You may feel that getting your baby to sleep is the single most challenging thing about being a new parent. Infant sleep problems seem almost universal, and it is a commonly held belief that sleep deprivation is simply a rite of passage for new moms and dads. Thankfully, this is a myth which can be dispelled.
When you were eagerly counting down the days to the birth of your child, you probably had no idea exactly how much sleep you were going to lose or what a toll it would take. While there is nothing quite as exciting as bringing a new life into the world, the level of exhaustion you are experiencing now is not something you could have prepared for in advance.
Take heart. There are simple methods to get your baby to sleep which you can implement right from the start. A newborn needs to eat every few hours, so the first few weeks can be exhausting for the breastfeeding mother who can not split the feeding schedule with her partner. Fortunately, you can easily help your baby acquire the skills necessary to soothe themselves to sleep.
Listed below are some tips on how to teach your baby to put him or herself to sleep initially and also after waking in the middle of the night.
o Once you reach the point where feedings can be spaced 3-4 hours apart, work on having a bedtime of 7-7:30. This time seems to work best for babies and it is a good habit to instill early in their life.
o If your baby is always falling asleep at the breast or during bottle feeding, change the order of the night time routine so the feeding does not occur just before bedtime, when they are at their sleepiest. Only being able to fall asleep while eating is a very common problem and a difficult one to break. Laying your baby in bed drowsy but still awake is the best way to promote the skill of self soothing.
o A warm bath can be very relaxing for an overtired baby after a day of play. Try to schedule the bath after the evening feeding, then cuddle your baby in a rocking chair prior to putting him or her to bed for the night. If you can associate a bath and rocking time with the wind down period it will help your little one be able to soothe themselves without eating.
o Make certain your baby is sleeping in the same place for naps and bedtime. If you are not doing a family bed then the crib is the best place for baby. It can be confusing to your baby if their sleeping space is often switched back and forth from a swing, to the car seat and then the glider. It is important that they have a consistent space they can learn to associate with sleeping.
o A dark room is best. If the nursery receives a lot of light during the day consider putting up darkening shades. A white noise machine or even a simple fan aimed away from the crib can be helpful to block out intruding sounds from other parts of the house.
o Say the same phrase each night such as “It is night time, and all babies are asleep now.” This way if your baby does not go right to sleep and you need to go back in for some verbal reassurance you can repeat the same phrase.
o Help your child form an attachment to a ‘lovey’ such as a small blanket or stuffed animal that they can associate with bedtime. This serves as a substitute comfort in your absence.
As you are implementing the above tips remember that your goal is to help you baby learn to go to sleep by themselves. This will encourage good sleep habits throughout life. Even as adults we have waking moments throughout the night and need to be able to put ourselves back to sleep. Using these methods will teach baby to soothe themselves, and eventually they will be able to go back to sleep without your assistance. When your baby sleeps well, you will too – and any new mother knows that a good night’s sleep is worth its weight in gold!