When I became a parent, I accepted that I would be exhausted until my kids went off to college. Even when it became a mental health issue, I struggled to reach out for help as my daughter neared one year of age. Through some magical network of exhausted moms, I found a pediatric sleep consultant to help me teach my child the skills to sleep independently.
It was life-altering and empowering in many ways, and in the process of then becoming a sleep specialist the following year I realized something even more valuable from Sleep Sense founder, Dana Obleman, “You don’t have to be exhausted to be a parent.” In fact, it’s much easier to be the parent you want to be if you’re feeling well-rested, patient and healthy.
With the stress of quarantine and coronavirus ever present, newborn parents are contacting me asking for ways to help their new babies get the sleep they need from the start. It’s not simply a selfish desire on the part of exhausted parents. Maria Cohout, PhD, shares various sources of data that illustrate how healthy sleep contributes to healthier immune systems, which eases fears of many parents in our new reality.
While it is important to allow your newborn to do as much eating and sleeping as they want in these early days, there are strategies you can use to encourage healthy sleep habits from the start.
Follow an “Eat, Play, Sleep” Schedule
Encourage full feeds during the day by following An EAT- PLAY- SLEEP pattern; this will ensure that your baby doesn’t always fall asleep while eating. This means that your little one will be getting bigger meals so that they can sleep longer, and it helps to avoid spitting up and reflux.
Create a Path to Sleep
Establishing a good bedtime routine early on is a great way to help your baby organize their days and nights and start to consolidate nighttime sleep more quickly. Starting a bedtime routine off with a bath or a quick wipe down can be helpful to cue them that bedtime is near. A suggested bedtime routine for a 10-week old could be: Bath, Massage, Pajamas & Sleep Sack, Top-up feeding, Song, Kiss Goodnight.
Is It Soothing or Crying
It takes time to learn to self-sooth, so your challenge will be to give your baby the opportunity to put themselves to sleep. Often times babies will have a distinct self-soothing sound or action that they develop that is totally unique to them, but self-soothing often sounds like “crying” to a concerned parent. Pay attention to your baby’s sounds and listen for the difference between fussing, moaning, “self-soothing” and full-blown crying/
When your baby wakes up in the middle of the night, wait 1-3 minutes before you respond. This wait time will help you determine the difference between true hunger and common alerting between sleep cycles. If the cries are escalating, then it is time to offer some reassurance and possibly a feeding.
It is often hard to tell when the nighttime ends with a newborn. It’s helpful to consider night or day as being a 12-hour interval. If your little one went to bed at 8:00 p.m. then 8:00 a.m. will be the start of the day. Anytime baby wakes after that time, signal to them that morning has officially begun, turn the lights on/open the blinds, say good morning and take them out of their room for the first feeding of the day.
Darken the Room
Darkening the room as much as possible for a baby will help them sleep more soundly. If there is enough light to read a book with lights out and curtain pulled, see what you can do to block more light. There is no need for night lights until kids develop a fear of the dark around age three or four.
Instill Calm Confidence
You can help your newborn learn to calm their own nervous system and feel increasingly confident sleeping in their own cozy sleep space. Remember that nice tight swaddle your midwife taught you? Use it to to help your child calm their nervous system and rest into sleep. Pacifiers and white noise can also help newborns link into the next sleep cycle if they wake after a short nap.
I’ll leave you with one last word of advice and that is to trust. Trust that you are dedicated parents who want your child to have a strong immune system and a life-long ability listen to their body so they can get the sleep they need. Trust that your baby can learn healthy sleep skills even at a very young age. If you try some of these tips and they lead to more crying and less rest, then take a break and try again in a week or two. They just might not be ready. Yet.
About the Author
Kristine Petterson is a highly sought-after yoga instructor, birth doula, certified sleep consultant, and mindful parenting educator. She’s dedicated to creating a sense of freedom and support for other families so they feel more capable, thriving and nurtured. Kristine’s Newborn Sleep Class support families in getting the rest they need to feel their best. Kristine lives in Idaho with her husband and two daughters. Receive empowering resources, tips and inspiration at kpettersonsleep.com.