one, and a bassinet in your room is perfectly acceptable for a few months, it’s important to establish what sleep habits and routines will work for you and your family and how you can go about keeping them!
For starters, make sure everyone is on board with and aware of the routine. If you have a postpartum doula, an overnight newborn care specialist or a nanny, family helping or even just your spouse, you need to make sure everyone knows how the routine goes! Babies aren’t big on changes to their routine (bigger kids either, for that matter!) so keeping to one is the best way to initiate good sleep habits.
Whatever the routine is, have one
Some people swear by bathing their baby and then cuddling, a last feed with a book and popping them into bed. Others would prefer to give them a baby massage, change them, feed them and rock them to sleep. The key here is consistency.
You can establish your routine around 2 months of age. Remember, it’s not set in stone. You can, after four months, stop making feeding the last thing you do, for example. The idea however is that there is a routine that signals to your child that it’s bedtime: lights are dimmer, stimulation is at a minimum and calm is the order of the day (or night, as it were!)
Don’t eliminate naps
Some new parents make the mistake of thinking that by skipping or eliminating naps, or delaying baby’s bedtime, their babies will sleep better during the night. In fact, the opposite is true. An overtired baby will have a hard time getting to sleep and will still wake up for feedings in the early months, so in fact, all you will have is a sleep deprived, cranky baby who will fight going to sleep.
Naps are actually good for baby’s sleep habits. If they are well rested and not over-stimulated throughout the day, they will sleep better at night; which means EVERYONE will sleep better at night!
A little noise can sometimes help
With some babies, a little white noise helps your baby to fall asleep. There are white noise machines that accomplish this, but even water vaporizers (if you need the humidity) or air purifiers can have the same effect. See what works for your baby, but a little white noise when they are going to sleep can become part of the habits that they associate with sleep.
Just remember that if you travel to grandma’s house, you might find that her lack of that cool white noise machine might make a lot of difference come bed time!
Some other good sleep habit tips
- Limit light in the room. Babies sleep better in a dark room and are less prone to waking early if you start that way.
- Some babies do NOT enjoy swaddling. Just because the baby book says that most babies like it, if yours doesn’t, don’t persist!
- Encourage your baby to fall asleep independently after three months of age. This isn’t about letting them cry it out. It’s about pulling back on rocking them until they’re fully asleep or lying with them on your bed until they’re asleep. I know parents who are still having to do this with their tweens, so don’t start habits you can’t sustain! It’s fine to rock baby towards sleep but put them down when they’re drowsy but before they’re fully asleep. They’ll learn to soothe and feel comfortable going off to sleep on their own, which is the first step to long term sleep habits.
- Keep stimulation to a minimum during night time feedings or changes. Dim lights, minimal noise… anything to keep baby in ‘sleep mode’ so that they’ll go right back off to sleep after their snack or change.
- Figure out how you want to deal with time changes or jet lag, if you’re travelling with baby. And yes, we wrote about that too!
Know this too: this too shall pass! The months when baby isn’t sleeping very well are few, though they feel like years. There will come a time when they won’t need you a night anymore and while you’ll enjoy that new experience, you’ll miss the midnight snuggles with your newborn so get some rest when you can and know that you and thousands of other parents across the country are living the same thing!
You’re never alone, particularly if you hire a postpartum or sleep doula. If you’re having a baby in the next while and haven’t considered it, now is the time!