Sleep Deprivation: A Survival Guide to the First Weeks

When. Will. This. Baby. Sleep.

In the first few weeks, baby can seem to have days and nights mixed up and want to feed or play all night. This is not at all uncommon. Our daily rhythms are in many ways controlled by our biological response to daylight. And Baby comes from a place of perpetual dark – so this whole day and night thing? Well, that’s just gonna take some getting used to.

But truly, humans are hardwired to respond to daylight and move towards regular patterns of sleep and wake. And you can help your baby adjust to this big, bright world of sunshine and starry nights. It’s just going to take a little time.

So what to do?  How can you get as much sleep as possible while helping baby sleep more at night?

We’ve heard it so much, we can all say it together: “sleep when the baby sleeps”. But it’s true. Seriously. Don’t even think of doing anything productive if you can sleep. Think you can’t nap during the day? Often light is the issue. Get one of those diva sleep masks – you won’t believe the difference it makes.

Speaking of light, keep it dark at night for the baby and make sure he gets lots of sunlight during the day. Babies aren’t born with a circadian rhythm and the cues from light and dark help baby’s body develop this internal “clock”.  Don’t pull the shades for day naps or flip on all the lights for night feedings. If a nightlight’s not enough, try a 15 or 25 watt incandescent bulb in a small lamp. Mind the light from the phone or ipad at night – it mimics sunlight.

Remember light affects you, too.  If you’re having trouble settling back to sleep quickly after baby wakes up, cut out screens while feeding.  Try listening to podcasts instead or at least turning the screen brightness down as far as it will go.  Or try an app that changes the light on your screen from a bluish daylight spectrum to a yellow spectrum that doesn’t interrupt sleep cycles.

Temperature is another cue that baby will use to develop a circadian rhythm.  Keep night a couple of degrees cooler than day.  So if your house is 74 during the day, try knocking it down to 70 or 72 at night.  Just make sure baby is wearing one more layer than what you’re comfortable in.

Keep baby in your room at night. Researchers at Notre Dame University have shown that, with baby in your room, your sleep cycles will synchronize so you’ll be in a lighter sleep and less disoriented when baby wakes.

Try white noise.  The womb was a noisy, noisy place.  The silence of night may feel very unfamiliar to baby.  Most baby stores sell white noise machines, but there are also many good phone apps.  We hear from a lot of parents that static, ocean waves or hard rain noises work best.  (Just make sure that the ocean setting doesn’t shock you with seagull sounds three minutes in or that the rain setting doesn’t have thunder.  Sounds crazy, but it’s happened, so check out your sound setting before bedtime.)

Take shifts. If baby is taking a long time to settle after feeding or wakes every time he’s put down, take turns with non-feeding baby duty so that each parent gets at least a couple hours hard sleep.

If baby is breastfeeding, it may not help to give bottles at night so mom can sleep since she’ll still have to wake to pump.  We find most moms get the most sleep by just keeping baby close at night.  There are ways to make nighttime pumping bottles work, though, so give the KP Breastfeeding Center a call for advice on your individual situation.

Keep baby awake and active during feedings by rubbing his ear, lifting his arm or massaging his shoulders. When an infant sleeps at lot while feeding, the feeding lasts longer and the time between feedings (sleep time!) gets shorter.

And lastly, hang in there. The one thing that’s sure is that babies grow and mature, meaning you’ll get more than cat naps again soon.

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