Sleep? What is that?
For new moms, sleep seems like such a foreign concept. Gone are the days of a solid night’s sleep, something you now realize you took for granted. You may even begin to forget what it was like, wondering if such a thing ever existed in the first place.
Every parent (day)dreams of getting more sleep, but babies have their own schedules and their own ideas of what a night of sleep looks like.
Some babies adjust quickly, transitioning to a crib and only waking once or twice a night. Most do not, waking multiple times for feedings or not taking to a crib at all.
Night after night of little to no sleep can leave you feeling like a zombie, passing the hours in a fog and getting yourself through the days on a steady supply of caffeine, wishing you had an IV drip for constant fueling.
You begin scouring the internet and parenting books, desperately looking for anything that can help you and/or your baby sleep better.
We are here to help you do just that, and, hopefully, without all of the stress. We are going to go through some techniques and suggestions to help you and your baby possibly get a few more hours of sleep, and to improve the quality of your sleep, so that you can get up in the morning refreshed and ready to tackle a new day.
Top Ten Sleep Hacks for New Moms
1. Get Dad to Help with Nighttime Feedings
Up until babies are about 6 months old, they will be waking up for feedings every couple of hours during the night.
Formula is digested quicker than regular food, and breast milk even quicker than formula, which leads to hungry babies. After the age of 6 months, when babies can start eating more solid foods, they should be capable of going through the night without feeding.
But we will go into that later.
While your baby still needs her nighttime feedings, you can grab some extra sleep by getting dad involved. As long as all of you are willing and cooperative, dad can be assigned nighttime feedings, offering a bottle to let mom sleep.
This is also a great way for daddy-baby bonding time.
This especially works well for formula-fed babies and pumping moms. If you already have bottles made in the fridge, all dad has to do is heat it and they are good to go. The less prep he has to do in the middle of the night, the better, since he will be tired too.
This will not work for all families though.
It never worked for us. My husband is a very heavy sleeper, and if I needed him to do something with the baby during the night, I would have to wake him up first, which meant I was awake and not sleeping.
Also, if dad has an early work schedule, he may not be able to sacrifice very much sleep.
2. Create a Schedule Based on Sleep Cycles
Everyone, adult and babies alike, goes through cycles during the time they are asleep, meaning they drift between non-REM (deep) sleep and REM (light, dreaming) sleep, possibly waking between cycles.
Babies’ sleep cycles are short, ranging between 45-60 minutes depending on their age, while adults’ are about 90 minutes. You want to take this information into account when creating a sleep schedule for you and your baby.
Babies thrive on schedules. With all the new things in their lives, after leaving the womb and entering the big world, they like to have consistency so they can know what to expect.
Being aware of your baby’s sleep tendencies will help her sleep better, since you will know that her waking 45 minutes into her 2-hour nap does not mean she is ready to get up. She probably just woke between cycles and needs to go back to sleep.
Your baby is not the only one who benefits greatly from a sleep schedule. You can improve the quality of your sleep by planning around the length of your sleep cycles. This means planning to sleep for 6, 7 ½, or 9 hours when setting your alarm for the morning.
If you always try to aim for exactly 8 hours, which you always hear recommended, you will wake yourself up in the middle of a deep sleep, leaving you feeling groggy throughout the day (1).
Now, of course, this is the best-case scenario. The fact is not everything is predictable with a baby.
She may not have a consistent schedule, and forcing her to fit your “perfect” schedule will only make her more tired and cranky.
Even if her schedule becomes predictable, it will soon change as she quickly grows. You will likely try to grab any sleep you can while letting her set the schedule. Just try to work it out so that it is in 90 minute segments.
3. Use Essential Oils
Essential oils have become all the rage recently. So many people are striving for a more natural and healthy lifestyle, replacing harmful chemicals with oils-based products.
There are endless uses for essential oils, as they have been known to help with illness, allergies, aches, and sleep issues, to name a few.
Utilizing essential oils, like lavender, frankincense, cedarwood, and bergamot can help improve your baby’s sleep.
These can either be diffused in her room, or you can even combine them with a base oil (like sunflower) and use them to give your baby a pre-bedtime massage.
Essential oils can even improve your sleep. They can be added to your evening bath water, applied topically, or even ingested by adding them to a cup of chamomile or lemongrass tea in the evening.
