I have to confess-I’m not crazy about the newborn stage. I would almost go so far as to say that I hate it. While family members “ooh” and “ahh” over my new son, I get stressed out about everything. I can’t relax as I constantly worry that he isn’t eating/sleeping/pooping/enough and I have a hard time with the things that I can’t control (short naps, anyone???). I actually look forward to the 4 month “sleep regression” because it means that a consistent routine is around the corner. While I *know* that newborn sleep is very unpredictable, it is still hard for me to accept.
So of course I was
obsessing wondering why my newborn was screaming at me frequently throughout the day-reflux? milk allergy? colic? Although all of those were legit concerns, once I started looking at my son’s routine it became apparent that he was staying up much too long. I was missing his sleep window and he was catching his second wind and then finally crashing out of exhaustion. It was right there, right on my own website; “babies will have very short wake times during these early weeks”. It was right there and yet even I forgot about it.
Now in my defense, I am adjusting to life with a 2 year old and a newborn, but somehow I forgot all about keeping wake times super short.
My son is now 10 weeks old and things are slowly starting to stabilize, but life with a newborn is still a challenge for me and I’m sure for some of you out there. Here are a few additional tips to help all of us survive this phase.
Keep Wake Times Short
When I say short, I mean short. A newborn (0-6 weeks or so) will only be able to handle staying up for about 45 minutes to one hour (regardless of how long of a nap they previously took), and some only 30 minutes. This is from eyes open to eyes closed. Do not make the same mistake I did and start winding your baby down at the hour mark. If your little one wakes up at 9:00am, eats, poops, changes and needs 15 minutes to fall back asleep, you really only have until 9:30 am to get everything done before you need to have them back in their room for the wind down. If you wait too long, then your tired baby becomes overtired extremely quickly. Once overtired, your baby will fight going to sleep (probably with lots of crying), will likely not nap very well and then wake up cranky and greet you with more crying. Good times!
Sometimes parents think that their hard-to-get-to-nap baby might not need the same amount of sleep as other babies. Not true. I know sleep deprivation makes us do some crazy things, but do not kid yourself into believing that your baby doesn’t need to sleep as much as other babies. They do-get them back to bed very shortly after waking up and you will have an easier nap time. This may mean, that like me, the theme from Mission Impossible plays in your head the moment your little one wakes up, but it’s better to be aware of the time crunch, then to leisurely go about his or her next wake period, completely oblivious that there is a disaster waiting to happen in the next 45-60 minutes.
Use White Noise
Babies were surrounded by a lot of noise for the first 9 months of their lives inside the womb. Once out, they do much better if you help to replicate those surroundings while they’re sleeping. There is a plethora of devices to choose from, but you really don’t need to spend a lot of money on fancy white noise machines. Take any old radio that you have kicking around and turn it to static. Your baby was used to it being quite loud in the womb so the white noise should be loud enough to block outside sounds reasonably well, but still be comfortable to your ears.
This age-old tradition is a fantastic way to help your baby sleep better. Swaddling makes a baby feel secure (just like he was in the womb) and keeps them from startling themselves awake from flailing little arms. There are many different products on the market to swaddle your little one in-whether it be blankets to do it the old-fashioned way or velcro wraps that are idiot proof. Pick one that works for you and your baby. A tight swaddle is best, but make sure that it isn’t too tight across the chest and that your baby’s legs can bend. Do not swaddle if your baby can roll over and NEVER place a swaddled baby on his tummy.
Use Every Tool You Have
In the early weeks (0-8), your main goal is to just survive. You can not create any bad habits in this time. While sleep props (swings, holding/feeding/rocking to sleep, etc) aren’t recommended for use on a daily basis later on, at this stage they are what can help you get some much-needed sleep. Use every available resource you have as you adjust to having a new baby.
Go To Bed Early
Many of us have heard the advice to “nap when the baby naps”, but if you have
a) other children,
b) a short napper or
this is not helpful, so I won’t even suggest it. What I will suggest is to go to bed for the night when your baby does. Most babies will have their longest stretch of night sleep in the earlier part of the evening. Usually this is when we are still awake and functioning. But it’s in your best interest to hit the hay at this time too so that you can have a few hours of consolidated sleep. Even if it means that you are closing your eyes at 7pm, you will thank me when you have to wake up at 1, 3 and 5am the rest of the night.
Years ago raising a child wasn’t a job that solely fell on a parent’s back. There were brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbours, that all helped out. There literally were villages that raised a child, not the islands that we see today. Parenting is always tough, but it’s so much tougher when you don’t have support or help.
I really believe us experienced moms need to start purchasing cleaning services, grocery gift cards and babysitting/mother’s helpers services for our soon-to-be-mom friends. Forget buying things off their baby registry that they “think” they need. Us veterans know you really don’t need the matching lamp, diaper holder or wall decals for your baby’s bedroom suite.
What new moms need most? Their sanity.
That comes in two forms-sleep and help. If you are a new mom who just registered for all 85 pieces of a baby bedding set, go back to the store, delete the list and go register at Sobeys for groceries. Or better yet, make a list of whatever you really need and whenever someone asks ” what would you like as a baby gift?” or “how can I help?”, give them something off your list. If you need your floor vacuumed, a nap and/or your feet massaged, ask for it! Caring for a baby is hard work, and there should be no shame in asking for whatever makes it easier for you.
Treat Yourself Every Day
Wouldn’t it be great if a massage therapist could stop by your house every afternoon? Or a gourmet meal suddenly land on your doorstep? Great yes, but likely not going to happen. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t treat yourself everyday with something small. I would love to go to the spa, but for now, every morning in the shower, I make the water as hot as I can stand it and for 20 glorious seconds (or until I hear my son on the monitor) I pretend I’m here again. Maybe you love ice cream or want to watch one TV show in peace-whatever it is, reward yourself everyday for being the awesome parent you are.
If you’ve been an exceptionally fabulous parent this week/month/year, then perhaps you should take a cue from this clip from Parks and Recreation.
Living with a newborn certainly has its challenges, but this phase doesn’t last forever. Someday soon we will be packing up the tiny little onesies with tears in our eyes remembering how cute and squishy they were. We will completely forget the fragmented sleep, the many feedings, constant burpings and diaper changes. Until that point happens though, follow the above suggestions to help you make it through.