Your beautiful baby has finally arrived! You prepared for months for the birth and feel like you waited for your baby FOREVER. You had visions of a sleeping cherub nestled happily in your arms. But you weren’t prepared for this…nighttime waking every few hours or more, a baby that won’t nap during the day, or worse—a baby that seems to never sleep! Believe me, I’ve been there.
And in hopes of sparing you the steep learning curve I faced when I realized that taking birth classes and buying onsies did nothing to actually prepare me for having a living, breathing baby to take care of, here are some sleep secrets I discovered (thanks in great part to the loving support of other moms!):
1. During the first three months, frequent waking is normal. Some call the first three to four months of a baby’s life “the fourth trimester.” During these early months, babies are still awakening their senses to the world outside the womb. Newborns don’t normally develop regular sleep patterns or schedules this early in their lives, and often sleep up to 20 hours per day.
Newborns are growing rapidly, and it can be completely normal for them to eat every 2-3 hours. So don’t worry if your two-month old isn’t sleeping through the night yet—that would be rare!
2. Don’t become a co-sleeper by default. Many families choose to co-sleep, either with a crib next to the parents’ bed or in a large family bed. Some families create elaborate multi-bed sleeping rooms where siblings join in on co-sleeping too. If this path is for you, decide early and adapt your family’s sleeping patterns accordingly.
But if you’re sure that you want baby to sleep in his own room, it’s important to get him used to it early. By the time your baby is three months old, his sleeping habits will begin to form and can be hard to change. So if you don’t intend to co-sleep long-term, resist the urge to bring baby into bed with you.
3. Sleep is a skill your baby has to learn. Babies form sleep habits that are easy to teach them early, harder to break later on. At around three months, you can start to watch for your baby’s sleep cues and teach her how to fall asleep when she is tired. The secret formula I wish I had learned earlier in my parenting journey is: Feed, Play, Sleep.
Like many moms, I fed my baby, played with her, saw her begin to get fussy, and then fed her again—usually leading to her falling asleep on the breast in my arms. The problem with this pattern is that it trained my daughter to need my milk and embrace to fall asleep. And then it became hard to put her to sleep any other way, or for anyone else to put her to sleep.
4. Remember: Feed, Play, Sleep—Not the Reverse. With the Feed, Play, Sleep method, baby wakes up and you change his diaper and make sure he is really awake. Then you feed him, tickling his toes if necessary to make sure he doesn’t fall back asleep. Then, it’s play time. Read a book, give him some tummy time, go for a walk, do some baby yoga—whatever you guys like to do for fun.
Here’s the critical part: watch for cues that baby is getting tired. This can happen in as little as 60-90 minutes. She’ll start to rub her eyes or get a little fussy. He’ll tug his ears or start to wince. That’s your cue! Act fast before baby starts to get over-tired, and put her in her bed.
5. Try the 5 S’s: Swaddling, Stomach/Side Hold, Shushing, Swinging, and Sucking. The sleep method described in the bestselling book The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp doesn’t work for everyone, but it worked wonders for our babies. You can check out a video of this method here.
Basically, Dr. Karp recommends recreating some of the conditions babies became comfortable with in the womb: tight spaces (swaddling), the sound of mom’s blood flow (sushing), movement (swinging), being on their sides (stomach/side hold), and sucking their fingers (sucking a pacifier). I recommend giving all of these methods a try and using the ones that work for you.
6. Use a pacifier, but be aware of this. A pacifier can be a magic sleep-inducing bullet, but it can backfire. Some babies become so used to sleeping with a pacifier in their mouths that they wake and cry when their pacifier falls out. This can lead to many exhausted trips into the nursery to replace the binky.
Also, it can be very tempting to give your baby the pacifier when they’re upset at times that aren’t related to sleep. This can take away the pacifier’s magical sleep powers. My oldest daughter loved her pacifier more than anything (even me perhaps), but knew she could only have it at nap and bedtime, which gave her a great incentive to sleep.
7. Follow these extra tips for baby’s comfort. Babies don’t need total quiet to sleep and in fact it’s good to get them used to sleeping with ambient noise early on, so you can still have a life while they snooze. Some parents play a white noise machine or soft music while baby sleeps, which they often find soothing. Also, remember that while baby doesn’t need blackout curtains, light does cue our brains that it’s time to be awake. So it is a good idea to at least dim the light in baby’s sleeping space.
Be sure to check that baby isn’t too hot—especially if she’s wearing warm pajamas, swaddled in a blanket, and in a room with the heat on. It’s easier than you may think for babies to become overheated. You may be able to skip changing baby’s diaper in the middle of a long nap or nighttime by adding extra barrier cream on his sensitive skin before bed. Lastly, if you’re breastfeeding, pay attention to your caffeine intake and how that might affect baby’s zzzzz’s. I
hope these tips bring you many peaceful hours of sleeping angels! And be sure to (at least sometimes) sleep when they sleep—moms need naps too!
Kaia Roman is a mom of two and lives in Santa Cruz, CA. She teaches Mindfulness to elementary school students at Santa Cruz Children’s School. You can connect with Kaia on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She loves to hear from readers!