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Parents always ask when they should start working on sleep, and I personally believe that it’s never too early. Most experts agree that formal sleep training is meant to be implemented after about four months of age, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t lay the foundation earlier. Here are my top five recommendations for establishing healthy sleep habits from the start:
1. Tank your baby up during the day! Babies eat what they are going to eat in a 24 hour period. If your baby is consuming calories in the middle of the night, they are going to want to drink less during the day. Similarly, if they are not eating enough during the day, they are going to wake hungry at night. If your baby is bottle fed, and at least 12lbs, aim for 28-32 ounces of breast milk or formula during the daytime so that your baby will not need to eat in the middle of the night. If you are breastfeeding, this is a little harder to quantify. Establishing full feeds every 2-3 hours during the day will make a big impact and help your baby be able to go longer stretches overnight.
2. Establish an “Eat, Play, Sleep” routine. This is simple, yet so important. Establishing an eat play sleep routine is valuable for several reasons. First, this will help you to understand your baby’s cries. If your baby reliably feeds and sleeps on a schedule, and your baby becomes cranky, you’re more likely to know why your baby is upset. Second, when you feed your baby upon wake up, this eliminates the “feed to sleep” association. If your baby call fall asleep without being fed, they can fall back to sleep in the middle of the night without a feed. Third, this will allow you as the parent to be able to plan your day. It’s so important for new parents to be able to get out of the house and socialize with friends and see family. If you know when your baby is going to need to be fed and ready for a nap it’s much easier to plan your day!
3. Have your baby nap in their bassinet or crib whenever possible. Everyone loves a good baby snuggle, but if your baby is always being held for naps, they are going to have a hard time sleeping in their crib overnight. Limit the use of baby carriers, strollers, car seats etc. unless you are out and about for naps. If you’re home, have the baby nap flat on their back and swaddled just like they do overnight. Practice makes perfect and this will yield great results for sleep overnight.
4. Don’t fear the positive sleep association. Many parents worry that their baby will have too many “sleep crutches” and will only be able to fall asleep if they have these certain levels of support. While this is true and some sleep crutches may need to be broken eventually, some sleep associations are positive and should be implemented early on. White noise and swaddles are perfect sleep associations for newborns. If you regularly turn on that white noise and swaddle up your baby prior to each nap, they will start to learn that this means nap time or bedtime is coming. It’s also never too early to establish a bedtime routine. After your baby is fed and burped, consider reading your baby a story and singing a song or two before bed. These rituals will grow with your child. Not only do they signal that it’s bedtime, they provide a bonding opportunity for parents to have a really special moment with their child.
5. Manage your own expectations and cut yourself some slack! Newborns are hard. The first few weeks or even months are exhausting and that is completely normal. Remember that it doesn’t last forever and that one day you will look back on those late nights and smile as they will be a distant memory. If you have a bad day, the next day is a new one and a fresh start. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or to seek support if you feel like you need it!