Updated October 2018
Part 1 of the Infant Sleep Solutions series
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I know. You’re totally exhausted. And CRANKY and eXhILaRaTed and freaked out and in love and… just generally schizophrenic.
But mostly exhausted.
You’re right in the thick of it. Totally normal. DON’T WORRY, it will get better soon(ish).
Newborn Sleep: Your Nocturnal Monkey
The first three months of your baby’s life is a transition between the womb-world and the real world; it truly is the “4th trimester.” Your job is to usher them through this transition as painlessly as possible.
In utero, your baby was naturally awake and active exactly when you weren’t: At night.
Now that she is no longer living inside of you, you must gradually shift her newborn sleep schedule from a nocturnal one to a normal daytime (diurnal) schedule. This is a gradual process and won’t happen overnight, but you should start as soon as you get home from the hospital.
Many parents fall into the trap of letting baby completely dictate their own sleeping schedule because it SEEMS very natural and wonderful. It’s the right thing to do, right? Let baby do what baby wants to do. Eh… not so much…
Remember: Your baby is just a brain stem at this point. She is simply reacting to stimuli. You and your cerebral cortex have to do the heavy-lifting and guide your baby through the transition to a daytime schedule. Otherwise, you will end up with an 8-month-old baby who is waking multiple times at night demanding to be fed and ready to party – and you and your partner will not get any semblance of normalcy back in your life for a long, long time. Then, you will have to hire a newborn sleep consultant for big bucks to cure you of your woes, blabitty-blah… just say no.
I’ve seen this a lot with let-baby-sleep-whenever-he-wants parents. They aren’t doing themselves any favors!
Daytime Feedings – Fill ‘Em Up!
During the first week home from the hospital, your baby will be sleeping a LOT. They are recovering from birth and adjusting to the stressors of the outside world. They need a lot of sleep. Great! What a coincidence because so do you! The problem is, they will be coming to the trough to feed every 2-3.5 hours.
This is the best advice anyone ever gave me…
A few days after birth, your baby’s stomach is growing in size and can (finally!) hold more milk. During the daytime is when you really focus on filling up that little tummy!
Starting with the first feeding after sunrise, feed your baby at least every three hours, timing from the BEGINNING of the last feed to the BEGINNING of the next feed.
Don’t F this part up —->Wake them from napping if you must (during the day ONLY)! Yes, I said it. Wake their ass up.
You may feel bad about doing it, but don’t. This prevents them from napping too long during the day, which will in turn prevent them from sleeping well at night.
After some amount of time (a few days for some, several weeks for others), you will begin to notice your baby sleeping for longer than a three-hour span at night. Ah ha, the first glimmer of normal night-sleeping!
Don’t worry, as the span gets bigger, your milk supply will adjust accordingly. You may feel a little engorged when it first happens. Just roll with it. Your body will adjust in time.
Having said that, don’t make the mistake of skipping nighttime feedings when you are trying to establish your milk supply. Going too long between feeds or skipping feeds at night (whether you are supplementing or having someone feed the baby with pumped milk) will diminish your supply.
As this miraculous stretch-o-sleep gets longer, you might want to start cluster feeding at night. Cluster feeding just means that you nurse (or bottle feed) frequently right before bedtime. So, if “bedtime” is 8 pm, you could feed her at 6:30 pm, then again right before night-night.
This will fill their bellies so they can go longer before waking up hungry.
You could also try the “dream feed,” which is feeding your baby (partially waking them up) when YOU go to bed. It’s called the dream feed because they can nurse or feed while half-awake. This too will buy you a bit more time before the first dinner bell is rung. I call it buying an insurance policy on the beginning of your night. 😉
If you do this, you will notice this span-of-sleeping-at-night gradually lengthen and lengthen. For Lucie, it happened fast. One night, she slept from 10 pm-3 am (weeeeeeeee!). The next night she woke at 4 am. The following week she slept from 10 pm-5 am, then 6 am, then (ohmygodddd) 7 am. It was a beautiful thing.
She was “sleeping through the night” by 7 weeks. This is the part where I have to say, **Results may not be typical. Being able to sleep through the night heavily depends on your baby’s weight, 11-15 lbs being the range where this becomes possible. This is why women who want small babies are nuts!
Bottom line: Life sucks when you have to wake up every two-three hours and you don’t get any continuity in your sleep. You feel like a zombie around the clock. No amount of caffeine can fix you. When you sleep? The angels sing and life is great again. This is when you become an obnoxiously happy parent.
Yay. This is our goal.
If you have an underweight baby or a baby who needs to eat more frequently for medical reasons (obviously!), follow the advice of your doctor. Not me. I’m just a chump with a computer.
Remember, for breast engorgement, you can use the following tricks:
- Cabbage leaves, which fit very nicely into your bra. Keep them in your fridge and pull one out when you need it. (Note: overuse of cabbage leaves can decrease milk supply. Also, note that cabbage contains sulfa, so if you have an allergy to sulfa, don’t use or ask your doctor.)
- Wet and freeze a couple of diapers (disposables). This makes for an (ironically) perfect booby ice pack.
Repeating this information in case you need it:
** Need Breastfeeding support? **
– Call a Lactation Consultant in your area
– La Leche League website or toll free number: 1-877-4LA-LECHE
– LLL support groups in your area (I highly recommend BFing support groups!)
– KellyMom (breastfeeding advice website)