Are you home with your beautiful new family, only to struggle to get your infant to sleep through the night, or nap consistently? Do you agonize over your own sleep deprivation? All this applied to me. I did not reach out for help during that “4th trimester”. I did not fall back on my training. I did read one sleep book (which didn’t help me, so I won’t mention it here), and some blog posts, but where I failed is I tried to make my child fit a routine without having the routine fit the child. The only way to get through those first 6-8 weeks is to lower your expectations (read: let go of your Mom Guilt over what you should or shouldn’t be doing!!) and set a routine that fits the type of child you have. Getting more than 2 hrs of sleep in a row is also a goal, but having a healthy mindset during the newborn period while sticking to basic sleep do’s and don’ts will get you through this short season with grace and see you to the other side as a stronger, more capable Mom than ever before.
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First, take a look at your sleep habits. While this might seem like the last thing on your list, and it isn’t a popular suggestion, I encourage you to think back before your baby was born and identify any areas that you could improve on when it comes to sleep. Caffeine after noon? Alcohol within an hour of going to sleep? TV or tablet use within an hour of going to sleep? I know. Maybe we should outlaw joy.
But hear me out: you can’t ask your baby (or anyone else in the home for that matter) to sleep well and follow your rules if you aren’t taking action and being a steward of your own sleep needs.
Not that you’re getting much sleep right now (if you’re still mired in the infant stage) but it truly doesn’t last forever. Be honest with yourself and be prepared to “do as you say” and all that. Cut off caffeine at lunch time, or if you’re not going to make it past 3pm, have tea or a smaller cup of coffee to reduce the overall amount of stimulant you’re taking in. If you consume alcohol, keep it to dinner time only. And whenever possible, shut off the phone at bedtime. Put it down. Walk away. Your sleep will improve and your FOMO will decrease dramatically. Let other moms be jealous of how much sleep you get! Or at least admire you for prioritizing your health and sanity above scrolling through social media. This is also a good time to live in stretch pants and nursing tops/maternity tops. Get all the use out of those stretchy clothes as you can. Identify what you can sleep comfortably in; it wasn’t until I had a child that I realized how much more comfortable I am sleeping in stretch pants. Why didn’t anyone tell me??
Ok. Time to talk about your beautiful baby.
The first 6 weeks of an infant’s life is not the time to expect a routine. You will read or hear other parents say their baby slept through the night straight out of the womb. Guess what? That is possible and thats nice for them. It doesn’t mean those parents aren’t struggling with other issues. Do not compare babies or you risk making decisions based on some one else’s baby, not your own. The goals those first 2 months is to feed the baby and hold the baby. Repeat. Remove all other expectations and enjoy your child’s rather simple needs! What is recommended is to establish the bedtime routine that you would like eventually. Change the baby into ‘pajamas’ (in this case, a clean onesie/nightgown), look through a picture book or photo album, feed them, and put them down in either a bassinet or crib. This gives you and the infant an anchor point in the day that says ‘today is done’. Now, if the infant is cluster feeding or fussy or still has days/nights reversed then the amount of time actually spent asleep after this routine is completed is questionable. Yet your efforts will be rewarded later! And by later, I mean in a few more weeks!
Solidifying the bedtime routine is like preparing for anything – a presentation at work, a 5K, how to apply contouring makeup – it takes practice and troubleshooting.
Do you like where the rocking chair is? Are books close by? Is it too bright or loud at this time of day? Make your adjustments, and keep the whole process under an hour. Set the expectation now that this beautiful time of cuddling, caring, and connecting is important to you, but not a 2 hour event. You simply cannot sustain that type of time commitment in the long term and, more immediately, the infant may need to eat/be changed/be rocked in 2 hours. How sad would it be to finally finish the night routine only to start it all over again? No thanks.
Infants (0-2 months) require 14-17 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. They also need to be fed up towards 12 times a day. This translates into 1-2 hour stretches of sleep during the day (but as short as 15min! This is ok!) and 4+ hour stretches of sleep overnight, starting between 9-10pm. I encourage you to still maintain a bedtime ‘ritual’ and limit stimulation after that time. What do I mean? If you’re like me, then you had a pack and play in the living room, a swing in the living room, and multiple styles of infant carriers, play mats, etc. After ‘bedtime’ avoid using these and feed/rock/change your infant primarily in the space where you expect them to sleep overnight. This should be your bedroom. No TV, no bright lights. Ideally, a night light, a white noise machine, and a small fan is all that should be on.
To get through 10pm-6am, I loved having a basket of all necessary supplies on my nightstand, including burp cloths, diapers, hand sanitizer, bottle of water, you name it. It was in there. My Boppy was part of my pillows. It is easier for me to fall back to sleep during the first few weeks when I didn’t have to get out of bed constantly to provide the care my baby needed. Creating a safe space with all my supplies also reduced the likelihood that I’d make a poor, sleep deprived decision. My bed was not set up for safe co-sleeping, so having the newborn in bed with me wasn’t appropriate. That meant, BEFORE 2am rolled around, I had to have my plan in place. The bassinet was close (we used a small In Arms Reach style bassinet) and, if baby wasn’t having it, I did have a partner who would help hold/rock when I just couldn’t do it at that hour. Be clear about this before night falls – whomever is home to help you needs to have clear roles. They get the 11pm diaper and you get the 3am feed. You go to bed early and they sleep in a bit.
Lastly, and many sleep specialists support this idea, is to expose your infant to as much natural light as possible during the day. Especially that first morning feed (not the 5am one…the other first morning feed…), turn on lights or get near a window and declare that morning has officially arrived. This is particularly useful for infants with days and nights reversed. New parents may feel their own days and nights are reversed in those early weeks and balancing everyone’s circadian rhythm by keeping melatonin and cortisol levels in check is totally worth feeling like a cringing vampire when you open those curtains.
In summary, surviving sleep training in infancy comes down to:
- Lower your expectations and delegate or automate most tasks.
- Wear comfortable clothing at. all. times.
- Go through the steps of a bedtime routine to anchor the end of the day.
- Expose baby to as much natural light as possible, especially first thing in the morning.
- Use white noise, a night light, and a fan in your bedroom and keep all other distractions to a minimum.
If you like having simple routines and guidelines like these at your fingertips, then pre-order the Parent Like a Pro Ebook, available now for a discounted price until it’s release December 2018!