I’m not one to celebrate made-up holidays, but as a first-time parent to a five-month-old, World Sleep Day is one that I am very much looking forward to partaking in this year.
While I was pregnant, sleep seemed to be the one topic that was always brought up in conversation with friends and family members who already had kids. “Get as much sleep as you can now, you’ll never sleep again!” warned my sister. “Don’t worry, you’ll get to sleep again… one day,” a friend said with a laugh.
Needless to say, like most first-time moms, I was stressed and worried — not just about popping out a baby or having to figure out how to take care of her (though yes, that also concerned me), but mostly because I didn’t know how much sleep I’d be getting once she arrived.
Five months later, I am happy to report that I am getting much more sleep than I had originally thought, due to the fact that my daughter is a good sleeper. Hallelujah!
While I know all babies are different, I’m also a believer that babies love routine and consistency, and there are many things you can do to help your baby become a better sleeper. While you shouldn’t try to sleep train a newborn (many pediatricians and experts don’t recommend sleep training your baby until they are around 4-6 months), there are plenty of tactics you can employ from the get-go to set your baby up for sleep success later on.
Below are some simple tips that I found helped my baby sleep better at night — and, as a result, us parents, too!
I’m a big fan of Dr. Harvey Karp’s 5 S's method. My husband and I practiced the 5 S’s (swaddle, swing, shush, lay on their side or stomach, and suck) from the very start and found that it really made a difference… especially the swaddling! While some will argue that their babies hate being swaddled, Dr. Karp believes that every baby prefers it because when they were in the womb their limbs were similarly packed together close to their bodies. It’s comforting, calming, and, when used correctly, can help your baby sleep better.
There are tons of resources online to help you learn how to properly swaddle your baby. There are also sacks and pouches that can make swaddling even easier. When my daughter was born, we used both swaddle blankets and sacks to see which one she preferred. It might take a little trial and error, but with practice, you’ll find one that your baby likes.
Before my daughter was born, a dear friend of mine suggested an affordable, tiny sound machine. She swore by it, used it for every nap, and never left home without it. I remembered this helpful tip and packed one with me in my hospital bag. Sure, enough, when they did the hearing test for my daughter, she was understandably upset and fussy so I brought out the sound machine and it worked instantly. Since then, we’ve always used white noise to help her fall asleep and will keep it on through her naps and while sleeping at night. Like being swaddled, it reminds them of being in the womb.
This tip seems obvious, but it’s an important one! Any amount of light — especially in the evening — can stimulate your baby or make them think it’s daytime. This isn’t as important when they’re fresh newborns, but by the time they’re a few months old, they are more sensitive to the sights and sounds around them. If your baby’s room allows for a lot of light, consider buying blackout curtains. I would also suggest not using a night light while your baby is sleeping — though if you need light for middle-of-the-night feedings or diaper changes, try using a very dim, soft light.
Imagine going to bed all warm and comfortable and then suddenly realizing you’re wet and cold. That would certainly wake you up, wouldn’t it? Diaper changes every few hours are inevitable when baby is a newborn, but to ensure your little one gets as much restful sleep as possible, always change them into a fresh diaper before bed.
Pacifiers can sometimes be a controversial topic, but in my experience, they help... A LOT. I know one day we are going to have to deal with having to wean her off the “binky,” but I don’t think I’d trade that impending struggle for all of the hours it has helped her fall asleep or soothed her when she’s upset. It’s worth noting that most doctors suggest not introducing a pacifier until your baby has gotten the hang of breastfeeding, as it could possibly lead to nipple confusion. Also, make sure you buy the right pacifier for your baby’s age. Now that my daughter is five months old, she’s graduated to a pacifier with a bigger nipple.
Ah, the rock-your-baby-to-sleep dance! You will feel like you’re constantly swinging and swaying, but it will be worth it! Rocking and patting your baby remind them of being in the womb. Some babies prefer to be pat on their butts, backs, or thighs. There are also many baby swings and bassinets that can help you rock your baby to sleep. I used both the mamaRoo (to soothe my baby when she was fussy) and the SNOO (to help her sleep at night). I know some parents who don’t like to rely on these gadgets, but I have found them to be extremely helpful, and when you’re an exhausted parent, you take assistance anywhere you can get it!
Creating a bedtime routine will help clue your baby in that it’s time for bed. Around the same time every night (for us, this is between 6-7pm), plan on the same routine: give your baby a bath, read a bedtime story, or feed them in the same spot. This ritual will comfort and relax your little one and will help them well into their toddler years.
In my experience, a well-fed baby is a happy baby and a happy baby tends to sleep longer and more comfortably than one that is not. I find that when my daughter has eaten well — not just for her last feeding, but for all of her feedings throughout the day — she sleeps best and longest through the night. Most of the time babies wake up for two reasons: they’re either hungry or need their diaper changed. While this has worked best for me personally, there are lots of theories surrounding cluster feedings and nighttime feedings (and dream feeds), so I suggest reading up on all of them, consulting your pediatrician, and figuring out what is best for you and your baby.
*Always consult with your pediatrician before making any major changes or if you have any questions about these practices.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sara Tan is a writer and editor. She is the co-founder and co-host of beauty podcast Gloss Angeles and the Beauty Director at Refinery29. She has over 12 years of editorial experience and was most recently the Senior Fashion and Beauty Editor at Bustle. She has contributed to various women’s and lifestyle publications including Allure, InStyle, People, Parents, Coveteur, BRIDES, and Women’s Health.