How Can You Get More Sleep for You and Your Baby Safely?

How Can You Get More Sleep for You and Your Baby Safely?

by Laci Tang, BS, IBCLC, PCD (DONA), CBE

Normal Infant Sleep Behaviors

Human babies are born more immature than other mammalian species. Physical contact with their parent is how human infants are able to compensate for their inability to regulate their own temperature or produce sufficient antibodies to protect them from illness. Frequent physical contact also helps ensure that the infant and parent bond in a physiological and social way. Lots of physical contact between infant and parent is more than a lovely social idea, it is what an infant will need to thrive. These needs do not change during the nighttime hours which is difficult for new parents and is why Western parenting recommendations around infant sleep make nighttime parenting so difficult.

Many of society’s current expectations of “normal” infant sleep are based on research that was conducted on formula-fed infants who experience a longer digestion timeframe than babies who receive breastmilk feedings. Frequent night wakings can be and are normally well past the first year of life. Similar to the learned skills and milestones of crawling, walking, and talking, sleeping without waking develops over time. As caregivers, we can help foster positive sleep conditions for our baby and practice our own good sleep hygiene.

Good Sleep Hygiene Versus Sleep Training

Good sleep hygiene simply means having good sleeping habits, but since sleep is so varied, “good sleep habits” can look a little different for everyone.  Here are just a handful of the recommendations that most experts agree on: 

  • Avoid electronics for at least 30 min or more before bed.
  • Maintain a regular bedtime and wake time, even on your days off. 
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol 4-6 hours before bed.
  • Complete mindful relaxing activities each night before bed. Ex: Stretching, meditation, breathing.

What does this mean for new parents? It’s never too late to start working on your own sleep hygiene. That way when you are shaping your own child’s healthy sleep patterns, the entire family can sleep well together! Good sleep hygiene for an infant can look very similar to adults. Try to avoid having the infant in a room with visible screens, bright lights, or loud music. As bedtime approaches, move slowly, speak softly, and be present with your baby.

You can also create a brief bedtime routine that you do nightly before bed to help trigger sleepiness. Some examples may be: reading a rhythmic bedtime story (babies love repetition), giving your baby a five to ten-minute massage prior to dressing them in their pajamas, or singing them a lullaby. These suggested activities are soothing and relaxing and support a sense of calm and connection for the baby and the parent. There is no one way that works for every baby, just like no two adults sleep the same. It may take time to figure out what works best for your family and your baby. That’s why many parents may feel frustrated with sleep programs or sleep training.

These often require parents to “prescribe” certain techniques, beliefs, or ideas around sleep and they may not be the right process for you and your family. It’s okay not to sleep train. While some of the techniques may work for some babies, for others they may not work at all. If sleep training causes your infant to cry for long periods of time or makes you feel anxious, upset, or sad, it is probably not a good fit for your family. Sleeping and nighttime parenting aren’t meant to be a battlefield. 

If you choose to bedshare with your infant, follow these seven guidelines:

  • No smoking in the home. Secondhand smoke affects infants’ breathing and increases the risks of SIDS. 
  • Breastfeeding parents must be sober.
    • If a partner is present, they must be sober as well.
    • This also applies to over-the-counter and prescription medications that may cause drowsiness. If you need to be medicated, then make an alternate sleeping plan for that night. 
  • The baby is breastfed. 
  • The baby is healthy and full-term. Premature infants and those who are sick may not be able to rouse themselves and are considered higher-risk babies for bed sharing. 
  • Baby is on their back. This is the safest position for babies, whether co-sleeping or not. 
  • Baby is lightly dressed and un-swaddled. This avoids overheating and ensures that your baby is free to adjust to their body. 
  • Parent and baby are on a safe sleeping surface (firm mattress) with:
  • No pillows or comforters near the baby.
  • No cords or wires close by.  
  • No other adults, older siblings, or pets. Newborns should only be in bed with a breastfeeding parent and/or partner.

