I can only imagine how much easier my life would have been if I would have read this prior to having a baby! My first child was a rockstar sleeper. My second child? Totally different story. And I'll be the first to admit, I was so unprepared! I just assumed we'd have another easy(ish) baby so when she turned out to be a horrible sleeper, we were lost.
Luckily, our friend and fellow mama, Karina Mccarthy is an expert in this area. She's a sleep consultant and newborn care specialist with Nightingale Night Nurses and she's sharing her recipe for easing the transition into motherhood.
Establishing A Routine With A Newborn
by Karina Mccarthy, Nightingale Night Nurses
Sleep. It’s all anyone talks about. If you’re having a baby, I’m sure you’ve heard all the horror stories and you may possibly be traumatized and clenching to keep your cervix closed.
“My Johnny didn’t sleep through the night until he was four!”
“Oh gosh I could NEVER have another baby. Esther was the worst sleeper. We would have to take turns driving her around in the car all night.”
If your baby is already here then I’m sure the advice is a’flowin.
“You need to cosleep. It’s so important to have your baby near you all the time so you can feed them on demand. If you put them down you’re setting them up for trauma and attachment issues!”
“You need to let them cry. If you hold them they will get spoiled.”
And so on and so forth.
First off. Breathe mama. Welcome to parenting in the age of “my way is the best way and if you do it wrong you’ll damage your child for life.” Guess what? You won’t. Did you know that you only need to respond correctly to THIRTY percent of your baby’s needs in order for them to have trust in you and their world? 30%. So if you accidentally leave them in a poopy diaper or if you nurse them when they aren’t actually hungry...it’s okay!
The following content is a goal. The parents that I work with all get there by 12 weeks. Some of them are there by 4 weeks, some by 8, but each family and baby will have their own journey. You’re going to have rough days, weeks or even a month where you just need to do what you need to do to get by. That may mean cosleeping and that may mean leaving your baby to cry. No matter what end of the spectrum you land on, your baby will be just fine!
We aim to start scheduling by day one [but really week 2]. The first two weeks your job is to watch your baby. Does he cluster feed in the afternoon? Is he really sleepy in the morning? Does he like to party at 2am? The first 2 weeks is about establishing supply. So absolutely feed on demand. That means every 2-3 hours around the clock, and it may mean less time in between feeds if baby is a sleepy eater.
After week 2 your breastfeeding relationship should be pretty solidified. [[If it isn’t, reach out to a specialist to assess potential problems. If your baby is not on track for weight gain or nursing is a goal that needs some help- do not follow this schedule until nursing is on track.]] If your baby is taking a full feed, you can begin stretching baby consistently towards 2.5-3 hours in between feeds. That may mean baby fusses at 2 hours and you offer a pacifier and snuggle and dance for ten minutes until they express discomfort and begin vigorously rooting. Go slow, follow your baby. It does not mean letting your baby cry for an hour because you are following a schedule you found online!
Eventually they will be on the ideal “three hour schedule” during the day [some only make it to 2.5]. Which means that you will be able to tell time by your breasts, and your baby will wake up from a nap like magic wanting to eat and having full breasts ready and waiting. When you begin scheduling, focus on the feedings first. The sleep will come. Your best bet is to log and watch for patterns.
Most *new babies go down for the night between 8-10, that means they go down for a nap and don’t wake up for a long stretch! It’s normal for a baby even a few weeks old to sleep 4-5 hours during this stretch. If they have regained their birth weight, savor this. Go to bed when they go to bed to get all the winks that you can. And just make sure baby is getting on the breast an adequate amount during the day, a magic number in the beginning is 8x in a 24 hour period.
Try to have the first feeding of the day and the bedtime feeding around the same times each day.
So to recap, your focus in this time is to stretch feeds to consistent times. Watch your baby’s natural rhythms. Take advantage of their long stretch. Do what you have to do to make it through this new and confusing time! If you feel like you’re in a good place, or you like routines- you can start at any time!
Go- time. This is when you want to start pushing your baby a bit. The two most important facets of a well rested baby is the schedule and the way you put them down.
3 Hour Schedule:
I know this article is about scheduling and we’re focusing on feeding! Well, that’s how babies set up their sleep patterns. Your goal is to follow an Eat, Play, Sleep routine.
This means your baby will wake up hungry, have a full feeding. [tickle toes, change diaper, bright lights, sing songs to keep them awake], then they will play and then get tired for another nap! Eventually they will sleep until the next time they need to eat and wake up hungry and repeat this cycle all day!
A baby from 6-12 weeks will likely be awake for 1 hour and sleep for 2 hours. A 3-4 month old will be awake for more like 1.5 hours and sleep the other 1.5 hours. This schedule is applicable until around 5 months of age.
Afternoons will likely have some clusterfeeding and shorter naps and when they go to bed they’ll do their longest stretch of the day/night. If they wake for a feeding at 11pm when they have gone until 1am consistently without feeding then respond to soothe them in other ways besides the breast. This first sleep block will start out being 3 hours, then 4 hours uninterrupted, then 5,6,7,8 and eventually all the way up to 12! Some breastfeeding infants still need a feeding 3 to 4 hours before their morning, but others can intake enough during the day to go a full 12.
Putting baby down:
The first step to putting a baby down is just that, putting them down. The trick to know about a baby is that if they fall asleep in a certain way, then they expect to be put back to sleep that same way when they lightly rouse in between sleep cycles. If their sleep environment has changed, they will cry!
If your baby falls asleep while you’re driving and you park at home-cry
If you nurse your baby to sleep and then lay them down in a flat crib-cry
If you put your baby in a swing and it turns off after 30 minutes-cry
The goal is to put your baby down drowsy but awake. Snuggle them, swaddle them, have them in a dark room with brown noise and lay them down on a flat surface crib/bassinet. Depending on how early you start this you may need to help them fall asleep in their crib by giving them paci or jiggling or shushing them. But once they get used to it they will fall asleep on their own. Babies that have the ability to self soothe will take longer naps and sleep through the night without ever needing to cry long periods or be sleep trained.
If you start this process later than 3 months old it will take some convincing to get your baby to fall asleep on her own. But with consistency they will get it and you will be amazed by the change!
1. Being tired doesn’t need to be part of parenting
2. Trust yourself and your intuition. If my advice doesn't work for your family...don't listen to me! Listen to your gut. You've got this.
Karina Mccarthy is a newborn care specialist, sleep consultant and mom living in Providence, Rhode Island. She enjoys yoga, swimming, and fresh babies. You can keep up with Nightinglae Night Nurses on social media (@nightingalenightnurses) or learn more about the amazing services they offer online at NightingaleNightNurses.com.