One of the most challenging aspects of being a new or first-time parent is the disruption of your sleep schedule. Prior to the arrival of your newborn, nighttime was likely fairly predictable. You probably went to bed at a usual, predictable time, went to sleep, then woke up at a usual/predictable time in the morning.
With the arrival of a tiny little human in your home, the nighttime routine will change drastically. Newborns sleep erratically as they adjust to life outside the womb, and they often have their days and nights mixed up. In addition, they have no way to communicate with you other than crying, so any time they experience discomfort or stress of any kind, you will likely hear crying, and this includes during the nighttime and wee morning hours. What used to be a predictable routine for you, starting with your usual bedtime, can now be a wild ride, and a stressful one, too. These hours from late evening to early morning are drastically different now, and you may be reeling from the shock, and feeling ill-equipped to cope.
The first, and most important thing you can do to help yourself stay strong emotionally during this time, is to understand and recognize that these new conditions are normal, and they are temporary. Your expectations are enormously important. Don’t expect the nights to be the same as before, be prepared to ride out these early weeks and months and to adapt to the changes. Life will return to normal and you will establish a routine. Be patient and tell yourself this is just a chapter, not the whole book. Once you have your mindset prepared you are ready to take some action steps towards establishing a routine that benefits baby and you.
The good news is that you can take steps to change the nighttime experience from completely erratic, unpredictable and stressful, to a peaceful, predictable and productive routine. But it’s important to remember that the process will be different for each parent and child, and each baby will adapt to routine at a different pace. Look at establishing a sleep routine as a process, and not a one-time task to cross off your list.
When to start?
Many experts advise beginning the process of incorporating a sleep routine at the two month mark. Prior to this, your newborn is just not fully adapted to life outside of the womb.
How to start?
Pay attention, start small, and be prepared. Keep a journal and make notes of sleep and wake times, sleep cues and any other details that might help you. Establish a ‘pre-sleep’ routine, giving your baby a cue that sleep time is coming. Incorporate repetition as often as possible. Sit in the same chair, the same room, do things at the same time for various activities. Baby will become accustomed to patterns, and it will become more predictable and therefore manageable for you both.
Establish routines in the other parts of your day such as feed times, bath, etc., so baby becomes accustomed to regular patterns.
Begin to incorporate self-soothing into your baby’s skill set. Start by waiting just a few minutes when baby cries, to see if she is able to calm herself down and go back to sleep (this can start at about three months according to experts).
Put baby down to sleep when she’s drowsy and sleepy, but not fully asleep yet. This will allow her to learn to go to sleep without your help.
Make a clear difference between day and night that your baby can recognize. Keep lights on and blinds open for sunlight during the day, lights low at night. Consider aromatherapy (lavender diffuser) and sound therapy (special lullaby or baby sound machine) to offer additional cues to baby that nighttime and sleep are priorities now.
As the months progress, your baby will sleep for longer periods of time. In the beginning, you may have a feeding schedule of every 2 or 3 hours, meaning you will wake to feed throughout the night. Eventually, these times will stretch out and your nighttime feedings will reduce from three, to two, to one, and eventually your baby will sleep through the night.
Remember to be patient, practice self-care and adjust your mindset. Think of these months as a marathon and not a sprint. Celebrate the small milestones and enjoy this time with your precious little one.