This article was originally posted on The EveryMom.
You’ve been waiting months or maybe years for a baby to enter your life. You might even be gushing about your sweet baby’s impending arrival to everyone you meet. People have all kinds of comments ready for you. They are excited, overjoyed and then someone says “enjoy your sleep now because when this baby arrives, it’s all over!”
As a neonatal nurse, mom of four, and baby sleep expert, let me be the first to tell you:
It’s going to be okay; I promise. We can get your baby sleeping. Sleep deprivation doesn’t have to rule your world.
Here are five truths to help set your mind at ease about baby sleep before your sweet little one arrives:
1. You don’t need to worry about “schedules” or “bad habits” at the beginning.
If you are a Type-A person who thrives on productivity, I get you. I flourish when my days are planned, and I measure success by what I accomplish in any given week. However, in the first month of your baby’s life, you will have to set aside that drive for productivity. This just isn’t the time to determine that your day will ALWAYS start at 7:00 am and your feeding times will be set each day.
If no one has told you yet, let me be the first: The schedule you found online won’t go perfectly. Your baby WILL fall asleep while eating. She’ll want to eat before the clock says it’s time. Naps will be irregular. This is all okay and normal.
Can I give you a to-do list for the first month after your little one arrives? Here it is:
Take care of you
Take care of your baby
Please do not worry about creating “bad habits” during these early weeks. If you love babywearing, snuggling with your sleeping baby, or rocking him to sleep, DO IT! You don’t need to feel guilty or worry about it for one minute.
Wait, are you thinking of your one friend who literally has to hold her baby to nap for four hours a day? Do you have a family member who can’t set the baby down without him screaming? I bet you have hives just thinking about it. Don’t worry, this does NOT have to be your future.
Now, say this with me: The first four weeks are just practice. Starting in week 4, you can begin to work on a flexible routine. (Keep reading. I’ll teach you how.)
2. Sometimes, you’re going to need to wake your sleeping baby.
Wait! Is a baby sleep expert advising me to WAKE a sleeping baby?
Yes, I sure am. You’ll want to wake her up so that she never goes longer than 3 hours without a feeding during the day.
First: Newborns know how many calories they need in 24 hours.
Second: Your newborn will only give you one long stretch of sleep. (This could be 3-4 hours “long” at first.)
In order to get that one long stretch of sleep during the NIGHT, you will have to fit those needed calories in during the day. The most effective way to do this is to offer a feeding at least every three hours during the day. (Please note: You measure feeding times from the start of one feeding to the start of another, just like timing contractions.)
“So if my baby fell asleep five minutes ago and it’s been three hours since his last feeding, you want me to WAKE him for a feeding?”
Yes! That’s exactly what I’m saying! We need to get those calories in during the day to allow your baby to start sleeping that longer stretch at night.
3. Great products really do help.
I promise I am NOT a baby product pusher. I truly see new parents fill their homes with baby items that are so unnecessary. However, I can tell you four products I think every new parent needs to own on Day 1 after arriving home from the hospital.
Here they are:
A swaddle that either zips or velcros.
A sound machine. The YogaSleep sound machines are my favorite.
A safe place for the baby to sleep. Be sure that it's labeled crib, bassinet, or play yard.
And finally: I love pacifiers.
4. The best baby sleep “product” is actually free: It’s light!
This study from the Journal of Sleep Research says that babies who were exposed to more light in the afternoon slept more soundly at night.
Light helps young babies set their biological clocks. Try to get outside each day. If you can’t get outside, open the blinds and let the light shine in! Research shows that light filtered through windows is effective, too. If it’s not sunny during the day, you can even use artificial lights to help mimic the outside light.
Now, this doesn’t mean that we want the lights on or blinds open while your baby is sleeping! Instead, we want to expose awake babies to light during the day and keep things as dark as possible during the night. When we do this, babies start to learn the biological rhythm of daytime and nighttime, which will help shift that long stretch we talked about earlier to the nighttime instead of the middle of the day.
5. You’ll be shocked by how little sleep you can survive on for that first month, BUT you don’t have to survive like this for long!
Ask any new parent — in that first month, you will be exhausted, BUT you will be amazed by the energy you have to provide for this little one. Sleeping four hours uninterrupted will feel like absolute heaven. Obviously, this won’t and shouldn’t last forever, but you WILL have what you need to get through this first little bit despite the middle of the night feedings and wakings.
Sleep deprivation is tough, but that’s CHRONIC sleep deprivation.
So what can be done? Take a class!
Yes, a class can really help. In fact, a study published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal showed that attending parenting classes actually improved the birth outcomes of babies whose moms were stressed, anxious, or depressed. The same is true with baby sleep. A baby sleep class can improve your newborn experience!
I have a class available to help new parents with sleep! The methods do NOT involve any crying or rigid schedules and ARE breastfeeding/bottle feeding friendly. In my class, you’ll learn how to calm a fussy baby, read sleepy cues, and set your days and nights up for success.
So, expectant mama or daddy, the next time someone says, “Enjoy your sleep now because you won’t sleep this well for the next 18 years,” just smile. You have tools. You know about the resources available to you. Sleep deprivation doesn’t have to rule your world, and your parenthood experience will be full of all of the joy you imagined.