"Let's face it, you knew when you had a baby you would not sleep for the next few years"...
What if I told you that it was possible to teach your baby healthy sleep habits right from birth? What if I told you that your baby doesn't need to fall asleep sucking, bouncing, rocking, driving in the car, or secured in a baby wrap while you swing from the chandelier while singing his favourite song? "SHE'S CRAZY" ! you are all saying.... I can hear it now. I am going to let you in on a secret....okay so it's not really a secret to the dozens of families I have spent many nights with as a postpartum doula...but you can give you newborn baby all of the cudding, bonding, loving, singing, snuggly attention they need, and still help them learn to fall asleep on their own and sleep well for longer than 30 minutes! And if you really want to, you can teach your baby how to do this calmy and naturally, without even considering sleep training...there I finally said it! Those two dirty words! I prefer to use the term sleep learning, because last time I checked human babies and puppies are not closely related! But let's avoid that altogether, and start by nurturing and shaping healthy sleep habits from birth.
I know, those of you still reading are thinking 'this is gonna be good', but please continue reading. There are many things you can do to help your baby get off to the right start with sleep. And just to be clear, I am not going to tell you to deprive your child of necessary nutrition or let them cry until they fall asleep, so please, keep reading.
Where to begin?
First, I want to mention co-sleeping and bed-sharing briefly, because I see this answer so often when a mom has posted asking for advice for their sleepless 6 month old. Co-sleeping is a lifestyle choice. You should enter into the lifestyle with the intention of continuing it indefinitely, and with the knowledge of safe co-sleeping and bed-sharing guidelines. Dr. Sears and Dr. James McKenna are huge advocates of the practice. Read their books. Research, and practice safe sleeping. Chances are pretty good that if you find yourself 'accidentally' co-sleeping you may not be doing it safely enough. Okay, so what about those families who have determined that co-sleeping is not for them?
The first few weeks after your baby is born are a blur of feeding and cuddling, and that is perfectly perfect...that's what your newborn needs. While you cuddle, start introducing sleep cues to your baby. But be careful, there a good sleep cues and bad ones. Sometimes the less desireable sleep cues are called crutches, or negative associations. These are the kinds of things that require you to physically put your child to sleep - rocking, bouncing, even nursing, although that last one is nearly impossible to avoid in the first couple of months. Babies naturally fall asleep after a good meal. But give some thought to the other ways your baby falls asleep. Change it up once in awhile so she doesn't become dependant on one thing. And definitely for the first 4-6 weeks help baby out as much as necessary, but at the same time you can start to introduce some good sleep cues. Good sleep cues are things that can and will be present in baby's sleep environment whenever he wakes up. These are things that will tell him that everything is the same as it was when he fell asleep and that it is okay to sleep some more. My favourites are things that mimic the last nine months of baby's life in the womb. White noise (machine, fan, air purifier) is great. I was very loud and whooshy sounding in your uterus, so recreating that will help calm and soothe your little one. Turn it on when it is time for baby to sleep at night, and this will help start differentiating day from night. Swaddling is another. Yes I said swaddling. When done correctly it is a wonderful tool. Please find a tutorial on safe swaddling (maybe another blog post is in order for that topic!) so you can be confident that you are doing it correctly. Swaddling should not be used all the time, never when feeding. It is handy to soothe a fussy babe and to help them fall asleep and stay asleep. You can loosen the blanket when they fall asleep, or use one of the swaddle sacs that are available now. It makes them feel cozy and safe. You can also achieve the safe cozy feeling by wearing your baby, but do make sure you give them some time to lay in their bed/basinette/cradle on their own. Your newborn will be perfectly happy spending some time solo if you let them practice right from the start. Feed them, cuddle them, swaddle or put on a sleep sack, and lay them down drowsy but awake. Wait and see what happens. The little guy in the picture is a client's 10 day old baby boy, with whom I am spending the night as I write this. Mom is getting some much need rest and I am on baby duty. I love my job! Her's how our evening has gone so far. At 11pm I arrived to a frazzled mommy and daddy. I gladly took over, rewrapped his blanket so he was cozy, not swaddled, and headed downstairs to clean the kitchen. We puttered around for an hour, he and I, doing whatever I could manage with one hand while he dozed on and off in my other arm (tomorrow I will bring a wrap!). At midnight we headed for the bedroom where he had a bottle while listening to the white noise machine play heavy rainfall with the lights lowered as much as possible. i swaddled him, gave a few more cuddles while letting the feeding settle, and placed him in his crib. I stay in the room with him, and so he watched me move around the room for a bit and then fell right asleep, without a peep. It is now 3am, and I expect he will wake for his next feeding shortly. And please don't worry, I have read the studies, and he is not overheated resulting in a deeper sleep. He has only a light blanket to keep him cozy. I do this with him every night, and already he goes to sleep on his own, sometimes a little pat on the bum is needed, soemtimes a quick cuddle, but most of the time when I time it right, he is quiet, content anf happy to simply fall asleep.
Other helpful tips for getting a head start on good sleep habits?
Babies function on a 24 hour clock for about the first 6weeks, not much you can do about it. But you can help them to begin to learn the difference between day and night. At night keep things dark and quiet, with the exception of your white noise. Do feedings where baby sleeps, don’t get up and turn on the lights and sit in front of a loud television. Night feeds are business-like. Daytime is just that….daytime. Things are noisier, the house is busier, lights are on, people move about, sunlight comes in. Make sure there is a difference between night and day for your baby. And spend some time outdoors, even in the colder months. A few minutes of natural sunlight each day encourages your body’s production of melatonin, which is triggered to release when the sun goes down. Capitalize on that.
And spend lots of time cuddling and playing during the day. I tell my 6 year old everyday before he leaves for school “I need a huuuuge hug and kiss to get me through the whole day”…..lots of cuddles during the day will help reduce the need for lots of make-up cuddles at night, so baby can sleep.
A wise woman once said “start as you mean to go on” (Tracy Hogg) and I follow that advice. Help your baby learn good sleep habits from day one, and you won’t need to call me in 6 months begging for a few hours of solid sleep ;)
And if you do, give me a shout and together we will help get you and your little one on the path to healthier sleep, on your terms, according to your parenting style.