When I was a brand new mom, I really made an effort not to feel too sensitive about the well-meaning questions that people asked about how the baby and I were doing—which can be easier said than done when you're coursing with postpartum hormones. Still, there was one that was always hard to answer: "How is he sleeping?" I would try to stay casual about it when really all I wanted to do was say, "NOT SO GREAT AND NEITHER AM I!"
I wasn't alone: Studies show that new parents lose about two hours of sleep per night during the first five months of their child's life. That can be hard enough, but then consider another study that found sleep deprivation persists to some extent until the child is about 6 years old. And that's not all! Having multiple kids waking up throughout the night can compound sleep struggles—as I found out when I went on to have three kids in less than four years.
Thankfully, I learned some better baby sleep tips in the years since I was first a new mom. Still, the bottom line is that sleep is a precious commodity for most new parents. Just like we emphasize eating well and staying active, doing what we can to maximize those moments of shut-eye should be a priority. It just may take some trial and error as well as patience.
Foster healthy sleeping habits for your baby
To be honest, I had unrealistic expectations about how much my baby would—and should—sleep when he was first born. In reality, although a newborn should get 14 to 17 hours of sleep per 24 hours, much of that is broken by the baby waking to eat. Babies' sleep schedules gradually transition to more adult-like patterns during the first months and years of life, but it takes time.
Rather than expecting your baby to sleep a full, uninterrupted eight hours per night right away, it can help to prepare a game plan and then follow through with as much consistency as possible. As Dr. Jane Scott, MD, author of “The Confident Parent: A Pediatrician's Guilt to Caring For Your Little One—Without Losing Your Joy, Your Mind or Yourself," said for Motherly, this can start right away with a gentle, sweet bedtime routine and then put your baby down to sleep while they are drowsy.
"If all of his needs are met, he should settle down and go to sleep," Scott shared. "When he enters his light sleep cycle about an hour or so later, he'll know that he is right where you left him, he will feel safe, and he will go back to sleep."
Learn the best baby sleep tips and tricks
My experience as a mom of three is that every baby is born with their own opinions. Just because something worked for one of my children doesn't mean it's going to work for another. That's why keeping an open mind and willingness to figure out what works for your baby is key.
That said, there are some tried-and-true baby sleep tips for developing good sleep habits that are worthy of being a starting place...
Avoid overstimulation: Help your baby start winding down before bedtime by dimming the lights, putting on gentle music and transitioning to a calming bedtime routine.
Pay attention to the conditions that help your baby sleep: This is where a little experimenting can help! Notice whether your baby likes a sound machine, what swaddles or sleep sacks they prefer, what the thermostat is set to and more until you can consistently recreate your baby's ideal sleep oasis.
Find a method that's comfortable for you: When your baby is old enough to learn more self-soothing habits, you may start hearing more about sleep training—but this isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. As infant sleep expert Rachel Mitchell said for Motherly, "There are many different methods to try—from gentle sleep training to cry-it-out—and plenty in between. I encourage you to focus on what you think is most realistic for your family and not to compare your baby to anyone else's child or experience."
Set yourself up for sleep success
When it comes to helping your baby sleep better, modern mamas do have a few advantages. With products designed to help your baby and you snooze, getting a little extra shut-eye can be as easy as clicking "add to cart."