13 Sleep Strategies for New Moms
The most important factor in helping moms get enough sleep is helping their children learn how to sleep through the night. Though it's easier said than done, it's a worthwhile goal. “Nothing will turn a mom into a sleep-deprived zombie faster than having to repeatedly get up for a child who just won't go back to sleep,” says Dana Obleman, author of The Sleep Sense Program. We asked a number of experts to share their sleep strategies for new moms and babies, and some of their answers may surprise you.
1. Establish a Pattern
It's important to let newborn babies eat and sleep as much as they want during the first few weeks. “Ideally you should create an eat-play-sleep pattern that allows for four to five naps per day of one to three hours each,” says parenting author Dana Obleman. Most newborns will be awake for only 45 to 60 minutes at a time before they need another nap. “And they can only sleep two to three hours at a time -- even at night -- because their little bellies are too small to hold enough food to sustain them for any longer than that,” she says.
2. Set Realistic Expectations
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Having realistic expectations is probably the most important factor in how satisfied new mothers are with their sleep -- and with their babies, says Dr. Michelle Bennett, founder of the website Mama Seeds. “It's normal for babies to not sleep through the night,” she says. Don't assume you're doing something wrong or that something is wrong with your baby. “Unrealistic expectations make sleep deprivation seem even more torturous,” Dr. Bennett says. “Once mothers are able to accept that they're doing a fine job as mothers and that their baby is normal, they feel better.” You'll still miss your sleep but will be less likely to feel frustration and resentment about it.
3. Create a Bedtime Routine
Take about 20 to 30 minutes to wind down your baby's day, calming him and creating a recognizable pattern that tells your baby it's bedtime, said parenting author Dana Obleman. This, she says, will help your baby learn to be a great sleeper. “Creating a bedtime routine -- even for newborns -- is an important way of setting the groundwork for longer sleeps once they don't need to eat so often.”
4. Watch for Cues from Baby
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During the newborn phase, the awake periods for babies are short and sweet, but watch their cues, says Chelsea P. Gladden, parenting coach and co-founder of Breezy Mama, an online parenting magazine and mom blog. “As soon as they stop making eye contact, before they start crying and getting themselves too frantic to fall asleep, swaddle them and either set them down to sleep or start swaying them in your arms,” Gladden says. She reminds mothers that during the first few days -- even weeks -- babies will mainly sleep, wake, eat and soon afterward, want to sleep again.
5. Look Into Getting a Co-Sleeper
Consider using a co-sleeper, says Michelle Bennett, founder of Mama Seeds. A co-sleeper is a bedside bassinet that attaches to the adult's bed. “Baby will be within arm's reach for nighttime nursing,” she says, “then can be easily returned to his or her own safe sleeping space afterward.” Keep in mind, however, that while a number of experts and moms recommend co-sleepers, they are somewhat controversial. In a 2011 policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatricians stated: “Devices promoted to make bed-sharing 'safe' -- e.g., in-bed co-sleepers -- are not recommended,” although they do recommend sharing a room without sharing a bed. Do some research of your own and talk to your pediatrician before making any decision on a co-sleeper.
6. Share Responsibilities With Your Partner
“Sharing the work is crucial,” says Denise Stern, president of Let Mommy Sleep. One partner continuously focusing only on baby, with the other helping only during off-work hours, is not a good support system, she says. “It's a recipe for exhaustion, poor health and stress.” Parenting coach Chelsea P. Gladden says the couples she works with use various teamwork methods to get the job done. Some have one partner do many of the nighttime feedings while the other sleeps; other couples have mom do all the feedings but have her partner taking care of the baby after the first morning nursing so she can go back to sleep.
7. Spend Time Soothing
Denise Stern of Let Mommy Sleep advises new moms to invest their time in soothing their babies. “This above all other basic care techniques,” she says. Feed baby slowly then massage and burp him afterward to reduce gas. “When we see babies jerking awake after 20 minutes, it's usually due to gastric distress,” Stern says. “They've not been given enough time to deal with digestion and gas.” She recommends holding baby upright and burping him for 20 to 30 minutes before putting him back down to sleep. “Although this seems like a big time commitment in the middle of the night, it will pay off with a more restful sleep.”
8. Nurse Frequently During the Day
“Sometimes babies will want to nurse more frequently at night if they aren't getting enough nursing during the day," says Mama Seeds' Michelle Bennett. Of course, some babies who are used to eating several times during the night may continue to wake up purely out of habit -- particularly if they're past the four- to six-month mark, when most babies are able to get enough calories during the day to sustain them for a five- or six-hour stretch at night. If you suspect your baby is waking because she might not be eating enough during the day, make an effort to carefully watch for hunger cues and try nursing in a place without distractions.
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9. Set a Reasonable Bedtime
Put your baby to bed at a decent hour, says Denise Stern, president of Let Mommy Sleep. Keeping your baby awake later at night does not mean baby will sleep later in the morning. “This fights against baby's natural rhythm and may lead to true exhaustion and meltdown,” she says. “We recommend bedtime consistency.” Researchers in Japan reached similar conclusions during a 2007 study, finding that the late bedtime and frequent night waking of the infants in their study may reflect delayed development of the babies' circadian rhythms.
10. Fit in Daytime Snuggle-Time
Little ones have an enormous need for closeness and comfort. “Babies who are missing physical closeness with their mothers during the day will sometimes try to get that closeness at night,” says Michelle Bennett, founder of Mama Seeds. While this can be especially challenging for mothers who work outside the home, it may be necessary to increase physical contact with baby during the daytime through activities like holding, soothing, feeding and swaying.
11. Use White Noise and Swaddling Techniques
“Swaddling -- that is, wrapping baby snugly so that his arms are secured at his sides -- and white noise go hand in hand,” says Let Mommy Sleep's Denise Stern. “They both simulate conditions in the womb, creating security and comfort for the baby.” Because newborns do not yet have full control of their limbs, swaddling also helps eliminate inadvertent wakings. Swaddling your baby and creating white noise, “specifically the 'shhhhh' sound baby hears in the womb, literally brings the 'comforts of home' to a newborn,” Stern says.
12. Catch Some Zzzs When You Can
“Moms should make sure to catch a nap -- or two or three -- during the days,” says parenting coach Chelsea P. Gladden. Sure, it's a piece of advice included in just about every list of sleep strategies for new moms, but there's a reason for that: A new mom has to fit in some shut-eye wherever and whenever she can. “Moms need their rest,” says Gladden, “and it's better for everyone if they get it.” It's better for baby, too. A 2013 study showed that mothers who napped more frequently had richer and more positive interactions with their babies than those who napped less or not at all.
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13. Do One Last Feeding Before Bed
Have baby nurse one last time right before mom goes to bed herself, says Michelle Bennett, founder of Mama Seeds. “Most babies will 'sleep-nurse' and not fully rouse,” she says, “and sometimes this last 'topping-off' for the night will buy several hours of consecutive sleep for mom.” Denise Stern, president of Let Mommy Sleep, wholeheartedly agrees, saying, “We at Let Mommy Sleep like to teach the 'dream feed' -- a term coined by 'The Baby Whisperer,' Tracey Hogg” -- which is simply bringing breast or bottle to baby's lips and allowing her to instinctively take what she needs while continuing to sleep.
What Do YOU Think?
Are you a new mom (or dad)? Did you or your baby have problems with sleep? If so, what did you do? Did you discover a particular method or activity that improved the situation? Have you tried any of the methods on this list? What worked and what didn't? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below. Your tip might help other mothers and their babies finally catch a bit of precious slumber.
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