When living with a newborn, be realistic about their needs. Human babies are born prematurely compared to other mammals. While newborns sleep around 16 hours a day, they do it in 2-3 hour stretches. Their little tummies only hold about 2 tablespoons of milk at a time, so they need to eat frequently. Here are some tips to get through those first few precious (and exhausting) months.
Sleep when the baby sleeps. I know, it’s such a cliché! But trust me, having a nap with your baby during the day will do you wonders. If you find that you can’t fall asleep, make sure your room is dark and cool. You can also put on a guided meditation track or relaxing music which will help you reduce your brain wave activity and result in a more rested you.
Get help with the household in those first precious weeks. You are recovering from childbirth, possibly making all of your baby’s food and dealing with interrupted sleep. It is not your job to do laundry, wash dishes, make meals, etc. during this time. If you have a spouse, he or she can help, close friends and family members are often happy to come by (they get to see your precious little baby, after all!) Another option is hiring post-partum doula.
Hire a night time post-partum doula. Even a couple of nights with one of these wise women can make all the difference. They will do light housekeeping, help you with breastfeeding and comfort your baby so you can get extra sleep. It’s common for newborns to be awake and alert for periods of time at night. That post-partum doula will wake you for those important night time feeds and then take care of your baby while you sleep if they are up for a couple of hours.
Be realistic about newborn behaviour. In the first four months it is normal for babies to wake every 2-3 hours to eat. Their little tummies can only hold a couple of tablespoonful’s of milk! Night time feeds are very important in the first six months if you are breastfeeding. During the night, the milk you produce is higher in fat which helps your baby to sleep longer but also helps them to gain weight. A newborn should never sleep longer than 6 hours at a time.
Accept that you will feel tired on many days as a new parent and do your best to embrace those late night wakings. I will admit that I never was able to fully surrender myself to this experience but I have read some beautiful descriptions of mothers who found that middle of the night times with their babies soft and peaceful and full of wonder. So yes, it is possible to enjoy your baby in the dark hours of early morning.
Stay off your phone in the middle of the night. It’s so tempting, I know! Being up with a hungry baby is boring and that phone has so many enticing things on it. But did you know that many apps are designed to keep you in a state of mild anxiety? In addition, they emit blue light, which interferes with melatonin production which is essential for good sleep[i].
Consider bed sharing. Research shows it is associated with better sleep for mothers[ii].
Sleep training is not safe or recommended before a baby is 4 months old. Newborn babies have tiny tummies and are physiologically immature compared to other mammals. Light sleep patterns are thought to have a protective effect against SIDS[iii]. In addition, I could find no medical literature that studied sleep training in infants younger than 6 months.
Lastly, remember that this won’t last forever! Be easy on yourself, in a few weeks your baby will settle into an easier sleep pattern.