Disclosure: I am no expert on sleep. I have had four boys and have perfected our sleep routine as I gained experience with each child. My youngest son is almost 8 weeks old. Starting at 2 weeks he was sleeping 4 hours at a time at night, and is now at least 6-8 hour stretches in the night. He no longer even opens his eyes during our night time feed. That length of time is unusual for a breastfed newborn. I know he is an exceptional baby;), but there are ways to help every baby (and mommy) sleep better. Before reading I encourage you to read about the latest safe sleep suggestions here. Every child is different and some tips will work with some babies and others will not. As my La Leche League leader always said, “take what you like and leave the rest”. Some tips will not work for your family, but I hope you can take some of what I am writing and have it help make the precious early months a little more restful.
Although I link to certain products, I am certainly not saying to buy a specific product or brand, just giving some ideas;)
Tip 1: Night time feeding
o For the breastfed infant, I encourage on demand feeding. Babies do not come with a schedule and are more likely to be a happy and satisfied when they learn their own rhythm. As soon as you can, breastfeed in the dark. More on this later.
· Bottle feeding:I have limited experience with bottle feeding (my oldest was adopted and bottle-fed).
o Have everything you can ready within reach for the night time feeds. You don’t want to be washing bottles, going through cupboards or trying to find a bib at 3am!
o Buy ready to serve formula, if possible, for at least the night time feeds.
· Either feeding method:
o Encourage evening cluster feeding. Starting at about 5pm, feed the baby as soon as he even looks at you! Every time he shows any interest, offer the breast or bottle. By getting into this routine I find babies will feed, feed, feed and then sleep, sleep, sleep! Evenings can be exhausting and make it difficult to go our socially in the evening, but this will help you sleep better. It does not mean you can never go out after 5pm, but be prepared for a change in your night time if you do.
o Always offer a feed right before you go to bed yourself. This should be when the longest period of sleep will occur for both of you.
o After you feed, turn out the lights (if they were on) and hold your baby for a minute, letting them get closer to sleep. If you place them in their bed with the lights on, they are more likely to wake up fully with the movement and brightness.
o Feeding a baby anything other than breastmilk or infant formula is not recommended until at least 4 months of age, although I prefer 7-8 months (I see another blog article coming;).
Tip 2: Daytime sleep matters
· I suggest napping your baby in the main part of the house. Working in the NICU, I have seen many babies switch their daytime and night time schedules. By napping in a brighter, busier, noisier environment, I find babies have more awake time during the days (and although sometimes we don’t mind them sleeping a lot in the day, you will regret that at night). Personally, I HATE waking a sleeping baby, but having the phone ringing, or sibling playing disturb the baby near the end of a long nap is not necessarily a bad thing.
Tip 3: Location, Location, Location!
· Personally, I have my babies sleep next to my bed, in their own bassinet for the first several months. This may not be desired, or viable for your family, but it is what I recommend for better sleep for both you and your baby.
· I have my side table (which is quite large) set up with the following items:
o Lamp with dimmer added (my husband bought this from Home Depot)
o Soother, if you use one
o Diapers (specifically night time ones if you cloth diaper)
o Change of clothes, just in case
o A clock (this is good to track how long and how often you are feeding), here's a cool one!
By having everything I could possibly need, beside me every night, I don’t need to be getting up, fumbling around the house in the middle of the night. This disturbs you, your baby and the rest of your family.
If your baby is in a different room, I suggest having the same items next to your baby’s crib, along with a comfy chair for you.
Tip 4: Changing tips
· The first few weeks babies poop many times at night and night time changes are required. Keep these quiet, and as dimly lit as possible.
· Change the baby first, then feed. We all know feeding usually puts a baby to sleep.
· As soon as you can, gradually decrease and then stop changing them at night. Find a good night time solution for diapering as soon as they are pooping less frequently. For cloth diapering families, try a fitted and a cover.
Tip 5: Make it boring!
· If your partner is up, try not to talk (my husband sleeps through everything, but I know some don’t).
