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The best newborn sleep advice I’ve ever received: Part 1

October 09, 2013

Before my daughter was born, I read a lot of parenting books. I was probably as prepared as a first-time mom could have been. And yet, when that little bundle finally made her appearance, I didn’t feel prepared at all.

During those first few weeks, my husband and I lived in a blur of sleeplessness, confusion, and chaos. She seemed only to sleep if someone was holding her, which meant all of my time was spent trying to do the things I needed to do (like brush my teeth at least once during the day) while holding a sleeping baby.

It wasn’t a good plan. Of course, it got easier as time passed. She learned to sleep in her crib after a few weeks and we all survived, but sleep seemed to be a constant issue for us. Now that Baby Number Two is about to make an appearance, I’ve thought back to that time a lot. I’m determined to do things differently this time and learn from the things that did or didn’t work well for us.

Here are some of the most important lessons I learned and the things I plan to keep in mind as we throw our hats into the ring one more time:

Good sleep habits are learned

During a check-up at our pediatrician’s office, our doctor asked me about my daughter’s sleep routine. Sensing my exhaustion and feelings of helplessness after months of nighttime awakenings, he explained something to me that forever changed my outlook on infants and their sleep. He said sleep was a learned behavior, just like walking, talking or anything else that parents teach their children.

Babies come from the womb where they sleep whenever they like. They are cocooned in a space perfectly designed for their comfort. Then they enter our world, and we want them to change how, when and where they sleep, and it’s a tough transition. But, it’s a transition that can be navigated over time. My problem was that I didn’t realize that I needed to be the captain of the ship.

I began to understand that it was my responsibility to determine what good sleep behaviors looked like and teach them to my infant. Rather than feeling helpless and tossed about on the unpredictable seas of life with a newborn, I could look at where we were, where we needed to go and make the changes necessary to get there.

Use the pacifier, but use it wisely

Everyone has a different opinion on this issue, but I’m a big believer in pacifiers. It is important for babies to learn to soothe themselves, and pacifiers are excellent at providing them with the tools to self-soothe. It gives comfort and security, and it can be an invaluable resource in easing a child through all of the transitions that the first year of life brings. Pacifiers can be very helpful in teaching a child how to sleep well, too.

However, my experience taught me that while pacifiers are excellent at calming a child before sleep, providing a predictable bedtime routine, and satisfying their sucking reflex, problems can occur if their sleep is dependent on having a pacifier in their mouth at all times. Each time the pacifier falls out of their mouth, the child wakes up. They can’t put the pacifier back in (and even when they’re old enough to do so, they often can’t find it), so they are dependent on Mommy and Daddy to come in each time to replace it. They get used to the routine of having someone rush to their side every time they make a peep, and then you have a recipe for a child who will seemingly never sleep though the night.

So, how do you overcome this Catch-22? Use the pacifier to help soothe them prior to sleep, but take the pacifier out of their mouths before they actually fall asleep. Over time, they will learn how to fall asleep with it, but stay asleep without the pacifier, which will eliminate the nighttime awakenings when the pacifier falls out of their mouths.

Swaddle

There simply is no better strategy in getting a newborn to sleep than swaddling. I learned this from Dr. Harvey Karp’s book, “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” and I found his advice to be absolutely invaluable. Swaddling provides the comfort and security that newborns need as they make the transition from the womb to the world, and it makes life much easier for Mommy, too. I found the ready-made swaddle blankets (swaddle blankets for dummies, if you will) to be lifesavers.

Here’s the brand that I used and that you can find in your local baby store: Halo SleepSack Swaddle blanket.

Join us next week as we continue this discussion on newborn sleep.

In the meantime, do you have any advice to give about getting a newborn to sleep? What was the best (or worst) advice you’ve received?

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