In my well-rested days before children, I never gave much thought to my sleep habits. But when my daughter was born, I obsessed over sleep. Her sleep, my sleep, and the seemingly unattainable full night of rest I believed would never happen again. Bleary-eyed, I checked by phone to see other mothers sharing photos of their new babies and I had to suppress an irrational urge to message strangers and ask them, “How are you surviving on so little sleep?!”
Pre-babies, I knew I would act a little grouchy if I didn’t get a good night’s rest, but it wasn’t anything a cup of coffee couldn’t fix. The kind of tired you feel when living with a newborn is a whole different beast. I wasn’t just grumpy, it felt like I was dying a slow death.
Incredibly, time with a newborn passes at both a snail’s pace and at warp speed. As my mom likes to remind me, “the nights are long but the years are short.” Within months, my baby’s sleep patterns matured, and I started to feel more human again, and less like a zombie.
Time, however, was not the only factor in improving sleep. Teaching a newborn HOW to sleep takes work. Whoever came up with the phrase “I slept like a baby” did not spend enough time around babies. Babies have multiple sleep cycles a night causing them to wake up, and of course early on they need night feedings too. If you are an adult who is sleeping “like a baby” then you are probably crying like a baby, too.
So, to that new mom just trying to survive each night with her newborn, this is what I want you to hear:
The first few months are rough – no way around it. People will tell you to “enjoy this time” and “it goes by so fast!” when you are just trying to make it another day. It is possible to both feel like your heart will burst from happiness, but also want time to hurry up so you can sleep again. And trust me, you will sleep again.
All babies are different, but various sleep strategies can encourage your baby to work towards the goal every parent wants – sleeping through the night. Some of the following ideas – may – get you some extra rest.
This was a game changer for us. Continuous low pitched white noise soothes newborns and helps them fall asleep. I’m talking about the kind of rumbly and constant white noise you hear when on an airplane. On a whim, I threw a white noise machine in my hospital bag and I’m SO glad I did. I remember multiple nurses remarking how calm our room seemed because of it, and not only did it seem to help soothe our newborn, I know it helped me get some rest, too, by masking outside noise. You can download a white noise app for your phone, although what I found to be most convenient was just buying a white noise machine. I love this one from Amazon.
Wrapping a baby up like a burrito is not only adorable, but oh so helpful for sleep. And if you have ever created a baby registry, you already know tons of swaddling options exist – it can be overwhelming! I found my babies did best when swaddled securely enough to prevent escape, and the Miracle Blanket lived up to it’s name for us. Also, the nurses at the hospital are swaddling experts. They showed me how to use the blankets the hospital provided as well as the muslin swaddling blankets we brought with us, especially with my son who was a little Houdini from day one. Don’t be afraid to ask!
It is a given that babies enjoy rocking, however, I found it even more helpful to perfect “the jiggle.” This is where you gently rock the baby in a way that creates almost a bobble-head effect. Or as Dr. Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block explains it – like quivering jello. “Tiny jiggles calm the fussies much better than slow broad swinging” (Karp 157). Oh man did my babies LOVE this. I would even jiggle the pack ‘n play to softly bob them side to side, and then it was like lights out. (Our second time around I learned my lesson and we bought a bassinet that rocked.) My son liked having his head jiggled so much that it became one of his self soothing techniques – when I stopped jiggling him to sleep, he started doing it himself, by rocking his head side to side in his crib.
Wake Windows (or time between naps)
This was a big one for me. I knew babies needed lots of sleep throughout the day, but I didn’t know that keeping a baby up too long might make them reluctant to fall asleep when you need them to. According to baby sleep expert Alexis Dubief, keeping your baby awake too long is the number one sleep mistake that new parents make, and very young newborns cannot manage staying awake much longer than an hour at a time. I soon learned that if my baby didn’t fall asleep on her own, that I needed to help her fall asleep (with the techniques listed above), or otherwise I would be dealing with a fussy, overtired baby that would then RESIST sleep.
Use the following chart as a guide:
Holding the internet and Google in the palm of your hand while taking care of a newborn feels like a blessing and a curse. It means that I can find the answer to just about any question I have, but it also means that I may get too many answers to that same question, which just leads to more self doubt. However, there were three sites I kept revisiting for their practical and effective advice. The tips from these baby experts honestly made a difference during those long nights:
- Cara Dumaplin: Check out this former neonatal nurse’s blog and Instagram. She has GREAT tips for new moms that really work.
- Dr. Harvey Karp: Reading the book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, was life changing. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true… If you don’t have time to read the whole book (although it is a quick, easy read!), check out his blog, which also has great tips.
- Alexis Dubief: Her website is a trove of realistic and helpful advice. I also recommend her book, Precious Little Sleep.
So to all those weary new moms out there, I hope this list brought you a new technique that may bring you and your newborn more rest. You are the best mama for that little nugget, so keep trusting your gut on what’s best for your baby. And with time, things WILL get easier. You will sleep again!
Karp, Harvey. The Happiest Baby on the Block. Penguin Random House LLC, 2002.