A mother may be reading this to prepare for her baby's impending arrival. Perhaps a new mom is reading this at three in the morning, begging their babies to just go to sleep. Either way, she's probably aware that life as a new mom can be pretty exhausting. The saying "sleep like a baby" can be extremely misleading. It can even make many new moms laugh (hey, it's easy to laugh than to cry, right?).
Luckily, there are many things she can do to prepare for and help correct the challenges that baby may be having in sleeping. There are lots of things that are in her control when it comes to baby sleeping better and longer. That’s not saying they’re all easy, but given her focused attention, there are several things she can do to set the stage for a successful sleep.
Remember, the first year of a child’s life is likely to be the most challenging when it comes to sleeping soundly. As natural as it is, sleep is a learned activity. Humans aren’t born with the ability to sleep twelve hours straight. Nor should they, given the frequent need for food that newborn babies have. They need to wake up at regular intervals, in order to grow into the strong toddlers that they will become. That said, sleep probably doesn’t need to be as difficult as it probably is for most moms reading this article. So read on for the tips, tricks, and strategies to help encourage baby (and mom!) to have restful, rejuvenating sleep.
15 Do's: Keep The Room As Dark As Possible
We, adults, have trouble sleeping in brightness. Though babies are known to notoriously being able to sleep anywhere, that doesn’t mean they can sleep soundly everywhere. Light makes an impact on the length and quality of sleep for people of all ages, so consider how she can set the stage to encourage baby sleep time. During the day, that may mean a dark (but not black) room. Keeping the room truly blackout may seem like a good idea, but it can confuse the child on the difference between day and night. Nights, importantly, is for sleeping.
As tempting as it is to let the baby sleep the day away, ensuring they have lengthy, but not excessive, naps are the key.
What about night time? A dark room counts there too. When they wake up for the evening, ensuring the room stays dark for feedings can help ensure that nighttime remains night time – a time to sleep, not play. A well-situated night light is often all she needs to ensure there’s enough light to collect and feed the little one, while still letting them know that it’s time to rest.
14 Do's: Bring In The White Noise
As any experienced mom knows, any little noise during nap time can make you cringe. Whether it’s a doorbell, siren, pot clanging, or even a sneeze, the smallest noise can rouse baby from their sleep, turning you back onto mom mode. So how do you avoid this?
This is one that is fairly simple – bring in the white noise! There are tons of fancy white noise machines available nowadays, but the easiest thing is a simple fan. Babies are used to constant noise in the womb, whether it’s hearing your voice, outside sounds, or even the sound of mom’s heartbeat and belly swooshes. This is just one more way to keep the sleeping environment similar to the womb environment, to encourage a restful sleep. An added benefit to the fan is that it encourages great air circulation within the room, which is also beneficial for babies.
To have the constant white noise drowning out the small noises of everyday life can help immeasurably, in helping the baby stay asleep once you’ve put him or her down for naps or for the evening. It allows you to take the break you need – which may also involve a nap for mom.
13 Don't: Pacifiers Should Stay Away From The Crib
A pacifier may be a great tool for you. It satisfies a baby’s desire to suck when they’re not truly hungry and can get you through a few minutes while you prepare to feed them. However, putting them to sleep with a soother in their mouth creates a dependency. If (that was positive thinking – I meant when) baby wakes in the middle of the night and doesn’t have the soother, they cry for it. This leads to moms fumbling around in the dark, searching for a soother in, around, or under the crib.
Imagine how many times that could happen on a given night, and it’s enough to want to cut this habit.
Better yet – never start this habit in the first place. As with so many sleep crutches, they become habits that eventually need to be broken. As tempting as it may be to get through the early newborn months, try to think through the long-term plans and keep your future, exhausted-self in mind. Save your future self from having to go through the pain of breaking this habit, and if you’re already in it, try to cut it as early as you can.
12 Do's: Ensure They Have A Full Belly
This one is a no-brainer. You probably don’t like to go to bed hungry, so why would a baby? One of the biggest things that can wake a sleeping baby up, is hunger. So, do your best to ensure they are fully topped up before it’s time for slumber. Not making enough breastmilk? Think about topping them up with a bottle after nursing. Pediatricians say that babies aren’t likely to overeat on milk alone – they know exactly how much they need to consume and stop when they’re content.
Topping them up gives you the chance (unfortunately, only the chance) to get woken up a little later into slumber. There’s no magic pill to guarantee they sleep to a certain length, but this step will help better your chances. Another tip is to give them a top up right before you go to bed if you end up sleeping a little later than they do. If you stay up an extra hour to catch up on some work, life, or even to relax with a little television, giving them a top up right before you hit the sack helps ensure that little belly stays full as long as possible – giving you an increased chance to rest up.
11 Do's: Put A Baby Down Awake
This is one of the biggest suggestions taught by sleep trainers. So why do we struggle with this one? For some, it might be from the baby getting milk drunk. My baby would pass out after every feeding, to the point where even a cold facecloth on her neck wouldn’t be enough to wake them from her slumber. It seemed fine, until she started crying out 10 times a night, and would only go back to sleep with milk.
