If you have ever had a baby, you probably know very well what it is like to be sleep deprived to the point of feeling like you are losing your mind! I remember that so well - and our little one continued to have sleep issues for several months after the newborn stage, so I can say I have felt that way a lot.
Thankfully, eventually babies learn to sleep (some sooner than others, depending on whether you are sleep training, if the baby has health issues that are keeping him awake, growth spurts, etc.), but during that newborn phase when you are exhausted and it feels like the baby just isn’t going to ever really sleep, it can be hard to cope.
So, let’s talk about some ways that you can get enough sleep when you’ve got a sweet little newborn in the house!
#1: Sleep when the baby sleeps!
You have heard this before, probably more times than you care to admit, but it is truly the most important thing you can do to stay rested during the newborn phase! Tiny babies sleep most of the time, and moms in immediate postpartum really should, too. Or at the least, as often as possible.
Arrange your daily schedule and activities around your needs and the baby’s needs during this time. Limit commitments as much as possible and just stay home with the baby. I know this can be hard - trust me, I got pretty bored at times, just sitting around so much for those first few weeks - but you will heal faster, feel way better, and sleep more if you just commit to taking a little vacation with your newborn.
If you have other children, this is a lot harder to do, so try to find family or trusted friends who can help out with the kids and housework. Most of us have people who want to help out. We just need to be willing to ask.
#2 Get the baby on a schedule
I know not everyone likes schedules. And I know rigid schedules aren’t even healthy for moms or babies. But, babies thrive on routines and will do so much better if their little bodies and brains know what to expect. I don’t think it’s too early to start a routine with a newborn. In fact, I think earlier is better.
Of course, you want to give yourself and your family a little time to adjust to the new baby and figure out what works, but I definitely recommend getting on a schedule, even a loose one, as soon as possible.
When eating and sleeping times are clearly defined, the baby’s body and mind quickly learn to know what is happening when, and will adjust to that. Do some research and learn how often newborns need to eat (typically every 2-3 hours), then learn about their cues so you know when your child is tired or hungry and can adjust the schedule accordingly. Many people who feed on schedule find that their baby naturally starts to sleep longer at night and takes better naps during the daytime.
When the baby is eating on a schedule, he will be able to get filled up more easily because you won’t accidentally miss a feeding, and he will eat more at each feeding then if he eats on demand.
If you do choose to feed on demand, be sure to make sure the baby is eating enough (and if you are breastfeeding, make sure that he is nursing long enough to get the hindmilk - the last milk that comes out - as it is much higher in fat, and therefore more filling, than the foremilk).
Having the baby on a schedule will also free you up to be able to do the other things that need to get done, as well as plan for your own nap times while the baby is sleeping.
#3 Rule out other factors that might keep your newborn awake
Many babies get colic between 1-3 months old. There are a lot of theories on why this happens, but the one that really seems to hold up is that (if baby is breastfeeding) mom is eating something that is getting in the milk and not digesting well, thus giving the baby and upset tummy. Newborns will often pull their legs up to their chest and scream when their tummies hurt. It is heart-wrenching to watch as a parent, and interrupts sleep for the baby.
I highly recommend getting a food sensitivity test done for mom, and eliminating any foods that are causing inflammation in the body. Chances are, these foods are also bothering the baby.
If you can’t have a test done, at least try eliminating dairy. Many babies can’t tolerate it in their mother’s milk. Be sure to eliminate it for at least four weeks, because it can take a while for all of it to get out of the body.
Eliminating gluten is another step I’d recommend if your newborn is having tummy troubles. And, finding a probiotic specifically for infants can be very, very helpful.
Besides colic, many newborns have other tummy troubles or even other things like tongue or lip ties going on. If your newborn is having trouble sleeping, be sure to rule out these or any other factors that might need medical attention.
#4 Make the baby’s sleep environment restful
This doesn’t necessarily mean making the baby’s room super quiet, as we know that babies who learn to sleep through some noise can have a real advantage in life! But, if the baby won’t sleep unless it is quiet, then do what you need to do.
Also, making sure to have natural light and darkness in the room can help the baby to learn the difference between night and day and not get the sleep schedule all mixed up.
Temperature is also important - your newborn should be warm enough, but not hot.
#5 Make sure baby is full
So many little babies wake up hungry all night, and a big reason is that moms often are not feeding on a schedule, so the baby isn’t eating enough at any given time.
Whether you choose to feed on a schedule or not, make sure your baby is full before going to bed or down for a nap. It can be helpful to cluster feed in the evenings (adding an extra feeding or two) so that baby will be very full and sleep longer.
#6 Lower stress and be calm for your baby
Babies can sense when mom is stressed or upset, and they tend to pick up the emotion themselves. Take the steps to lower and manage stress in your life and environment. Be gentle and calm with the baby. A loving, peaceful home and family does wonders for the sleep and general welfare of a newborn!
#7 If nothing else works, hire a baby sleep coach
I know people who have had great success with teaching their babies to sleep by working with a sleep coach. Make sure to do your research and find one who has a solid track record and a gentle approach. (Some methods that teach babies to sleep do so by teaching parents to ignore the baby’s cries. This is not healthy for parents or babies. God made infants with one way of telling the parents that there is something wrong: crying. If the baby is crying a lot, and not just fussing himself to sleep, then most likely he needs something. Food, a clean diaper, comfort - whatever it is, be sure the need is met before trying again to get him to sleep.)
Keep in mind that it is totally normal for babies to have trouble sleeping. They need to learn how to do it. They were in a comfortable, perfect little place for nine months; then they come into this big wide world and need lots and lots of loving, caring direction and training to learn how to live in it. So be patient and willing to go with the flow. But, moms need to sleep too, so don’t just settle for being overtired - do what you can to get systems in place that will help everyone get that much-needed sleep!