By Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns
Of all the new baby things you’re looking forward to, sleepless nights aren’t one of them! You’ve heard your friends’ horror stories of being woken up ten times a night, and just the thought of it makes you yawn. I have good news for you! There are many things that you can do to help your newborn sleep well, and five important tasks to put on your to-do list before your bundle even arrives.
1. Learn about newborn sleep
Everyone, including your pediatrician, is going to ask, “How’s your baby sleeping?” and you can’t answer that if you don’t know what normal infant sleep looks like. Newborns sleep a lot, but their fifteen to eighteen hours of daily sleep are distributed over four to seven (or more!) brief periods—day and night. These sleep periods can be as short as twenty minutes or as long as five hours. And that’s all perfectly normal.
2. Set up a sleep-inducing bedroom
Matching bedding and a cute wall-hanging are fun–but they won’t improve your baby’s sleep, although there are many things that can. It’s recommended that your newborn sleep in your bedroom, but simply adding a cradle near your bed won’t ensure good sleep. Get some window shades (babies sleep better in the dark), buy a white noise machine (a deep, rumbly sound puts a baby to sleep), get a rocking cradle (movement soothes an infant), and purchase soft flannel or fleece sheets for the bed (they make Baby’s bed cozy).
3. Create a safe family bed–even if you don’t plan to use it
No matter what your plan is in advance of baby’s arrival, that seven-pound bundle often has a bigger vote about where to sleep than you do! In addition, newborns need to be fed often through the night, and falling asleep with a baby while on a sofa, rocking chair, or recliner is incredibly dangerous. Sleep-deprived new parents can easily fall asleep while feeding their baby, a situation that is far more dangerous than purposefully setting up a safe bed-sharing environment. Do your homework now!
4. Learn how to swaddle
After nine months of living in a snug, body-hugging, pretzel-folded space, many newborns sleep better and longer when parents create a womb-like experience for sleep by wrapping them in a receiving blanket—swaddling. The art of swaddling takes time to master, so it’s easier to learn this skill before those bewildering first days arrive. I suggest that you purchase a muslin swaddling blanket now and practice on a doll, a stuffed animal, or a friend’s baby. If your baby enjoys being swaddled, it can help him from the very first day of birth, and it can be a tremendous burst of confidence if you already know how to wrap your baby up.
5. Remember this fact–and apply it from day one
Brand new babies can only stay happily awake for forty-five minutes to an hour at a time. Any longer than that and their overtired state can prevent them from falling asleep. So keep your newborn’s awake periods short–and you can become your baby’s personal, magical sandman.