Starting with day one, try to get them into their place of rest while still awake.
This doesn’t just benefit them being able to fall asleep on their own accord vs. holding out for an external crutch like milk, soother, or cuddles. It also ensures less surprise when they do wake up. I’ve heard a baby fall asleep in mom’s arms and waking in a crib compared to an adult falling asleep in a warm comfy bed with duvets, and waking up on the front lawn. You’re confused how you got there, and miss the warm comfort that you fell asleep in. Avoid that challenge and put them to bed awake, right from the beginning.
10 Don't: Thinking “Through The Night” Means 12 Hours
The thought of sleeping through the night means you get a sweet, uninterrupted 9 hours of sleep? Wishful thinking, mama. Oh, how we wish babies' sleep consisted of a solid 12-hour sleep without waking! Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case.
Newborns (0-3 months) need to eat every couple hours to every few hours, around the clock. Somewhere around 3-4 months, sleep can start to consolidate, giving you slightly longer stretches of sleep (it’s the little wins). You’ll still need to play to wake up at least once a night though, and usually more. So what about a true, uninterrupted sleep?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, it isn’t until around 9 months old that 70-80% of babies can sleep through the night without eating, and a chance at a 9-10 hour uninterrupted sleep becomes possible. That doesn’t mean that babies actually will want to sleep through the night, without their midnight snack. Many of them will still gently request (can you sense my sarcasm?) some middle of the night snacks. It’s up to you whether you want to indulge or try to train them to not need that snack. To each mom their own!
9 Do's: Le Pause
In Pamela Druckerman’s book “Bringing Up Bebe”, she writes about parenting, and how the French parents differ from Americans. While there is a multitude of differences (along with many similarities), one of the key things she mentions is “le pause”.
It’s basically a way of sleep training, that’s not as harsh as crying it out, yet not as coddling as rushing to every little peep the baby may make.
Druckerman advocates waiting a few minutes after a baby may start fussing in their crib, before going in. Babies naturally wake at regular intervals in sleep – we all do. The difference is that as adults, we’ve learned to drift right through them and fall back asleep. Babies, in many cases, have not yet learned this skill, or understand that they’re able to fall back asleep. Sometimes, giving them the chance to do so can be a #LifeChanger. They may not get it right away, and if they cry for more than a couple minutes, by all means, jump in to soothe them. However, sometimes, le pause can work its magic.
8 Do's: Embrace The Dream Feed
What is a dream feed, you may ask? Imagine a baby finally goes down for the night at 9 pm. You stay up until 11 pm because you need a few precious hours to yourself without a little one around (no judgment, we’ve all been there). Just as you’re winding down or have fallen off to dreamland, you hear the telltale wail calling for milk. You drag your exhausted body over and tend to your little one.
A dream feed helps with this scenario. Let's explain this a little further, shall we? A dream feed is waking the baby, while they’re already asleep, to top them off with milk. “But never wake a sleeping baby!” you’ve been told countless times. And, although this is true, there is one exception. Ideally, in a dream feed, the baby doesn’t ever truly wake up. You pick them up and immediately give them milk, in the dark, with little interaction or eye contact. Once they're done, you gently place them back in their crib to continue their slumber. This gives you a chance of a few extra hours of slumber before the next cry for you comes.
7 Don't: Let Them Play At 4 Am
Middle of the night awake time is so common in new babies, that it even has its own name – The Witching Hour. For whatever reason, the middle of the night can often be the most alert time for babies. One theory is that they had been rocked to sleep during the day through all the walking and moving around moms do. There’s also a lot of shushing and background noise, which can help lull them to sleep. Nighttime, a silent, unmoving time, is when they have the opportunity to be most alert. You can’t necessarily expect that to change just because they’re now out of the womb.
While a baby may want to play and hang out in the middle of the night, that doesn’t mean a mom needs to indulge it.
There are cues you can build in to ensure baby knows that night time is for sleeping. One example is keeping the room dark at night, brighter during the day. Another is limiting how much interaction babies get in that darkness. Try to keep the lights low, only using a small wattage lamp or, even better, only a night light. Also, try not to turn the TV on, keep the place quiet, and ensure that the stage is set to encourage sleep.
6 Do's: Get The Temperature Right
Another thing about being in the womb is that it was the perfect temperature for babies. It was rarely too hot or too cold; they were embraced in a perfect hot tub at all times. The real world can be a little different. Not every room, in every home, has central air to encourage the perfect temperature for sleeping, nor do parents even know the exact right temperature for sleeping. Most experts believe that babies, for the most part, like similar temperatures to their mothers' wombs. So, consider what you like sleeping in, and with the number of layers you wear and consider the same situation when setting the temperature for babies.
Remember that they may have extra layers of clothing and swaddles on than we adults do, so it is important to adjust the temperature accordingly. And, as mentioned earlier, a fan can be a great tip for air circulation, white noise, and temperature control. Of all the scenarios that can wake a baby from a peaceful slumber, you don’t want the worry of being too hot or cold to be one of them. It's important for parents to think the temperature control in advance.
