Every kid is different! Some kids are great sleepers right off the bat, others really struggle! There are a few best practices that will spare you a lot of heartaches if you follow them from the beginning!
1. The best time to start a sleep routine is the day you get home from the hospital
The second best time is tonight! Children THRIVE with a routine! Newborns will benefit, but the main person who will benefit from this is YOU! Things can feel so chaotic when you get home with your child, and a predictable bedtime routine will help to anchor your day. We will cover creating a perfect bedtime routine in a later post, but for more information now, you are welcome to reach out anytime! My main piece of advice would be to keep the routine simple!
2. Teach your child to take a bottle once nursing is established
There are seriously so many benefits to breastfeeding! However, I have seen so many families fall into the trap of mom nursing exclusively for the first few months, which results in the child refusing anything other than the breast. This makes it difficult for the whole family as the other adults are left on the sidelines and mom is stuck putting the baby down every night and having to deal with the night feedings alone. This can complicate mom's return to work outside of the home if that is her plan. Once your milk supply is established, introduce a bottle, ideally given by your child's other parent, or by another adult caregiver. The best time to do this would be around four to six weeks of age. Also, do not be shy about using a pacifier, even on day one! Despite claims, this will NOT cause nipple confusion or keep your child from nursing. It will instead help your child to self soothe and may reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
3. Make bedtime simple enough that one grown-up can do it
I had a client that enjoyed doing the bedtime together every night after they brought their daughter home from the hospital. They loved it, but the bedtime was pretty elaborate- bath, infant massage, songs, stories, rocking, and nursing. When they had their second child, the bedtime was not as elaborate as with their first daughter, and it still worked fine. Babies do not need a complex bedtime routine, if bath or massage feels overwhelming that night, skip it tonight! Keep it simple: story, song, rocking, and off to the crib.
4. Have all adults in the household participate in bedtime
Over and over, I have heard the same story from tired parents (often the nursing mother): "My husband (or wife) can't put him down at night! Only I can do it." This is a recipe for maternal burnout, similar to when the mother is the one feeding the baby. Both parents and other caregivers should feel comfortable putting the child down from an early age. TIP: If you feel stuck in this situation, I suggest you go out with friends for the evening. I promise you that dad will figure it out. And, do not be afraid to get a babysitter. Obviously you will be nervous, so if you can, start with the grandparents the first time you go out!
5. At around three to four months, start putting your child to bed drowsy but awake
Try it! Both at bedtime and for naps. If it was horrible, pick your kiddo up and try again tomorrow or next week! Do not be afraid to let your baby fuss a bit, this is natural! But hysterical screaming is another story at this age, and this likely means your child still needs help with falling asleep. You can try again tomorrow or in a week or so, no biggie! But give it a try. It will help immensely with self-soothing!
6. DO NOT sprint into your child's room at the first sound of wakefulness
I have parents who hustle into their son's room at the slightest sound so they can stuff the pacifier back into his mouth and perhaps get back to sleep quickly. This led him to wake up more and more for that contact with the parents. Try to remember that the random cry, burp, fart, or snort does not demand immediate attention. After the first few months, it might be a good idea to let your child fuss a bit more before you go in. Often these brief awakenings will self-resolve. It actually takes a baby 5-7 minutes to know they are even awake.
7. Do not obsess over the monitor
I cannot wrap my head around the amount of technology being hawked to anxious parents these days! Babies' bedrooms are monitored to a degree that would astound a Cold War spymaster- room temperature, baby temperature, movement, ambient light levels, heart rate, etc. This technology is cumbersome, expensive, and unnecessary! Human infants have survived for years without video monitors. You should always be able to hear your child when they are distressed, yes, but you definitely do not need multisensor surveillance for this! Save the money and go with an audio monitor. Parents have asked "what do I do if he is wide awake but quiet in the middle of the night?" My answer? "Turn the monitor off!"
8. Talk to your pediatrician about the need to room share in the first year
I support room-sharing but feel that the evidence that it helps to prevent SIDS is very weak. I encourage you to talk this over with your child's pediatrician as this set up has the potential for bad sleep habits. If you are going to room share for the first year, please contact me so I can give you helpful tips for healthy sleep for all. And when you are ready to more your kiddo out, I would be happy to help you get them sleeping in their own space in no time.
9. Avoid sleep in motion after the first six months
Man oh man, those baby swings are perfect for settling your newborn! I have had a client who would drive to Starbucks to get her son to sleep, and would drive around for hours to get him to stay asleep. In the first six months, I think this is fine for nap time. But any longer and your child will start to develop a habit that will be hard to break! And of course, anywhere you have your child sleeping needs to be made safe.
10. Naps can be tricky, but there are techniques that can help.
There is actually not as much research about addressing naps as there is for improving nighttime sleep! But by fixing nighttime sleep, the naps naturally get better. Here are a few tips for improving naps:
Keep nap prep short and sweet. Your nap time ritual should be a scaled-down version of your bedtime routine. So if your bedtime routine takes thirty minutes, ten to twenty minutes would be perfect.
Play with the timing. After six months of age, try two to three hours after waking up for nap #1, around midday for nap #2, and possibly a short nap around 3:00-4:00 pm. If your child does not fall asleep after thirty minutes, get your child up, and wait until the next nap period to try again.
Avoid too much napping in the late afternoon. For older children, do not let your child nap past 4:00 pm, unless he can still fall asleep at his regular bedtime and sleep through the night.
Respect the nap. Before I started nannying and sleep consulting, I always wondered why people were so strict about the timing and duration of their child's naps! But then the cost of skipping naps became clear. The children were miserable, and so were the rest of us! It won't surprise you how quickly I started advocating for maintaining nap times and bedtimes with almost religious zeal.
If you have any questions or need help with sleep, I am here to help. You can go to the "sleep and massage plans" or "sleep consult form" to submit a form and I will help you ASAP! You have got this!