Establishing a “new nighttime normal” will get you through the coming months of uncharted territory, otherwise know as “welcoming a newborn into your world”
You’ve just had a baby, and nothing feels normal anymore. The night is long, the day is utter chaos, personal space is virtually non-existent…but at the same time, there’s an amazing little person who has finally-after months of waiting-come into your life to stay.
A newborn in the house requires attentiveness and energy-two qualities that are hard to come by when you’re sleep deprived. But let’s not forget the most important thing of all: a brand new baby needs sleep, too, and a lot of it. It may not seem like it when he or she is waking up at all hours of the night, but your little bundle needs sleep as much as you do.
Healthy sleep habits are a top priority in a house brimming with the excitement of a new baby. Luckily, with some attention, planning, and care, you can have everyone in your home feeling a bit more bright-eyed when the sun creeps up in the morning.
Tips to Help Your Newborn Sleep
Create the right sleep environment. When bedtime comes, transform the nursery into a sleep haven using window coverings to keep the room dark, and playing gentle music or white noise. Your baby’s brain has been overstimulated all day long by new sights, sounds, and discoveries. A steady, soothing hum will help to pacify it.
Especially in the wintertime, consider warming the baby’s mattress with a heating pad before laying her down to sleep. For safety reasons, always remove the heating pad before putting your little one in the crib.
Try mimicking the pulse of your heartbeat. The rhythm will bring your infant the comfort of being held close. You can buy a battery-operated simulator that inserts under the crib mattress, or you can create that calming pulse with the gentle touch of your hand.
Start a bedtime routine; it’s never too early. They may be new to the outside world, but by instinct, newborns crave consistency. When you establish and adhere to a bedtime schedule, your baby will begin to recognize the signals being sent, and his or her brain and body will respond by getting sleepy. Here’s a proven successful bedtime sequence to try:
STEP 1: BATHTIME. Start with a warm bath every day, for routine’s sake. If you’re worried about drying out your baby’s skin, only use wash every 2-3 days.
STEP 2: PAJAMAS. Before your baby is old enough to roll over, swaddle his arms to prevent him from startling himself awake with muscular reflexes. Once he’s rolling, graduate him to a sleep sack that acts as a blanket without the crib safety hazard.
STEP 3: ROCKING AND READING. Researchers say that babies reap the benefits of being read to before they’re even born. The steady rhythm of your voice is good for brain development, and it works in conjunction with the rocking motion to lull your baby to sleep.
STEP 4: BEDTIME FEEDING. Set the atmosphere described above and rock gently while bottle-feeding or breastfeeding. Once it appears that your little one has slipped into a milk-induced coma, relocate to the crib.
If you think that keeping your baby up later will help him sleep harder and longer…think again. In fact, most reputable sources today say that a good bedtime in the first year is between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.—the earlier the better.
Helping you sleep
CREATE A SCHEDULE. There are a number of different ways that you and your partner can divide up nighttime duties. Try one, try them all. Here are two of the most common schedules parents use:
NIGHT ON/NIGHT OFF. One night on baby duty, and one night off. The beauty of this schedule is that you get a full night’s sleep every other nig, and so does your partner.
HOURLY SHIFTS. If bedtime generally ranges from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m., have one parent take the 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift and the other take the 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. shift. This way, you’re guaranteed five hours—maybe more, if you’re lucky…
Of course, the sleep schedules suggested here only work if your newborn is bottle-fed. During the period when mom is the 24-hour milk-wagon, there’s plenty that dad can do to help out though. For example, if mom is responsible for feeding, dad can take diaper duty or rock the little one back to sleep when the feeding is over.
Let lesser priorities go. The laundry, the dishes, the cleaning…let them all go. This advice should be followed within reason, of course. You can’t live in complete squalor. But you can opt to leave that clean laundry in a pile on the couch while you and baby take a much needed afternoon nap. You can save the dishes for the morning and crawl into bed as soon as your little one has gone down for the night.
One of the biggest mistakes new parents make is thinking that they need to do it all. These less important tasks can wait. However, if you have exceptionally high standards for home upkeep, consider hiring a cleaning service or asking a family member to come help out.
At first, this “new normal” feels anything but. Once upon a time, you might have enjoyed eight to ten hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep. The harsh reality of a newborn is that those days are long gone, at least for the first year. The good news? Establishing a “new nighttime normal” will get you through the coming months of uncharted territory, otherwise known as “welcoming a newborn into your world.”
It may not seem like it in the moment, but remember: this tired, sleep-deprived period of your child-rearing tenure will eventually pass-perhaps even sooner than you would like. Your baby won’t be a baby forever. Soon enough, your little one will be counting sheep without your help. Try to enjoy those peaceful hours of the night, when it’s just the two of you, while you are everything that your baby needs.
So rub the sleep out of your eyes and pay attention. Your baby’s first year will be over in an instant. You might miss something spectacular if you let those heavy lids get the best of you.
Written by Meredith C. Parker