“You will never sleep again,” people love to tell you throughout your entire pregnancy.
This is, in fact, a myth.
Unfortunately, many people only focus on the hardest parts of parenting which are only phases, not life sentences. Thankfully, the "no sleeping" phase is just that--a phase that lasts for about the first two months of infancy. While the first 6-8 weeks of newborn life are quite stressful for parents, the days and weeks to follow will fall back into your old routine. (We promise that you will start to sleep like a normal adult again!)
Most babies start to sleep through the night (or most of the night) around 4-8 weeks. If you start establishing good sleep habits at an early age, sleep can be yours again even sooner!
Just like walking, talking, and eating, sleeping is something that has to be learned. Babies are hard-wired to sleep at all the wrong times (like during the day and they party all night.) Encouraging good habits a few weeks after birth will get you to a full night's rest sooner than you thought possible.
A Warning On Sleep Deprivation
Before we dive into the topic, we felt that it was necessary to warn women about postpartum depression. A lack of sleep can worsen depression. It can put you on an emotional rollercoaster with no end in sight. While “baby blues” are normal, if you have thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, ask for help immediately! Babies have died because mothers didn’t seek help when they needed it! Remember that postpartum depression isn’t a reflection of who you are. It’s a hormonal, chemical (aggravated by a lack of sleep) response to childbirth. You do not have to suffer or “suck it up.” There is immediate help you can receive to help your body regulate itself. Your baby needs a happy mother, so don’t deprive them of the best version of you!
With that said, let’s dive into the world of baby sleep...
Why Babies Don’t Sleep Through The Night
The reason babies wake up to eat every 1-2 hours is that their bodies cannot regulate their blood sugar. Until their liver is developed, babies will depend on you for formula or breastmilk regularly.
The good news is that the irregular and irrational sleeping patterns of newborns last for the first 6-8 weeks and after that, they begin to sleep through the night (or at least wake up once or twice with 4-6 hours between feedings.) You might be thinking that 6-8 weeks until they sleep is unbearable. But there are a few things you can do to help you get through the newborn phase and into the loveable, sleeping infant phase. Remember, all mothers have been at this same point in their motherhood journey and lived to sleep again. This is a short season and life will return to normal. We promise!
Start Good Cues
The sooner you encourage sleeping habits, the easier it will be for your baby to sleep longer through the night when they begin to transition from 2 hours to 6 hours. The best sleep habit, to begin with, is sleep cues. For example, when your baby takes naps, be consistent that the room is always dark and you lay them down in the same place every time. Always turn on a white noise sound, and always swaddle your baby. Just like a toddler needs their stuffed bear to go to sleep, a newborn will learn that darkness, white noise, and swaddles mean it’s time for sleep. Later, as babies get older, many mothers include a bath, books, and a pacifier, as a way to signal bedtime. Whatever sleep cues you decide to offer, always be consistent at nap and bedtime. Eventually, your baby will learn to respond to the cues by falling asleep.
Put The Baby To Bed Awake
As the opportunity arises, try to put a two month old baby down in their crib while they are still slightly awake or drowsy. This technique won’t work during the first few weeks of life, still, try to encourage your baby to fall asleep on their own once they are around two months old. A baby who doesn't need to be rocked, sung to, or nursed into a deep sleep is a baby that will grow into the independent habit of sleeping on its own without coaxing. If your baby starts to cry after you lay them down, offer them a pacifier and pat their back so they know you are there and let them drift off themselves. This is the Holy Grail of all sleep hacks. Once a baby can fall asleep on their own, they have mastered the art of self-soothing.
Always make sure the baby is fed, diapered, and in a safe place before you lay them down, and remember to be consistent with where they take naps and go to bed. If they sleep on the couch while you watch a show and then you put them in a dark, quiet room this might be confusing. Consistency is key.
Track Their Sleep
The ideal goal for an infant is to get them on a nap routine. This prevents both under tired and over tired babies, and teaches your baby when to sleep. A nap schedule will give you freedom and predictability in your life as well as fostering a baby who will sleep through the night. The first place to start is tracking your baby's sleep.
This will be irregular at first. A new born's sleep schedule might look like:
8:22 am -9:00 am
9:30 am - 12:00 pm
However, by two months old, a baby will probably start to show signs of a more consistent pattern every day.
8:30am- 12:30 pm
catnap at 2:00
catnap at 5:00
Bedtime at 8:30pm-4:00am
As the weeks go by you will see certain patterns emerge. For example, you might notice that for five days in a row the baby took a nap at 8:30 am. This is a sleep pattern that you can schedule your day around. You might notice that the baby takes two cat naps in the late afternoon. Later you can blend them together and turn them into one. Having a sleep tracker will help you do this.
Encourage and foster these patterns and don’t let miss a scheduled nap if you can help it. This will ensure they are not over overtiredtired or under tired and it will eventually evolve into a routine you will follow with your baby through toddlerhood.
Eventually, your baby will go from four naps a day to two naps and then drop down to one. Having a sleep tracker can help you predict the future and help you see where your baby needs guidance. It might be necessary to help your baby stay awake and skip a "catnap" to teach them to only take two naps that are at the same time every single day.
Use Formula At Night
If you are breastfeeding, consider giving your baby formula during the night feedings or for a “dream feed” right before bed. The formula is a little heavier than breastmilk and it can help the baby sleep longer during the night. Every extra minute of sleep you can get is important! If you do this method, be sure to follow the feeding with a quick pump session to keep your milk supply up. (You only have to pump at night until your milk is established, usually, around the time your baby starts sleeping through the night.)
"Dream feeds" is when you feed your baby while they are still asleep. This is usually done as you go to bed. If the baby went to bed at 8 and you didn’t get to go to bed until 10, this will ensure that the baby won’t wake you up ten minutes later for milk.
Ask For A Night Off
If you find yourself at the end of your rope, ask someone to take the night shift for you. Don’t be afraid to accept help from anyone who offers. You are an amazing-super-woman-mom, but you are still human and you have limits. A full night’s sleep can change your life and fight depression. If you are still establishing your milk supply, you will have to pump every 2-4 hours, but this is a 10-minute session and you can go right back to bed while someone else bottle feeds, changes, purpose, and rocks baby back to bed.
Also remember that babies can pick up on your feelings. If you are stressed and anxious, your baby can sense it and react to it. Asking for a night off can help you recharge and encourage calmness, which might also help baby sleep.
If you are a mom who has tried it all and your baby is refusing to sleep, talk to your pediatrician about a referral to a sleep therapist. Some kids and babies need the help of a professional and it’s good to know that there is help if you need it.