How to sleep when there’s a newborn at home


Whoever came up with the saying “I slept like a baby” had no children. Nanny Stella shares her rules for getting good rest.

Are you one of those couples who take turns to soothing the baby to sleep? Are you having baby sleep on your chest in the rocker? Are you driving baby around in the car or swaying baby to ­Carpenters’ love songs at 3 a.m.? Well, if you’re at the end of your rope and need some help, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

My credentials and experience include being a postpartum doula and baby nurse. In fact, my specialty over the past 10 years has been in sleep training babies. There are many people out there like myself who are paid to alleviate the sleep problem and there are lots of books and DVDs on the topic. I believe parents seek advice on sleep training children of all ages more than any other parenting problem. So you can at least take some solace in the fact that you are not alone. On the other hand, if you are a person who is happy to meet the demands of your baby to be nursed, rocked, cuddled, brought into your bed, or even played with on her ­timetable as opposed to ­training—and yes, I did say training—your baby to sleep through the night, then do not read on. I do not want to waste your time. I am writing this for exhausted parents who want to get some sleep.

A simple set of rules

First rule of sleep with a newborn: Sleep when the baby sleeps—as hard as this can be with email to reply to and thank-you cards to send. For a little while you are going to have to play along with baby’s idea of sleeping and have bouts of sleep in a 24-hour period without any real regard for night and day.

Parenting books I like:
The New Contented Little Baby Book, by Gina FordSecrets of the Baby Whisperer, by Tracy HoggThe Happiest Baby on the Block, by Harvey Karp, M.D.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Establish a routine, especially at bedtime. By around 3 to 4 months, babies’ sleep patterns and routines can be quite well established. I know you don’t believe me, but babies can sleep through the night at that point. Babies love routine, they love to know what’s coming next. You can achieve this by being consistent and start as soon as you can. View the hours of 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. as nighttime, keep the room dark and aim to be quiet. When doing a middle-of-the-night feed or diaper change, keep the lights low and avoid chatting or interacting with your baby so she knows it’s not playtime. This is a great differentiation between night and day. During the day phones can be ringing, doors can be knocking, floors can even be vacuumed, but not at night.

It is your job as a parent to teach your baby to self-soothe. Now, before you ladies who co-sleep with their babies on their chests want to annihilate me and scream “You’re mean!” take a breath and cool your jets. I love to cuddle with babies—there is nothing like it in the world to me. However, there is a time and a place for everything. If you get into the habit of rocking, cuddling, and singing your baby to sleep, that is what they will come to expect. Notice I said “to sleep.” Do all of the above and enjoy, but please put your baby down while his eyes are open. Lay baby down awake.

Also important to know: Whatever happens at night ­depends on what happens during the day. If baby is eating enough during the day with an established routine and feeding schedule, say, every three hours, then baby won’t be as hungry in the middle of the night. One of the “secrets” of the sleep trainers is the “top-off” or “dream feed.” You can decide what time works for you, but instead of waiting for baby to wake for the next feed after you go to bed, introduce a dream feed at around 11 p.m. before you call it a night. This is helping to fill that tummy and help him not wake from hunger. The same applies for scheduled naps.

Change is constant

Unfortunately, just when you think that you are out of the woods, you’ll hit a setback, like a first tooth or a leaky diaper. In those cases, you should absolutely attend to your baby in the middle of the night. But don’t fix what isn’t broken; deal with the problem in a caring, loving way. If you are using a teething gel, then apply it to those gums and put baby back down, but don’t start rocking a baby to sleep that didn’t require it before he started teething.

Good luck and sleep tight…like someone who doesn’t have a baby.


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