The oils’ relaxing properties will help prepare your body for sleep so you spend less time tossing and turning.
Of course, as with anything you give your baby outside of regular food and drink, you will need to be careful of possible allergies or other ill side effects.
Do not use the oils if your baby has problems with other allergies. Consult your baby’s pediatrician before using essential oils to verify that the oils you want to use are safe for your baby.
4. Play Some White Noise
Most new parents think their babies need peace and quiet in order to fall asleep, but this is probably more disconcerting to babies than having noise around them.
While noises outside the womb may sound muffled, it is actually very loud inside, with mom’s heartbeat, digestive system, and lungs constantly working.
It is actually a great idea to play some white noise for your baby. There are several CD’s, noise machines, and even phone applications that you can choose from.
This app in particular was my favorite. It is completely free and has so many options, from ocean waves and thunder storms, to electric fans and trains.
White noise can even improve your sleep. The sound fills your ears and mind, drowning out wandering thoughts that may keep you up, and allows you to fall asleep quicker. I highly recommend using an app, CD, or sound machine for both you and your baby.
Worst case scenario, it does not work, which is always a possibility. I think the white noise worked well when I would lay my 3 month down for bed, since it drowned out the sounds of the household, but it did not help her stay asleep, and the older she got the less effect it had on her.
I honestly think it worked better for me than her.
5. Get Rid of Sleep Associations
One major obstacle to babies’ sleep is the existence of a sleep association. This is basically anything that the baby relies on to go to sleep, and fall back asleep during the night.
Remember earlier when I mentioned that babies should be able to sleep without a feeding after the age of 6 months? My daughter continued nighttime feeding until she was almost a year old since she relied on it to go back to sleep.
You will do yourself and your baby a huge favor by helping her learn to fall asleep on her own. You can still do your rocking, cuddling, and singing while she is still awake, but be sure to lay her down while she is still drowsy so that she will learn to drift off to sleep on her own.
This will also help her during the night to put herself back to sleep without rocking or feeding, and she will not be startled when she wakes up to find herself alone since mom was already gone before she fell asleep.
Now, do not confuse sleep associations with a bedtime routine. In fact, babies who have bedtime routines have an easier time falling asleep since they know it is coming.
Once I weaned my daughter and she stopped nighttime feedings, we started a bedtime routine that consisted of bath, teeth brushing, and story reading, which helped prepare her for bed so that I could lay her down, kiss her goodnight, and leave while she fell asleep by herself.
Again, this was when she was about a year old, so there are some babies this will not necessarily work for you.
My daughter is very cuddly and clingy (in a good way) which made it difficult for her to separate herself from me at bedtime. You may also have a baby like this, which will make it hard to break her away from having you as a sleep association.
6. Swaddle Your Baby
Babies are born with what is known as a startle reflex. You have probably seen it: when they are
drifting off to sleep and right when they are about gone, they twitch, their arms and legs flail out, and they are awake again. Then you have to start the whole process over again, trying to put her to sleep.
Swaddling can help your baby fall asleep and stay asleep by stifling that startle reflex. Proper
swaddling will simulate the feeling she had in the womb and keep her arms and legs close to her body, unable to flail out.
To learn how to properly swaddle your baby, be sure to watch this video.
Most babies love to be swaddled. It helps them to feel safe and secure, as well as warm. The world is quite different from the womb, so until your baby is older and used to its temperature, smells, and sounds, swaddling is a great option to help your baby feel more relaxed.
However, there are babies who hate swaddling. As a mother of one of these babies, I can tell you that you will have no doubt about whether or not your baby likes to be swaddled. You will be surprised by their resistance to being wrapped up and by their strength.
You may think they are related to Houdini by their ability to escape what you thought was a tightly wrapped swaddle.
7. Prepare Yourself for Sleep
When you finally get into bed at night, do you have a hard time falling asleep, regardless of how tired you may feel? You may need to consider that you are sabotaging your own sleep.
With our technology-based world, we are suffering from less and less sleep, thanks to blue-lit screens which actually stimulate the brain, making it think it is day time, and prevent you from getting to sleep.
Prepare yourself for bed time, just like you do for your baby. Avoid screens, or, if you have an updated Apple device, utilize their new night mode option, which changes the backlight from blue to orange, which is less stimulating.
