When new parents talk about their newborn, more often than not they will include in the conversation how little they are sleeping or how many times they were up in the night. The realization of newborn sleep is a lot harder than any parent expects or remembers. When you brag that you got 3 hours of sleep in a row, you realize you are not getting enough.
As a sleep consultant, when I speak to sleep-deprived parents, they will often tell me stories of their quest to get more rest. From rocking a toddler to riding around in the car to singing the entire soundtrack of the Lion King, I have truly heard it all. As a mom of two, I know all too well how you will try anything to get any form of sleep.
However, there are a few things that you should never do to get your baby to sleep. When the nights run into weeks then into months, the sleep deprivation adds up and your decision making has gone from logical to desperate. Always think through the way you are getting your baby to sleep, whether it's from a safety point of view or to avoid creating a bad habit. If you can avoid mistakes in the beginning then you won't need to go through the difficulty of undoing them later when the habit is established.
It's true that a baby will sleep better snuggled in your arms or laying on your chest. You are warm and comfortable and they feel safe just as they were in the womb. But is it putting them at risk of SIDS? Yes. It's very tempting late at night to get comfortable during the marathon feeding sessions and to doze off. I am not judging; I have done it myself when my eldest would nurse for 1 hour 45 minutes each waking. If you have a little one with reflux and he needs to be upright after a feed, this is the hardest time to stay awake. Find a way to avoid the 10 minute snooze. SIDS can happen to any family, as Dr. Sam Hanke, a pediatric cardiologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, knows all too well. His good intentions of giving his wife a break resulted in sadness and heartbreak.
Newborns don't naturally produce melatonin until they are around 3 months old. This is a hormone that helps us fall asleep and stay asleep. Therefore, your little one will need some assistance to get into a drowsy state. Snuggling and some rocking is fine before bed. Consistently doing this long term will develop a crutch and your little one won't learn how to self-soothe at bedtime or during the night. As much as we would love them to stay small and snuggly, they quickly grow and you don't want to be rocking a 30 lb toddler every night. The nice thing about Tranquilo is that you can easily wean baby off the mat, and it can also be used to wean babies off of other motion-related soothing methods, like long car rides or incessant physical rocking/swaying.
The occasional late night is fine; life happens. If this becomes a habit, your little one will spiral into an over tired frenzy which is difficult to escape from. Respect their bedtime and base this on their awake time. In other words, when they woke from their last nap should dictate when they go down for the night. This also goes for older children that don't nap. If they wake up early, they will need an earlier bedtime. It's easy to assume that if you put them to bed later they will crash out and sleep better and longer. Wrong. In fact, the exact opposite happens. An overtired baby will wake more during the night and wake on time or earlier in the morning. So if you keep your little ones up late for a family party on a Saturday, be prepared for them to be awake at their normal time the next day. If you know it's going to be a late one, plan ahead and give them a later nap so you adjust their schedule and they go down with the same awake time as normal.
Swaddling is one of easiest ways to calm a baby and help them sleep because it reduces the startle reflex that causes them to wake. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) confirms that when done right it is safe to swaddle newborns. Dr. Moon, chair of AAP’s safe sleep recommendation task force says, “I would stop swaddling by age 2 months before the baby intentionally starts to try to roll. If babies are swaddled, they should be placed only on their back and monitored so they don’t accidentally roll over” (HealthyChildren.org, para. 4, 2017).
So what do we do now? You can swaddle them with arms out, giving them access to their arms should they roll. My eldest rolled during the day front to back at 7 weeks and back to front at 12 weeks so don't assume they won't roll until they are 4-6 months old. Fortunately, there are many great transition products out there today that help reduces the startle reflex and also help babies sleep with reduced risk of startling themselves awake.
I am writing this tip from my own experience. My daughter had a cup of milk in her bed for 6 months from 2 years old. Yes, a sleep consultant did something that created a habit; I am normal after all! The reason (self-justification): Her bedtime is 30-45 minutes later than her non-napping older sister. So to help keep her quiet while her sister fell asleep, we gave her a cup of milk. It wasn't a crutch for sleep as she would continue to hang out in her crib for 15-20 minutes before falling asleep. However, this habit became an issue when the requests for more and more milk became 3 cups and when we had to deal with wet bedding due to soaked diapers and daily morning showers. After speaking to her pediatrician who pointed out that too much milk can cause anemia and an imminent dentist appointment, I decided enough was enough. I did not want to put her at risk of tooth decay and I needed to reduce the endless cycle of laundry. Avoiding this habit from the beginning is best, no matter how tempting.
When I meet with parents, it varies as to whether they are happy or not with their little one's routine. Each baby has their own limit on awake time and you should follow their cues and know when they're getting tired. Getting the right timing will mean it is easier to fall asleep and they will nap better and longer. It should take them 5-10 minutes to fall asleep. Anything less than this means they have crashed from exhaustion and will likely wake after a sleep cycle. Work on understanding their awake time limits and let them naturally set their own schedule. It can take 2-3 weeks of nap training to see consistency develop. A good day with the right amount of restful sleep will result in a better night. Sleep breeds sleep! Work with your baby's natural temperament, not against it.
Sometimes all a baby needs is the right environment. Small changes can improve their sleep and avoid the need for sleep training. Many babies like white noise to help lull them to sleep and stay asleep. Ensure this is consistent white noise throughout the night and not one that turns off after 20 minutes. Make their sleep space pitch black. Even the smallest amount of light can suppress the production of melatonin. My favorite blackout blinds are from Blackout EZ as they truly block out all the light. Also cover all small lights on monitors, humidifiers, and white noise machines.
Check out Aimi's Facebook Live Broadcast wherein she talks more about this topic:
This post was written by Aimi Palmer, certified child sleep consultant and owner of My Little Sleeper. As a mom of three young daughters, she knows all too well the difficulty of parenthood especially when sleep deprived. Often we don’t make the best decisions when we are running on empty. I hope these tips will be helpful!
HealthyChildren.org. (2017). Swaddling: Is it Safe? Retrieved November 7, 2017 from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/diapers-clothing/Pages/Swaddling-Is-it-Safe.aspx
National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Drowsy Driving vs. Drunk Driving: How Similar Are They? Retrieved November 7, 2017 from https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/drowsy-driving-vs-drunk-driving-how-similar-are-they
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