If you choose to put your baby to sleep in a crib:

  • Still practice good sleep hygiene before bed. Simple, calm routines can go a long way before bedtime. 
  • You can still breastfeed/feed your baby to sleep. Falling asleep at the breast is not a “bad habit.”
  • Always place baby to sleep on their back and if using a swaddle, make sure it does not cover baby’s face or nose.
  • Responding to a baby’s needs at night does not create a lifetime of bad habits but helps build connection and trust with your child. 
  • If using a swaddle, limit daytime swaddling to help the baby differentiate between daytime and nighttime. 

Working with a professional who can help you sustain your breastfeeding journey and work toward good sleep hygiene and habits is helpful. Lactation Room provides consults on safe sleep practices and breastfeeding to help you establish a personal routine for yourself and your family.

Bringing Home the New Baby

Bringing Home the New Baby

by Jenny Busbey, BSN, RN, IBCLC

Help Siblings Continue to Gain Independence with Grace and Love.

When your family grows and it is time to bring home a new baby, it is important to prepare the older siblings for this transition to help welcome the baby home in a positive way. Preparing older siblings for the baby is an important step to help them adjust to their new family members. We’ve outlined a few helpful tips that we’ve found to support older siblings during this transition.

Before the baby arrives, talk to your older child about what is going to happen and let them know that things will change. This change can be scary for many children so discussing this often is helpful. Explain that there will be a new addition to the family and discuss how this will change things a bit for them. Encourage your child to ask questions and to express their feelings about the change. Be prepared many might not be ready and might feel angry.

Some children do better by expressing their feelings through drawing, reading stories, or playing a game with you. New babies will require a lot of attention, and routines may change, and it is important to prepare siblings for these changes. There will be a crying baby who cannot do anything for themselves. It is important to talk with them about how much older siblings can do and how helpful they will be when they do the things they know how to do once the baby arrives. Reminding them of what wonderful helpers they are by continuing to put on their own shoes, pack their lunch, and brush their teeth in the morning and evening independently. Reinforce how helpful they are to the family.

Involve your older child in the preparation for the new baby.

Take them along to your prenatal visits, let them help pick out baby clothes, and have them help decorate the nursery. The more they learn about these changes and what to expect the more you are able to include them in positive discussions about how the new family will look. One thing to consider is that if both the baby and your older child are upset, you should go to the older child first. Make eye contact, get down on their level, and connect with them. Let them know you hear them, and you see them.

It is important to address them first at these moments, sometimes older siblings feel like they do not matter as much because every time the baby cries, the baby gets attention first. Give the older child your connected attention at these times so they can continue to feel loved and then go to the baby together if they want to help. There are many books available that can help prepare older siblings for a new baby. Reading books about babies and how to be a good sibling can help your child understand what to expect.

Spend quality time together.

Make sure to spend special time with your older child before the baby arrives. Let them know that they are still important and loved. Encourage them to make a card or write a letter to the baby. What a wonderful way to begin their sibling bonding before the baby arrives!

Role-playing can help your child understand what it will be like to have a new baby in the house. You can practice holding and caring for a doll or stuffed animal and talk about how the baby will need lots of love and attention. It is another way to reinforce positivity and show them they are going to be a great older sibling.

Set realistic expectations about the new baby.

Be realistic about what your older child can and cannot do. For example, if they are very young, they may not be able to help with the baby as much as they think they can. A great idea is to buy a doll just for a young child. When mom or dad needs to change the baby, the big sibling can pretend to change their baby too. When a baby is being fed, the older sibling can pretend to feed their baby as well. This helps little ones feel like they belong and are being included in the new routine.

Be patient with them, and with you.

Remember that adjusting to a new baby can be a big change for older siblings. Be patient and understanding and give your child plenty of time to adjust. One-on-one time is key, try to schedule 10-15 minutes each day to have individual time with your older child and engage them with things that are important to them. This will help them to feel loved and connected to you and will help with all of the wonderful changes in their lives and within the family.