Getting a newborn to sleep can be incredibly difficult for the new parent. It's a whole new territory that many of us don't know how to navigate. If you are reading this bleary-eyed and exhausted, don't worry--this time shall pass.
Right now, it feels like the sleepless nights and midnight feedings will never end, but one day you will look back on the newborn period and be surprised at how quickly your little one grew up.
There is no particular secret for getting your baby to sleep. There are, however, a few things that will definitely help. Getting your baby to sleep is a combination of luck, a few tricks, and education about the way your baby sleeps.
We wanted to present some sleep tricks that have helped many other parents over the years that promote safe sleep practices.
SWADDLE YOUR BABY
Swaddling is an excellent practice to help a newborn baby sleep. Not only is it utterly safe until your baby can roll, but it helps your baby get to sleep and stay asleep due to a combination of factors.
Have you ever tilted just a bit too far in a dining room chair and felt sure you were going to fall? This is the constant state for a newborn slowly drifting off to sleep almost every time they involuntarily move their arms.
As long as you are swaddling them arms-in (with their elbows bound inside the swaddle), you are eliminating this startle reflex almost completely.
For adults who have become well used to having enough space to move and stretch, the thought of being bound like this is cringe-worthy and best, and outright terrifying at worst. Your little one just spent his or her nine favorite months of life tucked into a tight little wad with only enough wiggle room to kick and roll, and all this new space is disconcerting.
Swaddling is comforting to your newborn, as it is similar to what it felt like in the womb.
Even if you were shown how to swaddle a baby by your nurse in the hospital, it is incredibly difficult to get one of those little blankets wrapped tightly enough around your baby. Don't feel bad; your nurse has done it hundreds of times.
If you find that it's too difficult to make a tight wrap of your precious little bundle of joy, opt for a swaddle with velcro instead.
Plan to change your baby’s diaper right before bedtime and avoid changing them in the middle of the night. Here’s a pro tip--Buy some diapers that are a size bigger than what your baby is wearing, and use these at night.
If you can’t put off changing your little one until the morning, make sure you keep it dark and don’t talk to them, as they may stimulate them to a complete wake state.
There are a variety of options for white noise with your baby. From phone apps to actual machines, you can use what is convenient for your family. White noise helps a baby sleep because it can block out background noise and it is overall more comforting to your baby.
Some white noise options include cricket song, the soft roar of the ocean, or a heartbeat sound that reminds your baby of being in the womb. Although a phone app may be free, it is not always preferable if you actually want to be able to use your phone during the times your baby is sleeping, which will be a significant portion of both day and night. Consider spending a little cash on an actual machine, so your phone doesn’t have to be kept hostage.
Setting a routine is the most critical step to get your baby sleeping through the night. We all thrive on routine, and your baby is no different. Start dimming the lights around bedtime, give your baby a gentle sponge bath, and read a couple of stories in soothing tones.
Their bodies will begin to associate these things with bedtime and can cue the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep.
NIGHT & DAY
Your baby’s body is clueless about the differences between daytime and nighttime, so we have to teach them. Keep daytime loud and bright, while keeping the lights low in the evening.
When bedtime rolls around, it is critical to avoid any light that might queue your little bundle that the sun is shining.
NAPTIME FOR BABY
Don’t keep a newborn awake for more than two hours at a time during the day. The time your little will spend sleeping may vary, but all newborns seem to agree that an hour or two in this strange new reality is quite enough to require a short time-out to process, reflect, and refresh.
Failing to give baby this chance to recharge will result in over-tiredness, which makes bedtime harder, not easier. Watch for your little one’s signs and respond swiftly–most babies will rub their eyes or ears, give up trying to focus on objects or voices around them, stare off into space or even frown with worry.
Be prepared to slap on a new diaper and get out of baby’s area the moment you see this and take advantage of what will surely be a much-needed break for you as well.
USE A BINKY
You will hear a lot of things about using a binky. The truth is that a binky can be inevitable, and if your baby doesn’t eventually use one, they’ll find something else to suck on instead; there is a reason your hospital prefers to use one unless instructed otherwise.
Pacifiers offer comfort, simulate breastfeeding, and give baby something upon which to focus their energy and attention. A pacifier can help your baby learn to self-soothe, which is vital to easing their way to sleep.
More than anything, it is widely believed by medical professionals that use of a binky reduces the chance of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), which is worth more than all the cautionary tales in the world.
BUMP UP BEDTIME
Many times, a late bedtime is a catalyst for baby sleep problems. Babies may naturally be ready for sleep around 8 or 9 PM for the first month and a half, but you need to be trying to move it up earlier.
A good rule of thumb to remember is that your baby should be going to bed no later than 6:30 at three months of age.
ACCOMMODATE FOR TEMPERATURE
Baby starts out with much less capacity for temperature regulation than you have as an adult. The general rule is to add one layer to the amount of clothes with which you feel comfortable in the same environment.
If you are fine in a shirt and pants, give baby two layers plus a cover-all. If you think you need a sweater, it is probably time to add a fourth layer to your baby. Remember that loose covers in the crib or bassinet can be very dangerous, so opt for multiple fitted garments or a wearable blanket.
Alternatively, if you are sweltering in a tank top and boy shorts, you’ll still want to take a plus one approach to baby and consider a onesie plus pants. An excellent gauge of your baby’s temperature is to feel little one’s nose and hands. If you are comfortable and your hands detect a difference in your baby, add or remove a layer as appropriate.
BE PREPARED TO MAKE CONCESSIONS
Only rock if necessary, and just until drowsy unless necessary. Rocking your baby to sleep is comforting to both you and your newborn, but it can end up causing problems in the long run. If your baby builds a sleep association with rocking, it will be hard to break them of this later.
That said, I think it’s also important to make sure that you go with the flow sometimes. If you have a really fussy baby one night, go ahead and rock them to sleep. Just try to avoid making it a habit.
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