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

Jun 22, 2023 | Baby

Mother holding baby on the head and getting more sleep together

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.

Sarah Early - MSN, APRN-FNP-C, IBCLC

Sarah Early, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, IBCLC, is a clinically trained Integrative and Functional Health Family Nurse Practitioner who specializes in women's health and is the owner of Peony Women's Integrative Health and Lactation Room. She graduated with a Master's in Nursing and Family Nurse Practitioner with high distinction and is a member of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. Sarah has been a practicing International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) since 2011 and opened Lactation Room in 2014. Lactation Room specializes in supporting parent/baby dyads who are struggling with infant oral dysfunction, feeding difficulties, and tongue-and-lip ties. They earned the prestigious IBCLE Care Award from the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners® (IBLCE®) and International Lactation Consultant Association® (ILCA®) have recognized Lactation Room for excellence in lactation care. She is a member of ILCA, USLCA, MBC, AANP, IATP, and MBC.