Bringing home a newborn baby is a wonderful, amazing experience. At the same time, it can feel surreal and, honestly, frightening. I remember like it was yesterday leaving the hospital 21 years ago with my precious new daughter in her little seat. After the nurse got us to the front door, we just left, just the 3 of us. I turned to my husband and said; “Wait, they’re just going to let us take her home by ourselves?”
Taking care of a newborn initially feels like an ominous task, but very quickly we become experts. Despite being bombarded with often contradictory advice from family, friends, total strangers, TV, websites and books, we learn better then anyone how to connect and read cues and begin to trust our intuition. As I certainly did, I am very sure that most mothers have a plea in the back of their minds: “Please, please, please be a good sleeper!”
The best way to raise a “good sleeper” is to find out what not to do. It is really common for parents to innocently and unknowingly create sleep problems along the way and end up with a baby (and then a toddler, a preschooler, a school-aged child and a teenager) who “never was a good sleeper.” These parents are very, very tired.
All babies are different. Some babies practically learn how to sleep through the night on their own (jealous!). Others make parents dread bedtime and they wake up so often during the night that their parents feel like they have a newborn every night for months and months and months…
The best way to avoid common pitfalls of newborn sleep is to know about them ahead of time and be prepared with strategies to prevent them altogether. Here are some helpful tips to think about as you assist your new little one to become a “good sleeper”:
- Babies are born with no sense of day versus night. We can start right away by providing them with environmental cues. During the day, put on the lights, the TV or music and people around the baby talk in regular conversational voices. Talk and sing to your baby face to face as much as possible. At night do the opposite! Keep the lights low (with a lower watt light bulb), don’t put the TV or music on, keep talking to a minimum and even though your baby is the cutest thing ever, don’t interact with him/her. Have the feedings be “strictly business” during the night – my sister and I used say “Nighttime isn’t fun!
- When the baby is around 1-2 months old, as long as your baby’s pediatrician doesn’t have any concerns about weight gain or any other medical issues, you can start to slowly stretch out the feedings at night. At night, let the baby sleep and wake up on his or her own. If the baby is sleeping too long during the day, check in with your pediatrician. (“Too long” should be defined by your pediatrician. Be sure to ask at the baby’s 1 month visit). When the baby wakes at night, especially if it’s less than 3 hours, try not to rush to feed him/her. Even stretching out those nighttime feedings by 5-10 minutes every few nights will train his/her body to sleep longer. You can also try patting him/her on the back to see if he/she goes back to sleep without a feeding (this happens often). (Again, this technique should ONLY be used with a baby who is steadily gaining weight and has no medical issues!)
- If you need more information, call Boston Baby Nurse for some sleep coaching.