Life with a new baby is often defined by how much sleep you’re (not) getting. Sure, some new mamas luck out with newborns who magically sleep through the night from very early on. But for most of us, sleep becomes a thing of the past. So what if we told you it doesn’t have to be that way? Indeed, you can instill good sleep habits from day one so that you and baby get the sleep that you deserve and need.
Here are 7 tips to set up your baby for good sleep from early on.
1. Get in a rhythm. For a new mom used to being in charge of her daily schedule, a newborn’s unpredictable naps can cause serious mental whiplash. Your goal during this period is to prevent your baby from becoming overtired during the day. Most newborns can only comfortably stay awake for 45-60 minutes between naps, so start there. Once she wakes from one nap, set a timer on your phone so you can monitor when it’s time for the next nap. Some babies need even shorter awake windows, so also monitor her tired signs. With these tools, you can anticipate your baby’s tiredness the same way you do her hunger, which will prevent her becoming overtired and make putting her down for a nap much easier.
2. It’s all about the routine. Once your baby is a few weeks old, introduce a short sleep-time routine before naps and bedtime. This consistent series of events will serve as a cue that it’s almost time to sleep. Don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel: a soothing sleep routine for a newborn can be as simple as feeding her, changing her diaper, then singing a song or two before putting her down to rest.
3. Nighttime is for sleep. Any new mom will tell you that a newborn’s day/night confusion is the worst. While this naturally sorts itself out around 8 weeks, you can help nudge this process along by exposing your little one to bright, natural light during daytime and darkness at nighttime. Any activities that occur overnight (i.e., feedings or diaper changes) should be done in a darkened room with ninja-like stealth.
4. Practice good habits. For the first few months, don’t stress too much about creating bad sleep habits. It’s okay if your baby sleeps in her stroller or sometimes falls asleep while eating. While you don’t need to be the sleep police yet, it’s never too early to introduce good sleep habits. For example, make a point of putting her down awake in her crib for some of her naps. Or, once she wakes, give her a minute to practice her self-soothing skills before you go to her. Start small and build from there.
5. Don’t unnecessarily introduce sleep associations. Pay attention to what sleep associations you’re creating. Ask yourself: is this [rocking/nursing to sleep/bouncing] absolutely necessary? Sometimes the answer is YES! HELL YES! But if there’s a workaround to creating a sleep association for which you’ll kick yourself later, try that first. Get creative. Don’t introduce anything that isn’t critical to maintaining your sanity.
6. Safety first. A new mom wants nothing more than for her baby to sleep. Sometimes we’re so desperate (and exhausted) that we ignore our better judgment. I urge every baby mama out there to review the American Academy of Pediatrics’ newly revised safe sleep guidelines. Note in particular that it’s highly discouraged to allow your baby to sleep for an extended time in a swing, Rock-n-Play, car seat, and so forth. It’s also equally important that your baby’s crib or bassinet be completely free of bumpers, stuffed animals, blankets, Dock-a-Tots, and other beddings. Safety first, mamas.
7. Repeat to yourself: this is just a phase. Every new mama reaches a point, often in the middle of a sleepless night, where she concludes that life will be like this forever. She’ll never sleep again and, quite possibly, eventually will go crazy or head to divorce court. Just remember: there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Around 3-4 months, you should start to see longer stretches of sleep at night and naps that become longer and more reliable. At 16 weeks, it’s time to move your baby onto a schedule and get serious about consistent, healthy sleep habits. If you’ve followed all of the advice above, you should have an easier time and will navigate through the 4-month sleep regression like a champ!
Hadley Seward is a certified sleep consultant and founder of Bonne Nuit Baby. Based in France and New York City, she works with exhausted parents around the world to get their kids’ sleep back on track. Meet her here + follow her adventures at @hadleyinfrance.
Photography by Stylish & Hip Kids.