Better yet, instead of turning on the Netflix or browsing Facebook on your phone, try finding another method of unwinding at the end of the day.
This works great for avid readers. In fact, sitting down with a cup of chamomile tea and a good book may have you ready for sleep sooner than you expect.
It is the perfect recipe for a good night’s sleep, helping you get to sleep faster and get in those extra few minutes your body so desperately needs.
Some people, though, rely on those few minutes in front of the TV to unwind, or they may be an ebook reader rather than traditional paper. This is me, and as such, I just try to make the best of my options and find other ways to try and turn my brain off when I go to bed.
8. Sleep When Your Baby Sleeps
It is best to sleep when you can have a quiet, uninterrupted period of time, and what better time than when your baby is sleeping?
This may give you anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours of extra sleep, depending on what development stage your baby it at (just be mindful of your sleep cycle length when finding time to rest).
You want to make sure you are not sleeping with your baby though, as this may create a sleep
association. Your child may even be like mine and be too distracted and excited at the fact that mom is with them that they have a hard time sleeping. Instead, find yourself a comfy spot to crash for a little while to catch up on some much-needed “z’s”.
It may seem like you always have something to do, but if you have things on your to-do list that are not time sensitive, take advantage of some quiet time to close your eyes for a few minutes. Most moms can find time during one of baby’s naps to take a break.
However, there are some moms with a lot on their plates, especially those who may be in school, work from home, or have other children to take care of.
Your baby’s development stage may also prevent you from sleeping when she does, at least without an alarm set, as she may only take one or two 2 hour naps in the day.
9. Create a Sleep Friendly Environment
There are some people that can fall asleep anywhere, no matter the circumstances. I am incredibly jealous of them.
Unfortunately, there are many people like me who need to have an ideal sleeping environment in order to fall asleep and have good quality of sleep.
Babies are often this way as well.
To help your baby sleep better, with fewer environmental interruptions, create a good atmosphere for her. Ensure the room is dark, quiet (but not so quiet that every sound is distracting), cool (while making sure she is also dressed appropriately), and incorporate any of the other factors we have mentioned, like playing white noise and diffusing essential oils.
You want to make sure you are doing right by yourself as well. Create an ideal sleeping environment in your room by blocking out all light with curtains and not allowing electronics in the bedroom, and keep the temperature nice and cool, which will prevent you from waking up in a sweat.
There are very few situations in which this would be a bit difficult. If you are renting, you may be limited to the changes you can make to the room.
Also, if you share your room (or bed, like I do) with your baby and, for whatever reason, do not have an option to have your baby sleep in a separate room, you will just have to make the changes you can while you all adjust to sleeping together.
10. Relax Your Mind and Body
One of the biggest thing I struggle with when I’m trying to fall asleep is relaxing my mind and body enough to allow myself to drift off to sleep. I have a feeling I am not alone in this.
If you are like me, you are going to want to create a bed time routine that involves the relaxation and release of stresses on your mind and body.
Start by unloading your brain. Leave a journal by your bed that you can jot things down in, especially to-do lists for the following day or things you need to remember. After you have drained your brain, follow a good stretching or yoga routine.
This will help to release your muscles and leave you relaxed and ready for sleep.
As someone who has an overactive mind and suffers from restless leg syndrome on occasion, I can say that this routine is most helpful. The feeling of pins and needles in your legs will disappear after thoroughly stretching, and your relaxed mind and body will just feel like it is sinking into your bed and pillow.
There really are not many obstacles to this method, however depending on where you are at in your recovery after childbirth, you may not be able to fully stretch for a while, especially if you had a Cesarean section like I did.
Take it slow and easy, and find other ways to relax until you are recovered.
Reclaim Your Sleep!
With all these ideas, we hope that you are able to use at least one to improve the length, or at least quality, of your sleep and your baby’s.
When everyone gets a good night’s rest, it makes you look forward to getting up in the morning and spending more time with your fun, cute little bundle.
If you are still struggling with sleeping, or getting your baby to sleep, I will tell you that it will happen.
Just give it time. Just when I thought I would never sleep through the night again, my daughter stopped nursing, learned to put herself back to sleep during the night, and now sleeps for almost 12 hours a night.
Do not give up! It will happen.