Nothing is more amazing than the moment you see your baby’s face for the first time. The joy, excitement, and love that overcome you make it feel like you are literally on top of the world! It isn’t until you get home that the doubts, fear, and overwhelming feelings begin to kick in. Suddenly, you are responsible for this tiny, helpless being . . . who won’t sleep! You are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. And you start to wonder how you will ever find rest during these seemingly endless newborn days.
Unfortunately, nothing can prepare you for how hard, exhausting, lonely, and overwhelming motherhood can be. There are levels of tired no one can accurately describe. But, the good news is that you are not alone, and how you feel is very normal. And I am here to tell you that you are doing great and that these hard moments won’t last forever.
As a mom of three little ones (six years, four years, and two years), I have experienced first-hand MANY exhausting moments. As a Certified Sleep Consultant, I have worked with hundreds of families experiencing exhausting moments. We all go through tough times on our parenting journey, which is okay. I always tell my fellow moms that it is okay NOT to be okay! One of my favorite quotes is, “we are wired to do hard things.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t get some help and advice along the way.
How to Find Rest During the Newborn Days
Throughout my motherhood journey, I became very passionate about sleep and how it impacts a family’s well-being. My firstborn was 11 months old before he slept his first EVER 2-hour stretch. So I think it was fair to say that becoming obsessed with sleep was bound to happen during that time. To me, healthy sleep is not about perfection but balance.
SPOILER: There is no such thing as perfect sleep!
During the early months, you go from superhuman hormones from delivering your baby to the adrenaline wearing off and you being left feeling exhausted. Although it is normal for the early months to be tiring, I want to share some information and tips to help you with sleep through the first four months with your baby. There are things you can do to help!
1. Set Realistic Expectations
Give yourself and your baby a break by setting up realistic expectations. Your baby is brand new and will frequently wake during the first four months. Feeding your baby every 1-4 hours is within a normal range during the newborn stage. Of course, every baby is different, but if your baby is within these ranges, just know it is normal!
2. Create an Ideal Sleep Environment
The sleep environment is a great place to start from day 1 to help you and your newborn get more sleep. The focus here is remembering that your baby was just born and came out of the home they have known for their whole life. The best way to help your baby feel at “home” is to set up cues that mimic the womb.
- Have a darker space. This helps to eliminate light stimulation that they are not used to, keeping them more relaxed. Have a soft light to use when feeding at night.
- Use white noise. White noise helps to mimic the sounds of the womb. Use a constant and continuous sound such as the white noise setting, vacuum sound, heavy rainfall, etc. This can feel familiar to the sounds of blood flow while in utero. Avoid waves, lullabies, or thunderstorms, which are inconsistent sounds.
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3. Work on the Timing of Sleep
Overstimulation is a big cause of disrupted sleep or trouble calming your baby to help them to sleep. Throughout the first 3-4 months, you don’t have to stress about setting up a consistent schedule because their body isn’t ready for that until four months. Instead, use their cues and healthy awake windows to help your baby stay rested and not get overtired.
- If your baby is showing they are tired, then try and help them to sleep right away. Try and catch them before these strong, tired signs if you can. For example, some families notice that their baby shows strong tired signs at the 1-hour mark. So at the 45-minute mark, start your routine, which can make it easier for them to drift off.
- If your baby takes short naps (under 60 minutes) but doesn’t show many tired signs, then you can use the “duration of last sleep” method to determine their next sleeping period. This is ONLY if they sleep for under 60 minutes. So whatever the duration they sleep for will be how long they will be awake before the next little nap. For example, if baby slept for 45 minutes, I would aim to have baby be asleep again in 45 minutes. This can keep them from getting overtired and encourage longer naps!
4. Work on Soothing your Baby
Always trust your instincts with your baby! They are there for a reason. It can be very frustrating when your baby is fussy and won’t get comfortable or calm down. Using Dr. Karp’s calming reflex theory can really help. You try and replicate the womb with a series of actions to calm your baby.
- Swaddle. This helps to keep your baby feeling wrapped in a hug like when in the womb. Learn how to swaddle here.
- Side-Lying. Hold your baby against you, heart to heart or stomach to stomach, in a side-lying position. This helps them feel close to you.
- Shushing. Your personal white noise. Shush as loud as your baby’s cry if you can. As they calm, you can decrease the volume of shushing to help continue to calm your baby.
- Swinging. Rock your baby back and forth in your arms to mimic the motion in the womb. Using a swing also works if your baby likes the swing! Using a jiggly motion often works best!
- Sucking. This replicates the swallowing of amniotic fluid while in the womb. Use your breast, bottle, or pacifier to help calm your baby.
The key is to combine three or more of these tools to calm your baby!
5. Establish Routines Early
Routines can help you and your baby feel more consistent throughout your day. Babies can’t tell time, so routines act as their clock, letting their body know it is supposed to be sleeping soon.
The early months are tough, but you got this, mama! Try to soak up every moment each night, and just know that tomorrow is a new day. Babies don’t come with a manual, but they do have YOU! You are just what your baby needs and your baby is just what you need. You are doing great, and I hope some of these tips help you find rest during these newborn days.