When I was expecting my first child, I lost count of how many times people told me “you’ll never sleep again!” Not only was that not helpful, but it was also not true.
As babies get older, they have the ability to hold more food and potentially sleep longer. Until then, there are some things you can do to shape the way your baby sleeps.
Be Kind to Yourself
Setting a good sleep foundation is not meant to be strict or cause you stress. This is not a rigid sleep training program, but is meant to guide you in a well-rested direction. Remember that your baby has frequent needs and will not sleep through the night for several weeks at the earliest.
Where Should Baby Sleep?
Public health recommends that your baby sleeps in the same room as you, but on a separate surface for at least the first six months. Your baby’s sleeping area should be free of blankets, pillows, bumper pads or anything soft or potentially dangerous. The mattress should be firm with a tight-fitting sheet.
Confusing Night with Day
You may have heard stories of babies having their nights and days mixed up. There is something simple you can do that doesn’t take much effort, to avoid this problem. Divide the day into two 12-hour sections. It doesn’t have to be a time set in stone, but let’s say 8:00-8:00 for example. You would put baby to bed around 8pm and then through the night until 8am you will keep feedings quiet, dark and in baby’s sleep area. At baby’s morning waking around 8am, you will take her to a bright, more stimulating area of the house. This helps to differentiate day from night. Keep night time dark, quiet and boring and keep day time bright, noisy and stimulating. During the day, offer all feedings in this bright area.
The consensus among sleep experts is that a routine is beneficial because it helps cue the body and mind that sleep is approaching. It is never too early to start a routine. If your baby is older – now is still a great time to start! A routine should be 20-30 minutes and include everything your baby needs before bed. An example of a routine for a newborn is: bathroom time (not necessarily a bath, but just a clean-up), pajamas, story, feeding and song.
Newborn babies do not have the stomach capacity to hold much food. They will likely need to wake several times in the night to eat for their first few months. I recommend keeping night feedings dark, quiet and boring so that baby doesn’t think it’s party time. Doing the feeding close to the sleeping area is easiest. Try not to have your phone or tablet light shining onto baby’s face. It can help you fall asleep faster if you do not use a device that emits blue light. Respond to all hunger cues in the night, because they simply need to eat. Do not limit feedings – in the womb, baby didn’t know hunger.
How Much Sleep?
Newborn babies can usually only tolerate 45-60 minutes of awake time before needing sleep again. It’s not recommended to enforce a strict routine with a baby, we are more looking at setting up a healthy foundation for sleep.
When baby wakes from naps throughout the day, offer a feeding. Since baby will be rested, they will likely have the energy and stamina to take a good feeding. After the feeding, offer some play time before getting ready for the next nap.
Sleep For You
Sleep when baby sleeps! As you will be tending to baby in the night, this is absolutely a skill worth learning. You will be recovering from childbirth and needing the rest. Accept help and ask for help – it may come in the form of meals, cleaning or simply someone holding the baby while you take a shower. It truly does take a village to raise a baby! If possible, split nighttime baby duty with your support person so you each get at least one uninterrupted block of sleep. For example, one of you is “on duty” from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., and the other from 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. (adjust these figures to your family’s schedule). When you are “off duty,” sleep in a separate area, and try earplugs, a fan, or a white-noise machine. The on-duty parent can sleep, too, but he or she will be the one who has to wake up to respond to and feed the baby.
If you are exclusively nursing, have your partner interrupt your sleep for a quick feeding. Otherwise, consider pumping breast milk so your partner can feed the baby with a bottle of your milk while you get your “off-duty” sleep.
If you’re bottle feeding, take turns
Setting good habits can make lengthier sleep happen when baby is ready to go for longer stretches at night.
You don’t have to be sleep deprived for years just because you became a parent. If your baby’s sleep becomes a problem, there is no need to suffer through it. Call me and we can gently resolve it.
Join Bridget at Balancing from Birth to Baby November 1st for her Baby Sleep Workshop. More info here: https://betterbedtime.ca/workshops/
Bridget Jensen is a Certified Sleep Consultant who resides in Waterloo Region. As a mother of three young children, she understands the tremendously important role that sleep plays. She is a graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University and a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants.
She understands that there is no “one-size-fits-all” sleep solution for all families. It isn’t as simple as “do nothing” or “leave them to cry all night.” Every family is different, and therefore the strategies to learn how to sleep vary. A number of factors come into play when determining the right approach for teaching a little one healthy sleep habits: Age, developmental milestones reached, parenting style and much more.
Bridget’s calm and supportive demeanor are beneficial while working with families all over Ontario and beyond. Bridget is dedicated to helping parents learn the skills to teach their children to become independent, healthy sleepers. Bridget has always felt passionate about sleep being a priority in her family’s life and that a better bedtime can happen for your family every night.