Do you have a new baby and not getting any sleep?
I have been there. I know how miserable it is. I know how worn down you feel. I know how you feel like crying all the time because your hormones are so whack and you are completely exhausted.
And I also know how your eyes turn to laser death rays when your spouse says anything. Especially anything other than the phrase, “You look beautiful. Here’s a cookie.” And even that might set you off. (or maybe that was just me?)
But I also know that things will get better– especially as you gain tools that can help you teach your baby to sleep more and sleep better.
While a new baby is hard work no matter how many you’ve had, it has gotten easier for me with each of my three babies because of the things that I’ve learned over the years.
While my tips are not foolproof, I hope what I have learned can help you in some way- even just one more precious hour of sleep a night can make you feel more human.
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Sleep Safety Rules vs. Reality
One thing I struggled with when I was a new mom was the worry of sleep safety versus my baby actually getting sleep.
I knew that babies are more likely to gets SIDS if they are sleeping in certain conditions, like on your chest when you are sleeping, or next to you in bed.
But these were the only places she liked to sleep!
Studies have shown that the safest place for your baby to sleep is in a crib or bassinet in the same room as you, on their back without blankets or stuffed animals or bumpers that could cover their face and obstruct oxygen flow. But my baby hated to lay in her bassinet. She wanted to be cradled and held.
I remember crying more than I was sleeping for the first few weeks- just out of pure exhaustion (and sore nipples).
It can be so frustrating. You’re trying your best to keep your baby safe. But you NEED to get some sleep. And you NEED a permanent solution that doesn’t involve relying on someone else holding them while you try to sneak in a quick nap between feedings.
The good news is there is a way to help your baby sleep well and safely on their own. The only bad news is it will take some trial and error.
The Newborn Stage
When you have a newborn, it is all about survival tactics. There is no way around it, you will be losing sleep.
The key to surviving this 4th trimester is to try your best to replicate the womb to soothe your baby to sleep.
And use this time to learn all you can about your baby’s preferences. I recommend having 2-3 very different safe sleeping spots for your baby. Try out each one until you find something that works.
Each baby has their own preferences. They may hate sleeping in a non-rocking bassinet like my first did, and may love a swing. Some babies like to be swaddled, some don’t. Some like pacifiers, some don’t.
My second baby loved to swing and be swaddled, so I used these velcro swaddlers and only swaddled his arms. I left his legs free so I could buckle him safely into his swing.
You need to learn what your baby likes to have when sleeping so you can replicate it every time they need rest.
Once you figure this out, they (and you!) will be getting more sleep.
Safe Sleeping Areas to Try
I suggest having at least two different sleeping area options for your baby.
My babies have loved sleeping in a nice comfortable swing for the first few months (all 3 of them have loved the constant motion, and I love that they are slightly angled up as I feel it is safer and more comfortable than lying flat). I’ve used this swing for all my children, and love it! When the motor went bad the company even replaced it for free.
I also use a portable crib (like a pack n play) for when they outgrow the swing. I like to use a pack n play because it has soft mesh sides that keep my baby breathing safe and unable to injure himself on hard crib rails. I also like that I can take it with me when we travel, so he can have the same sleeping environment wherever we go and sleep well even in an unfamiliar place.
Some other options are:
Learn How to Move a Sleeping Baby
Experts say to not let your baby fall asleep at the breast or bottle. I say that not doing that is sometimes impossible. I have tried.
I have found that when they are under 4 months old, it doesn’t really matter, and they typically end up sleeping better when I let them.
You may find the opposite is true, which is why trial and error is the name of the game.
If you like to nurse or rock your baby to sleep, you need to learn how to move them to their sleeping area so they can sleep longer while you get some rest too.
Before nursing or rocking your baby to sleep, get your baby’s sleeping area ready for the drop off by removing any items that would be in the way, and get your baby snuggled up in his favorite wearable blanket or swaddle. If you use white noise, (which I highly recommend) turn that on too.
I have found that with all of my babies, when they fall asleep in my arms or after nursing, there is a window of opportunity to move them where they will stay asleep. This has to do with our natural sleep cycles.
If I move them before they are soundly asleep, they will wake up. If I move them after they have slept for more than 10 minutes, they will wake up.
Pay attention to when your baby falls asleep and try to move them to their favorite sleeping spot 2-3 minutes after.
Then gently put them in their favorite sleeping spot and cross your fingers. If they begin to frequently wake up suddenly, or just a few minutes after, you might want to try a different sleeping area (or unswaddling/swaddling etc) as they may have outgrown their once favorite way to sleep.
Sleep training has two goals: 1. so you can get more sleep and be a normal human being, and 2. to teach your baby how to fall asleep and sleep well on their own– two very important skills that will serve them well the rest of their lives.
There are many sleep training methods, that go far beyond crying it out.
One method I used for my son was the shushing method (it’s called by different names). It’s the method I used to get my older babies (usually 6-9 months old) to sleep through the night in their own rooms.
At about 6 months, I moved my baby to his own room in a pack n play. After our bedtime routine, I laid him down when he was sleepy but not asleep. I stayed next to him, patting him and shushing him for a few minutes.
Then I stepped away, still shushing every so often to let him know I was there, until he fell asleep. Each night I moved further away from his bed until I was outside the door with it cracked, shushing a bit from the hallway until he fell asleep.
Over the course of about two weeks,he was falling asleep on his own and I no longer needed to stay nearby while he fell asleep.
The age of your baby and their sleep preferences will play a factor in what sleep training method you should use, but I know there will be one that works perfectly for you and helps you get your baby to learn to fall asleep on their own.
What has helped me and my babies get the most sleep was learning about the needs of my changing baby at each stage of growth. What kind of schedule works best, if they could be going through a sleep regression, how many times a day and night they need to be fed, how much play time/tummy time they need, etc.
And the absolute best resource for learning this has been a website called Sleep, Baby, Sleep. It is a website founded by Violet Giannone, a Registered Nurse and sleep consultant.
Her website is packed with tons of helpful information, and she offers one-on-one consultation to help you with your specific baby sleeping needs, issues, and questions.
I found her site when my 2nd baby was having a lot of trouble sleeping because he was too big to safely sleep with a swaddle, but really missed the comfort of being swaddled. Sleep, Baby, Sleep was a life-saver for me and I hope it will be for you too.
Better Sleep Begins Now
You and your baby can begin to get better, more frequent sleep when you use trial and error to find their favorite ways to sleep.
Don’t be afraid to try new methods and tactics, especially as your baby changes and grows.
And don’t be hesitant to seek help. Your sleep is really important.
When you get enough sleep, it positively affects your whole health and outlook on life. Most especially your ability to care for and enjoy your sweet little one.