Those first few days in the hospital and first nights home with baby can be challenging. Here’s how to set your little one up for great sleep.
The big day has finally come – your baby is here.
This little bundle of joy has made a grand entrance into your lives. And you couldn’t be more thrilled. But you’re also likely experiencing an intense exhaustion like you’ve never experienced before (unless you’ve had other babies.)
You may have gone through many hours of labor and possibly a sleepless night or two leading up to the birth.
Or maybe even the whole second half of your pregnancy was filled with sleepless nights. Even for moms with scheduled C-sections or quick labors, your body will still feel like it has been hit by the truck.
Now on top of that, you’re in charge of a tiny baby that needs to fed, soothed, changed, and dressed around the clock and may start off only sleeping for 1 hour chunks at a time.
Such is the life of the mother of a newborn
Some babies might start off extremely sleepy so you won’t need to do much to assist their sleep while in the hospital.
But other newborns will quickly become so overstimulated by their new surroundings that they become hard to settle right from the start. Should you embrace this next-level sleep deprivation?
Yes and no.
Although you’re likely to stay quite sleep deprived for the next month or two, there are things you can start doing from the beginning that will set you up to having a more contented, well-rested baby.
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Bring the Right Gear To The Hospital To Use After Birth
This isn’t a post about packing a hospital bag in general, but there are some things to bring that’ll help settle you in for a more peaceful few days. These are similar to the 6 baby products that help with good sleep.
Besides your cute baby outfits and the necessities you pack for yourself, make sure to bring the following.
Your own muslin swaddling blankets
These are much easier to swaddle with than the stiff, thicker hospital blankets. And are much cuter, too obviously.
Newborns have been packed tightly in your womb for 9 months. Now they have space and they have no control over their limbs as they flail all about. This makes sleep much more difficult.
Swaddling helps them feel secure and keeps the moro reflex (or the “startle reflex”) from waking them up.
Portable white noise machine
Your baby is used to the loud shush of your body. This includes he beat of your heart, your breathing, muffled outside voices. But when they’re inside the womb, nothing clear and distinct.
White noise outside the body can be extremely soothing to a newborn. A portable one will allow you to put it close to the bassinet without worrying about cords and outlets.
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An eye mask
Ok, this if for you, but the same concept applies to the baby. Most of us really need darkness to sleep and the same goes for newborns. They are used to the darkness of your womb and can be overstimulated by so much light.
Since you can’t put an eye mask on him, if baby is unsettled, keep the lights dim or off in his corner of the room to help him settle. Bright lights can be way too much stimulation for a brand-new baby.
And if you labor into the night and need to sleep during the day, an eye mask will help you be able to settle even at noon.
Learn from the Experts In The Hospital
While still in the hospital, take advantage of the team of newborn experts around you. When I had my first child in Scotland, our midwife came to the house for a few weeks.
If you aren’t so lucky… take advantage of the staff while you’re there.
Learn how to swaddle from the nurses.
Nurses usually have some great swaddling techniques and they’ll know how to do it safely and effectively.
Watching them and then practicing in their presence will build your confidence when you get home.
Now, I love an easy swaddle product like the Woombie below. However, many newborns are so small at first that being able to custom-fit a muslin swaddle to their tiny frame is an ideal solution.
Zips from the bottom, stretchy yet snug, and has swaddle weaning arm holes built in.Learn More
Watch different soothing techniques to expand your arsenal.
Soothing a baby doesn’t always come naturally to every new mom.
Don’t feel bad if you’re having a hard time figuring out what your fussy baby needs. Ask your nurse if she can show you her best techniques and don’t be afraid to try motions and methods that you haven’t seen before.
Before I had my own children, I remember watching my good friend in amazement as she did fast, deep squats while still jiggling her fussy baby, all while having a conversation with me.
The baby – her third – quickly calmed to sleep, and I made a mental note to be willing to try anything to soothe my future babies.
Get support with feeding.
If you really want to encourage good sleep from the beginning, one of the biggest keys will be to encourage good, full milk feeds. I
f you’re bottle feeding, learn how to do a paced feeding to minimize gassiness.
If you’re breastfeeding, ask for more help and support to make sure you guys are getting it right from the get-go. Sure, you can You-tube this later, but there’s nothing like that hands-on, in-person support.
And although you’re likely to have follow-up support from lactation professionals, those first few days are critical.
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Check for tongue/lip ties.
If you are having trouble with your newborn’s latch, make sure you have an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) or pediatrician check your baby for tongue and lip tie.
It’s a surprisingly common issue these days, and although there has been a slight trend towards over-diagnosis in the last few years, your IBCLC will be able to tell you what to watch and observe for over the next 1-2 weeks.
Keep in mind though that issues with latch right in the beginning don’t automatically mean tongue-tie. This is straight from a colleague of mine.
An IBCLC did diagnose tongue-tie in my second daughter in the hospital. But a week later when we went to have it corrected, she had been gaining weight great and no longer had any signs of a tongue tie.
The doctor said it’s because their muscles get cramped up during childbirth but start to relax over time, helping their tongue and lips to be less restricted.
Really listen to their safe-sleep guidelines
I can’t emphasize this enough.
Take that literature they give you, read it, and listen to their warnings about not falling asleep while holding your baby.
SIDS is the number one killer of babies in their first year, and the highest risk is in months 1-6. You will definitely face the temptation to throw out safe-sleep practices in desperation for some unbroken sleep.
But do your best to resist.
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Here’s a handy dandy list of 28 things to try so baby will stop fighting sleep and sleep longer and later.