Whether you are a first-time mom, or bring home another addition to the family, the first 6 weeks is full of new transitions. This “4th trimester” is a time of major change where parents are settling in with their newborn and figuring out this new stage of life.
During the first six weeks, it's important not to stress about schedules. Instead, this is a time to ensure your baby is eating well and getting lots of snuggles, while you find as much time as you can to rest. Schedules will come later, and when you're ready, you can find all you need to know in this post.
As a Certified Infant and Toddler Sleep Consultant, these are the best tips I can give to ease the transition in bringing home a new baby while setting up a foundation for good sleep habits.
Setting Baby Up for Sleep Success During the First 6 Weeks
I know you are tired, Mama. There's really no words to describe the type of exhausted you are when you bring home a new baby. Even though I don't want you to fret about getting everything right, there are some simple things you can do during the first month and half that will set your baby up for sleep success. And who wouldn't want that?!
1.) Feed Following Your Baby's Cues
There is a lot swirling around about demand feeding vs. feeding by the clock. Honestly, this is something that you can decide what works best for you a bit later on, but in the earliest weeks it's really important to go by your baby's cues instead of letting the clock dictate when it's time to feed your baby.
A new baby eats on demand. On average this will be every 2-3 hours, but sometimes it will be more often. Focus on your little one's feeding cues (rooting, sucking on hands, fussing, etc.) and feed often during the day. This will help with longer stretches of sleep between feeds at night. I always recommend writing down when your baby is feeding/sleeping and you will see as they get older they will begin to create their own schedule.
If your baby generally eats every 2-3 hours during the day, but their nap is going into “feeding time”, wake up baby in order to get in all the day feeds. Throw Grandma's "never wake a baby" advice out the window!
Once your baby returns to birthweight and you get the green-light from your pediatrician, you can allow those longer sleep stretches during the night.
2.) Avoid Feeding to Sleep
Really young babies will fall asleep at the drop of a hat. And that delicious warm milk is often enough to send them off to dreamland. You're going to have it from time to time initially, but you want to try to keep him awake as best you can.
It's important to differentiate between feeding and sleeping. Keeping your baby awake will not only ensure that they get a full-feed, but will also avoid your baby creating a habit of using feeding as a crutch to fall asleep.
Start implementing these strategies to differentiate between feeding and sleeping:
- utilize an eat/play/sleep schedule
- separate the feed and sleep by doing a diaper change or swaddling after the baby eats.
Struggling with this? Read: How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Without Nursing
3.) Practice Naps in the Crib
We all know babies will fall asleep anytime, anywhere. Naps especially, in the first 6 weeks tend to happen wherever baby happens to doze off. That's totally fine in the newborn stage. However, it's also important for your baby to get used to their crib.
Use naps to allow your baby to get comfortable sleeping on their back in their crib. There should be nothing in the crib with the exception of a pacifier if baby uses one. At this age, EVERY crib nap is a success. If your baby only sleeps 15 minutes in the crib, but is still tired, use another method that works for you (bassinet, stroller walk, baby-wear, etc) so she can get the sleep she needs.
Other questions about safe sleep? Read more from the American Academy of Pediatrics on their website.
4.) Move Toward Positive Sleep Associations
A sleep association is any action that helps your baby fall asleep. They usually fall into a "positive" or "negative" category.
You want to avoid negative sleep associations that require an action that someone else does to help put your baby to sleep (for example, rocking the baby to sleep). This does not mean you can't ever do this...I mean who doesn't love to cuddle up to a sleeping baby in their arms?! And honestly, this time truly goes by so fast.
But it's also not a habit you want to get into. As enjoyable as it is, if you do it all the time, your baby will expect it and that's the only way she'll sleep. Instead, focus on moving toward positive sleep associations, especially after the first few weeks.
Positive Sleep Associations include the following:
- White Noise Machines - Lullabies are great too, you can read more about that in "Best Music for Baby Sleep."
- Swaddles - A baby in the fourth trimester still has so much growing to do. But as we write about here, it's really important to create a womb-like environment for your baby to cater to her moro reflex and underdeveloped senses. Swaddles are perfect for this and a weighted swaddle like the one from Dreamland Baby, especially, will give your baby the perfect calming comfort they need.
- Blackout Shades -The goal is to help your baby know that when it's dark, they sleep!
- Pacifiers - Not every baby will end up taking a pacifier, but it is a myth that they are a negative sleep prop. They help soothe babies to sleep and they are proven to reduce the risk of SIDS.
5.) Don't Forget to Practice Self-Care
While you're so busy taking care of the tiny human you love more than anything, it can be hard to remember to take care of number one. That's you!
It is so common in this “4th trimester” for all the focus to be on the baby and their needs. It is important for parents to also focus on their self-care. Remember that your baby feeds off your energy. You will be much better equipped to care for your young infant if your needs are met, too.
We know this can be difficult when it's impossible to get a good night's sleep, but self-care can be as simple as taking a hot shower without a crying baby, getting an uninterrupted nap (let someone lend a hand so you can do so!), or drinking your coffee while it is still hot!
The first 6 weeks can be tough, but they're also incredibly special. Soak in this precious time while also setting your baby up for sleep success.
Sleep Consultant advice provided By Allison Rozzen of When Baby Sleeps. Allison is a Certified Infant and Toddler Sleep Consultant based out of Los Angeles, California.
Need a custom sleep plan, advice, or want to join a group session to help your baby sleep their best? Reach out to Allison at email@example.com or find her on Instagram: @whenbabysleeps.