I wish could draft a proclamation about newborn sleep that would be given to all new parents when they finally welcome their little bundles of joy (or maybe I need one of those vans with a bullhorn on the top so I could just drive around neighbourhoods with these key messages on repeat). Sleep is hard in the early days. It just is. And so many parents get frustrated and discouraged, wondering what they’re doing wrong. Add sleep deprivation for the adults into the mix and it can make for a pretty miserable time. So, with that in mind, I’ve come up with five things I wish I could tell all new parents about catching those zzz’s (and I encourage you to send them to any new parent who needs the pep talk!).
- Take the pressure off. There is such a thing as the fourth trimester—the first three months after your baby has arrived. They suck (sorry, but it’s true!) and during this time, there are no rules. You can focus on safe sleep, creating a consistent sleep environment and starting a regular bedtime routine, but after that, give yourself a break. There’s no sleep training at this stage; you’re just learning to respond to your baby’s needs. Infants aren’t biologically ready at this age to be on a consistent timeline, so stop trying to make it happen.
TIP: Always follow the safe sleep guidelines published by the Canadian Pediatric Society. The easiest way to tick the safe sleep boxes are to think ABC: Babies should sleep alone (A), on their backs (B) and in a crib (C). Room-sharing is fine, provided your infant is in sleeping their own sleep space. Co-sleeping is not recommended.
- Aim for a cave-like sleep environment. This means dark, quiet and cool. Darkening the room for naps is a great idea for encouraging daytime sleep, for example. White noise is also an excellent way to drown out external sounds and keep babies in their sleep cycles. A cool environment is also recommended, so babies don’t overheat. Layer your baby accordingly, and use sleep sacks or wearable blankets instead of bedding. There also shouldn’t be any bumpers in the crib.
- Make sure wakeful periods aren’t too long. Babies can get overtired easily, so watch how long your infant is awake. Ideally, your little one is only up for an hour at a time—I recommend babies are awake for an hour and then asleep for two hours (think “up one, down two” to remember). You might think this means your little one is snoozing too much, but they aren’t—sleep begets sleep, so good naps will help lead to good nights.
- Overstimulation can be your nemesis. There is a normal developmental phase where newborns cry more than any other time (it’s sometimes referred to as “purple crying”). If your child is experiencing crying spells in the late afternoon and early evening every day, this might be what you’re dealing with. It will pass, usually at the three- or four-month mark, but you can also help to lessen the effects by avoiding overstimulation. Overstimulation can happen without you even realizing it: Feeding a baby too much, passing around a baby too much or even looking at a baby too much can all be factors. (Don’t get freaked out—I’m telling you this so that, if you’re facing the frustration of “purple crying” right now, you might know what to look out for, and what to fine-tune in your day-to-day routines.)
- You’ll think you have it all figured out, and then something will change. This is a major truth of parenting, in all arenas. And it’s true for sleep. Your baby will learn to sleep independently, and once they have the skill, they have it. But they will continue to grow and develop and change, so you’ll have learned to be consistent and to make tweaks here and there to timing, environment, etc. to help them stay on track.
It gets better, Mom and Dad. Remember that you aren’t alone and can always reach out to your network for help. Not sure where to start? Give your child’s doctor a call if you’re ever concerned, and don’t hesitate to ask friends and family members to pitch in so you’re getting the rest you need, too. Heck, ask for a couple of hours of babysitting as a baby gift! It’ll all be worth it soon.