The first few months of a baby's life can be an equally joyous and demotivating experience for new parents. Most of them make it through the fourth trimester unscathed but exhausted, with only a vague memory of the life-changing sleep deprivation they endured. But not me.
As a sleep consultant who works with new parents, I'm reminded daily of how hectic the first few months after birth can be. And I'll admit that as I head into the last month of my pregnancy, I'm getting nervous. What sort of sleeper will my daughter be? Will my preschooler have a sleep regression as a result of all the change in his life? Most importantly, will I ever sleep again?
Even though I know that my future almost certainly will contain lots of sleep deprivation, I'm still going into it with a positive attitude and a loose plan.
Here's how I'm preparing for my little lady's sleep (or lack thereof), and how you can also prepare for the arrival of yours.
1. Create an ideal sleep environment for your baby.
Itty bitty newborns will sleep anywhere, anytime. But as they get older, it's important that we control their environments. We want to create a dark, quiet and consistent space for them to get some ZZZs. With this in mind, I have a white noise machine ready to go, along with blackout curtains and a very dim night light so overnight feeds are as ninja-like as possible. Since I'm a huge proponent of safe sleep guidelines, she'll be sleeping in a bassinet by our bed wearing a swaddle sack.
2. Try a sleep tracking app.
The key to keeping a newborn well-rested is very short awake times, as most can't comfortably stay awake for more than 45 minutes without becoming overtired. While it's always good to follow sleepy cues, I also find that a sleep app can help moms stay on track.
3. Mark your calendar for the 6-8 week sleep milestone.
Around this time, day/night confusion ends, which means that nighttime sleep hopefully consolidates into 4-6 hour stretches. While four hours of uninterrupted sleep may not seem like a lot right now, trust me, when the time comes, you'll feel like you've won the lottery.
4. Enlist extra support.
I've asked my husband in advance to try to come home early from work during the 6-8 week period. Why? At this age, long bouts of “purple crying" in the early evening can become more frequent. This is also known as the witching hour, and it happens to the best of us—even sleep researchers aren't sure why it happens. Also around six to eight weeks, babies become much more alert during the day, which means more hands-on attention from caregivers. Knowing that I'll likely be fried by 5pm, I know I'd love for him (or anyone, really!) to lend a helping hand as evening approaches.
5. Remind yourself that at some point your baby needs to start learning to sleep at home.
Newborns are super portable and love nothing more than to snuggle up for naps in the carrier or stroller. But as they hit the 3-month mark, it's time to focus on helping them learn to also sleep at home in their crib/bassinet for naps. Otherwise, you'll be in for a big surprise when the 4-month sleep regression hits. Around this age, begin to prioritize naps at home and also start to give your little one short opportunities to self-soothe at nap- and/or bedtime.
6. Give yourself some grace.
No matter how much knowledge about newborn sleep that you or I have going into the fourth trimester, we have to roll with the punches. During the tough days, remind yourself that this is a phase. There's light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how unattainable it may seem. Do your best and remember that one day this will all be a hazy memory. You've got this, mama.