5 Do's: A Little Tuck Here, A Little Tuck There, And Swaddle
Newborns are used to being squished in the womb. As any mother who has gone to term can attest, there’s very little room at the end! Babies are used to being curled up in a warm, snug, ball. Their reflexes (particularly the Moro reflex, which causes them to startle and raise their arms while sleeping in the first few months of life) alone can jolt them awake. After spending upwards of an hour getting them to rest in their crib, the last thing you want to hear is a cry mere minutes after putting them down.
Swaddling newborns help encourage them to stay asleep by halting any sudden movements they make unaware.
There are even sleep sacks on the market that help encourage this, for moms who can’t seem to keep swaddles tightened. The only caveat here is that once a baby has rolled over, swaddles need to be discontinued. At that point, they can become dangerous if baby rolls onto their belly, without the use of their arms to help them up. However, in the first few months, swaddles can be a huge asset to many moms whose babies have woken, just from the regular reflexes that babies are born with.
4 Don't: Give Eye Contact At Night
No eye contact with your baby? How can you suggest such a thing? I know – denying your baby such a sweet thing as eye contact can seem cruel. Just try to remember that you’re doing it for their benefit. Getting a good night's sleep is good for their little bodies and good for ensuring they have a mom who can bring her best. Given they don’t yet have verbal skills to communicate, direct eye contact with another human can be one of the most stimulating things babies can experience. It’s their way of connecting, communicating, and learning about the world.
That’s one of the reasons why giving babies deep, unbroken eye contact while feeding them at night may make them more alert. The last thing you want your child to do at 4 am is to get up and play. If so, that may become the new morning time for you – and unless you’re a unicorn, I doubt you’re going to want to start your day at 4 am. As hard as it may be, just remember that you have many hours of daylight to give uninterrupted time to your little one. If you’d like to ensure they learn that night is for sleeping, and the day is for play, consider implementing this small (though difficult) one for your kiddo.
3 Do's: Start And Use A Routine
Not every mom wants to use a schedule for feeding, sleeping, and playing – and that’s okay. But, there’s a difference between a schedule and a routine. A schedule can be seen as setting rigid times of the day for babies to eat and not giving them food until that designated time.
A routine, however, is setting approximate times for things like naps, and trying to get babies into a habit of doing things at somewhat regular intervals each day.
This doesn’t mean that naptime can’t be flexible. Of course it can, otherwise, you would be housebound, and that’s not fun for anyone. And, it also doesn’t mean that the routine will evolve the first week you’re home from the hospital (as great as that would seem). It takes babies a little while to be able to recognize the difference between night and day. There are, however, little things you can do to encourage them to get into this routine. For example, have bath time at the same time before bed every evening. Or push for the longest stretch of awake time to be the 3-4 hours right before bedtime (which also encourages a longer nighttime sleep). These are small things you can do help encourage babies to get into a routine, which they will eventually thrive on.
2 Do's: It's Important To Remember That This Too Shall Pass
As hard as it may be to believe when you’re exhausted, bleary-eyed, and sustaining on little more than love and coffee, is that this period of time is not indefinite. I used to think that every month of parenthood would be as challenging as the first one. However, as the months passed, things gradually started to become easier. Routines were easier to stick with, and the baby started sleeping longer stretches of time and needing to nurse less frequently.
It’s important to remember that this hard, wonderful, amazing period of time will pass, and with it, the little baby time that comes with it.
As hard as it may be to consider now, even the middle of the night feedings will hold a certain nostalgia when they no longer exist. The smell of a newborn’s head, the cuddling that they give…those don’t last indefinitely. I used to wish for a bottle of time, that I could jar a week’s worth of time – just to get through the difficult exhaustion of it now – and return to it when the baby was older, and I found myself missing those days. What I wouldn’t give now to go back to those exhaustion-filled, tired, hard, and wonderful baby days.
1 Don't: Letting Them Nap The Day Away
It’s so tempting – so tempting – to let baby sleep any which way that they can. If it feels like you’ve been up all night long, allowing the baby (and sometimes mama) to take an extended nap throughout the day may not seem like bliss. It may seem like a necessity.
However, long daytime sleep does come with its drawbacks. Remember that babies, like adults, can only sleep so many hours during the day. If they fill a high quota during daylight, that may mean that they’re ready and eager to go during nighttime. Chances are, you also won’t sleep soundly during the day, making you that much more exhausted at night time.
As hard as it may be, try to start distinguishing daytime from nighttime, limiting the length of daytime sleep, and keeping baby awake for a fair stretch of time before bed. For us, that was keeping her awake for four hours, from 6 to 10 pm every night. It was the easiest time since my partner was home, and ensured that when nighttime came, the baby was at least a little bit tired and ready to sleep. And the other vital step to this? Go to bed, at night, when the baby does. It can be so tempting to stay up and have solo time, but at least in the beginning, do stand by the “sleep when the baby sleeps” mantra.