Getting a Newborn to Sleep
If you are a new parent, you may have discovered something new. Getting a newborn to sleep . . . REALLY sleep . . . has suddenly become more precious than gold!
It's a picture that is synonymous with parenting newborn babies. A bleary-eyed parent, dark circles under her eyes, hair a mess, trying to soothe her newborn baby to sleep so that she can crawl into bed for a few minutes before her 8-pound alarm clock starts crying again. (Been there... done that!)
In this article, we will address the specifics of getting your newborn to sleep. If you would like to know more about getting your newborn baby to STAY asleep I really encourage you to read Newborn Sleeping - Unravel the Mystery and Get Some Sleep! When in the womb, life was much simpler for your newborn... always snug and warm, never hungry, no need to burp (due to never swallowing air), never a messy diaper, no pain, consistently noisy...and sleeping whenever. The biggest variable was whether or not "Mom" was moving around or holding still.
Then came that traumatic event where everything changed!
Mimicking as many of the comforts of her "previous home" as possible will go a long way toward getting a newborn to sleep. Encouraging the beginnings of a sleep routine will also go a long way in getting the parents to sleep.
Make Sure the Baby...
Swaddling babies continues to be my favorite technique for calming fussy newborn babies and getting a newborn to sleep. This is the best way of mimicking that "snug and warm" feeling of the womb. See the article on Swaddling Babies if you need instruction on how to accomplish this technique.
Is Not Hungry
Is Not Needing to Burp
Has a Clean Diaper
Is Without Pain
Has a Consistently Noisy Environment
Personally, I am a believer in "Begin as you intend to continue." Whatever your baby comes to depend on to get her to sleep may need to be repeated, even in the middle of the night when she has no true needs. How much better (for both the baby and the electricity/gas bill) to learn to adjust to an easier noise for getting a newborn to sleep.
A better option would be to place a small fan in your child's room. This would provide some "white noise" to remind your baby of "days gone by". (Good air circulation is also thought to lower the risks of SIDS.) Just be sure she is warm enough, and that the fan is not blowing directly on her. A classical music CD on repeat would also be a good option.
The Need for a Sleep Routine
The biggest difference between the "womb mentality" and life on the "outside" is that some kind of eat/play/sleep routine helps us all function better. Some structure and predictability will help with getting a newborn to sleep easier, and allow for longer, deeper sleep. This, in turn, gives parents the opportunity to have a life (and sleep)!
Getting a Newborn to Sleep - What to Do
After your baby has finished a feeding, try to keep her awake for at least 15 minutes. (This time should gradually increase as your baby gets older.) During this time, change her diaper and play with her. When she shows signs of sleepiness, swaddle her, give her a pacifier (if she uses one, just don't become a slave to replacing it whenever it pops out), hold her close, and rock her for a couple of minutes until she settles down. Put her down in her bed before she falls asleep, and start whatever "noise maker" you'd like to use.
Assuming all of the above needs have been met, allowing your newborn to fuss for a few minutes will give her the opportunity to remember how to put herself to sleep (just as she did when in the womb). If after these minutes, she shows no signs of falling asleep, pick her up. Go through the list again - hungry? burped? diaper? pain? swaddle? After a quick snuggle and some reassuring words, put her down, pat her for a few moments, and try again. Repeat as necessary.
I'm not suggesting that at this newborn stage you just allow your baby to "cry it out". Babies cry to communicate something, and it is the elusive goal of parents to understand their child's "language". After you've spent some time getting to know one another, your instincts will become stronger. For now, you are just trying to encourage her to figure out how to go to sleep on her own without establishing bad habits.
If your newborn is truly upset and crying hard, this is not the time to train her to get to sleep on her own. There is either something else that is bothering her, or she is over-tired. Try not to wait until she is very tired before putting her down. Start the process of getting a newborn to sleep at the first signs of tiredness.
After going through the routine above at every sleep time for a few days, your baby is sure to figure it out. If you are able to teach her how to put herself to sleep, she has taken that first step of independence. (They grow up so fast!)
One of our goals as parents is fostering independence. You are at the very beginning of that journey. In order to arrive at that destination many years down the road, you will need to take the first steps. Getting a newborn to sleep on her "own power" is a great first step!
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