Sleep is one of those parenting topics that can often cause a lot of debate. But one thing all new parents can agree on is that sleep in your first few weeks after birth can be hard. I’ve never met a new parent who would pass on a few hours of extra sleep! One of the biggest tools any new parent can have is simply understanding what stage your baby is at developmentally as it pertains to sleep. Having this information not only provides peace of mind, but it also allows you to plan ahead and prepare yourself for the nights when it’s hard to get adequate shut‐eye.
The day you have your bundle of joy you will be running off what many call the “birth high.” This euphoria allows you time to bond with your baby and adjust to the new realities of feeding sessions and diaper changes. Now if you are having your baby in America, and things go smoothly, you will most likely only be spending twenty‐four hours in the hospital post birth. Meaning you will be at home and parenting solo on your baby’s second night of life. This is where knowledge kicks in. Most babies’ second night of life can be quite difficult as baby is adjusting to life in the outside world. It isn’t unheard of for a new baby on this second night to be up the ENTIRE night. Now I provide you this info not to scare you, but to give you a head start in creating a postpartum plan that helps you tackle the second night like a boss!
So if you have family that has offered to help, make sure you have them lined up to be at your door at 7am on day 3 to take over so that you can get some extra sleep. If its in your budget it can be a great idea to hire a postpartum doula, also known as a newborn care specialist to help you at night for those first couple of nights home. A professional caregiver (or experienced family member or friend) will be able to teach you how to be more efficient at night, which ultimately equals more sleep. If you don’t have family and friends to reach out to for help and professional care is not in your budget here are few tips to get you a bit more rest on night number 2:
Swaddle Your Baby
Human babies are much less developed then our other mammal counterparts. Our babies need a bit more time and nurturing to fully adjust to being in the world. Swaddling is a great tool for keeping a new baby feeling calm and secure. In some ways swaddling can re‐create the cozy feeling of being in the womb. For a fussy baby swaddling can help soothe the nervous system, helping them to calm down more easily when upset. I often hear new parents say, “When I swaddle my baby she doesn’t like it and starts to cry.” It is true many babies will cry when you are putting baby in the swaddle, but most babies once picked up will calm down and really benefit from this soothing technique. Now how does this get you more sleep? Newborns until approximately three months of age often startle themselves awake due to their immature nervous system. Swaddling helps to control their jerky movements which can mean less startle responses and a longer night’s sleep for both you and your baby.
Sleep When The Baby Sleeps
There is no debate that newborns are not supposed to sleep through the night. Newborns are wired to feed frequently and bond with their parents in the weeks following birth. When you understand this need you are better equipped to handle your first few weeks. It may seem tempting spend baby’s naptime or night sleep sending out birth announcements or writing thank you notes: DON’T. It’s imperative to sleep when the baby sleeps so that you have reserves for a rough night of sleep spent feeding the baby, or providing an extra set of hands to your partner. It’s a simple tool, but one of the least used by new parents.
Use A White Noise Machine
These machines can be very helpful for blocking out sounds in the environment to allow for uninterrupted sleep. Now many sleep experts recommend these to help drown out noises for the baby. I’m recommending this machine to you, the parents. On your first night home or maybe in the hospital you will learn that newborns are pretty noisy sleepers. This can be a little disconcerting to new parents who have not yet figured out what sounds to pay attention to and which to ignore. I know many new parents who have spent a night with a baby who slept fairly well but were unable to sleep themselves because they were kept up by all those cute new baby noises. I recommend a natural, fan operated white noise machine such as the Marpac Dohm versus those that have manufactured sounds. You will be sleeping “like a baby” in no time!
Being a new parent is exciting and you won’t want to miss anything. However, if you don’t have any help it’s important that you don’t burn yourself out in the first few days. When possible take a divide and conquer approach. One parent can be feeding baby while the other takes a short nap. Mom can shower and have a few minutes of me time while her partner holds the baby and does some skin‐to‐skin bonding. There is nothing that will bring you closer together as partners than having a baby. Flex those relationship muscles by working together like a well‐oiled machine and holding each other accountable to taking care of yourselves so that you can take good care of your new family member.
There is nothing worse at 2am than to be changing the diaper of a screaming newborn only to realize you don’t have wipes, or the right size diaper that you need and have to traipse around the house with a half naked and crying baby trying to find what you need. Let’s face it, by the time you get home from the hospital or even if you have had a homebirth you will be exhausted after that first twenty‐four hours. Before you go to sleep take 15 minutes to do the following things (you can thank me in the morning):
Ensure Your Changing Station is Stocked Take five minutes to ensure you have enough wipes, newborn diapers, and whatever cream or ointment you might be using. If you are using cotton gauze as wipes a timesaver trick is to fill an insulated coffee mug with hot water. You will be able to avoid having to leave your station during the night to get water and baby’s bum will be happier too. Now depending on the layout of your home, creating a “satellite” changing station will be life changing! No, really. Find a small basket or box and put diapers, wipes, and a mobile changing pad. You can house this wherever you will be spending time with baby so that you don’t always have to go to baby’s room for diaper changes.
Set Up An Epic Feeding Dock Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle‐ feeding you will be spending a lot of time providing your baby with nutrition. This is not the time to skimp on your own nutrition. Take some time to put a large bottle of water and snacks wherever you plan to feed your baby. Some parents have made their own trail mix with nuts, seeds, and a bit of dried fruit or dark chocolate if you want a little pick me up. These small touches will feel great at 3am! Some other small luxuries to put in this space are a good lip balm and hand cream. Hospitals are very drying and you will feel the effects in the week after birth. This is also a good place to leave a few burp cloths and a breastfeeding pillow if you are nursing. If you will be using bottles make sure to take home the pink plastic bins from the hospital that they use for bathing new babies. This is great to use during the night to soak bottles and avoid having to scrub dried milk in the morning. After a night feeding you will simply plop your bottle into a bin of hot soapy water and you will be able to clean quickly and with ease in the morning.
Bringing a new baby home is a joyous occasion. Getting a few extra hours of sleep as a new parent can also be joyous. The most important thing to remember is that with babies, stages come and go. When you are having a hard night know that this will pass and won’t go on forever. When you are having a good night: enjoy it! Baby’s are only little for such a small time and you only get to do your second night once. Now go and get yourself ready so you can handle it like a pro!