· Don’t talk to your baby. I am a ‘talker’ by nature and this does not exclude babies. I love to goo and gah at them all day, describing all my actions, but I keep that to the daytime. At night, gaze lovingly at them, but try not to be too engaging.
· No TV or smart phone during night time feeds. Even if it doesn’t bother your baby, it will make you more alert and make it more difficult to fall back asleep. I know it can be dull, but I find this a great time to plan the next day, day dream or keep my eyes shut and be half asleep.
Tip 6: Try not to leave the room
· If you are sleeping with your baby in your room, try to not have to leave. If you have to go to the bathroom, don’t turn on the lights. This will not only let the rest of your family sleep, but will also make it easier for you to go back to sleep between feeds.
Tip 7: Keep the baby in the dark
· Night time should be as quiet and dark as humanly possible. Don’t turn on lights, use a dim lamp, flashlight or even your cell phone to light the room for the diaper change, feed in the dark if you are able. Again this will not only help your baby sleep better, but make it easier for you to fall asleep and the rest of your family stay asleep.
Tip 8: Respond ASAP
· As soon as your little one begins to stir, start the change and/or feeding process. I know some people may not agree with me. They may say to wait and see if the baby will fall back asleep, and for an older baby this may be true. In my opinion, if you wait for a newborn to wail he will be WIDE awake when you start the process. Wailing will prolong the time awake and will disturb your whole household and maybe the neighbours too. You will soon recognize the small nuances and sounds and what your baby is telling you.
Tip 8: Swaddle
· Babies love to be swaddled (well, all of mine have anyways). There are different blankets and products on the market to help swaddle your baby. My personal favourite at night is a Woombie and during the day I swaddle with Aden + Anais.
Tip 9: Get Comfy
· Yourself: Dress comfortably. Save all those fancy nighties and tight clothes for later. Focus on sleep. What is the best thing to wear to sleep? My favourite (but certainly not my husband’s) is baggy, flannel PJ bottoms that my grandma made for me and an oversized, often my husband’s, t-shirt. This is just me, but be comfortable. This will make breastfeeding and sleeping between feeds more comfortable and easier.
· For Baby: again, save all those cutesy, frilly, tight, fancy little outfits for the daytime (or not at all). Make sure sleepers are generous in size, as to not squish little toes or be tight around the neck. Sometimes when a baby cries for unknown reasons, it may be as simple as a tag rubbing or a tight diaper. Personally, my babies wear little more than sleepers for their first 5-6 months. They may look cute, but happiness (and in this case, sleep) is more important.
Tip 10: Don’t have huge expectations
· If you assume you will be up every 2 hours with a newborn, 3 will be awesome, 4 will be amazing.
· A calm mother and positive attitude helps, big time. I know it is easier said than done, but, as with all things in motherhood, do what you can and don’t feel guilty about what you can’t. Your best is good enough!
One last point I would like to make: take every piece of advice with a grain of salt. I couldn’t write a blog directed at new mothers without stating this. As you begin motherhood, thousands of people, usually other mothers - but not always, will offer their insight into what you are doing wrong.
Just because your mother, sister, friend, mother-in-law or stranger at the mall did it one way, it doesn’t mean it will be right for you or your family. Go with your gut. Mothers have an incredible instinct and we really need to learn to listen to it. If it doesn’t ‘feel’ right, stop doing it. If it ‘feels’ right, do it (within reason).
Also, look at the person offering advice. Are her/his children happy and healthy? Does the person act like a person you would want to emulate? If yes, then listening and trying their advice might be worth a go. If not, it might be worth acknowledging their advice politely and trying something different.
People without children often have LOTS of advice. Sometimes, they give the best advice. I remember after I had my first delivery (second baby) and was trying to breastfeed at the hospital the nurse who offered me the best support was a brand new nurse, who looked like she could still be in high school. Sometimes, some outside insight is useful.
Again, go with your gut! No one know your baby better than you!
That’s all my ‘wise’ advice for now. Please feel free to leave a comment, question or suggestion below. We love hearing from you! ~Cat, mom of 4 and owner Bundles and Buzz Promotions Inc.
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