Fourth Trimester: Newborn Sleep Hacks
I feel as though I need to start all of my blog posts with the disclaimer that I am no expert. I have two great sleepers and have been asked by many readers if I could please share any tips and tricks for teaching good sleep habits. I will address Four Months Plus: Baby Sleep Hacks once I’ve practised them with Harriet, my second baby, who is currently 8 weeks old. From 2 weeks old she started stretching for 6 hours, Christian did this from 3.5 weeks. Last night she slept through the night from 7pm to 5.30am. Before I start sharing my bedtime routine, please note that both my babies are probably what they call “loaf of bread babies”. Neither had/has colic or reflux or any other newborn squirms. From day one they have both enjoyed being swaddled and laid down to sleep independently. All of my advice is just advice. Newborns aren’t predictable in general and you need to have a relaxed approach. These first four months are literally survival mode. I’ll elaborate in a later post about how my son started sleeping from 7pm to 7am at 5.5 months old. For now, let’s tackle the first four months, the blessed fourth trimester.
Feeding on demand is essential for teaching your baby that daytime hours are for feeding and night time is for sleeping. I fed Christian on a 3 to 4 hourly schedule, due to my breastfeeding issues, but Harriet feeds on demand and feeds mostly every 2 to 3 hours during the day. She does have the odd longer nap in the day, and subsequently stretches 4 to 5 hours. In essence, if its light outside, feed feed feed! I do also encourage a little afternoon cluster feeding. Harriet goes down for the night at 7pm, so I will try to feed her at 3pm and again at 5pm. These feeds ensure that she is ready for a nice long stretch when she has her last feed at 7pm. These times are flexi, as our lifestyle is quite social and we’re often out or she is napping over one of the times. I try to stick to the 80/20 rule with most routines we implement. So, unfortunately that has meant declining the odd evening invite to better establish a routine, especially initially. Another factor I need to mention is that both my babies are exclusively breastfed. After chatting to some mommy friends, I can confidently say that introducing formula in the hopes of getting your little to sleep better doesn’t work. It may stretch them for a night or two, but nothing long lasting. Feeding on demand also helps you pick up on growth spurts. Remember to up your water intake when your babe is growth spurting. They are in essence sucking you dry to build up your milk supply. Also be sure to rest and cuddle a lot during growth spurts. The extra oxytocin will have your milk flowing again in no time.
It’s a good idea to introduce a bedtime routine around 4 weeks old. Nothing elaborate, ours is pretty simple. Bath time is at 6.30pm followed by massage and kissing Daddy good night. Then one last feed, burp (taking extra care to get all the winds out), swaddle and lay her down in her cocoon with a dummy. I keep the room dark and warm and use a baby monitor. I close the door and walk out. Harriet will usually moan two or three times because she has spat her dummy out. I will go back in, with the light still off, put a little glycerine on her dummy and pop it back in. If she doesn’t settle after a few check ins, I’ll switch on the light, unswaddle her and burp her again. It’s also very important to pay attention to your baby’s cries. Nyeh or Nyah means baby is hungry. Eh Eh Eh is a wind. Owh is over stimulated or tired. Harriet mostly doesn’t settle due to a trapped wind. Although the few nights she has screamed blue murder, has been from over stimulation/tired. If she is over tired I will swaddle her tightly, put her dummy in and hold her/rock her while softly singing to her. Once she starts dosing off, I put her down. She doesn’t sleep well or for long if I keep her in my arms.
Quick breakdown of our bedtime routine must haves:
Swaddling is VITAL to ensure baby doesn’t wake themselves up with the startle reflex. You kind of need to break your baby in. I prefer a bigger swaddle. I have loads of swaddles, but if I needed to buy one I would definitely grab an Anneen Henze Baby swaddle. They're 1.2m by 1.2m, made from beautiful stretch cotton and come in the most dreamy colours. You can grab one for a steal at R270. Harriet moans whenever I swaddle her, but as soon as the dummy is in, she settles… and settles hard.
A dummy has been my saving grace for newborn sleep. We like Nuk dummies, but both my babies have needed a little something on their dummies. With Christian we used Telement drops, but with Harriet we’re just using glycerine. Both work like a charm to get them sucking. I did toss Christian’s dummy at 5 months, but more on that in my next sleep post (Four Months Plus: Baby Sleep Hacks). In this newborn stage I swear by a good dummy and a good decaf coffee (for mom), haha.
Ooooh, I hadn’t even thought to mention that. If your baby is fighting sleep or struggling to nap longer than 20 or 30 min (and you’re breastfeeding), it’s worth your while to cut caffeine out of your diet for a while. Some babies aren’t as affected by mommy’s diet, but many are.
Having a routine creates a sense of security for your baby. A predictable schedule helps them feel safe and not have extra surprises in their day. Just living is exciting and new enough when you’re so tiny.
Lastly, please be kind to yourself. You are healing from the birth and your hormones are all out of whack. You have literally gone from growing a baby to feeding a baby. Do what you need to do in these first few months. If you want your baby to nap in your arms for every nap, go for it. If sleep is a priority to you and you are keen on teaching your baby ‘independent sleep learning’, you have time. I followed the book The Sleepeasy Solution. The book says that the first four months are a free zone, any “bad habits” or “sleep crutches” can be fixed very easily when your baby is ready. Most babies are capable of sleeping through the night from 4 months old. I will elaborate a bit more on the book and how I came about deciding to do gentle sleep training in my next sleep post: Four Months Plus: Baby Sleep Hacks. Enjoy your newborn, they’re only little once.