Sleep-deprived moms and dads know it’s true: Parents will try almost anything to help their baby sleep.
The latest idea comes from two parents who uploaded a video in March of them gently running a tissue across their 3-month-old son’s face, putting him to sleep in just 40 seconds. The video went viral and has more than 5.7 million views, with many commenters saying they were inspired to try the trick, too.
While the tissue trick worked for some babies, it had no effect on others. The same can be said for many of the things tired parents try out of desperation – from late-night rides in the car to rocking and swaying motions that look more like an exercise routine.
“The first three months of life as a parent you’re going to be sleep-deprived,” says sleep expert and psychologist Dr. Angela Tzelepis, who works at the Pediatric Sleep Clinic at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. “Get your sleep when your baby is sleeping. That means everything may not get done but it really is important to get your own sleep.”
You should also accept that nighttime waking is normal for babies no matter what method you use for getting them to sleep, says postpartum doula Jill Reiter, who helps families adjust to life with a new baby as part of her business The After Baby Lady.
“[Babies] sleep differently than us, and it’s protective for them, it’s good for them to be waking relatively often to have calories,” says Reiter, of Shelby Township. “The parents who struggle the most with sleep, especially with newborns under three months, it’s because they don’t understand newborn sleep.”
Babies in the “first trimester of life,” as Tzelepis called it, are still developing self-regulation so it’s not a time to be worrying about sleep training – whatever your views on the topic. We’ve compiled this list of baby sleep solutions and ideas on how to help your baby sleep that will hopefully help you during those early sleepless days and nights.
1. Swaddling. Consider the Miracle Blanket or similar or visit 7swaddles.com for some how-to help. Just make sure baby’s hips still have full range of motion, Reiter advises. “Some babies like to be swaddled with one hand out, or their hands closer to face,” she says.
2. A little jiggle. If you’re laying baby down awake, put your hand on her chest and gently jiggle for a moment to help her realize she isn’t in mom’s arms anymore, Reiter recommends. It seems counterintuitive, but it might prevent that initial shock when baby wakes up out of a deeper sleep and isn’t where she was before. “They fall asleep cozy with mom or dad and then they wake up like, ‘Hey, where am I?'” she says. “Doing that little jiggle when you put them down can be really helpful.”
3. Half-way break. If your baby likes to fall asleep after nursing or having his bottle, only to be woken up and re-energized during a necessary diaper change before you lay him down, try taking a quick break half-way through the feeding for the diaper change or swaddle. Then you’ll have a better chance of transferring him to the crib while he’s still sleepy, Reiter says.
4. Motion. Swings, rockers, bouncy seats – an endless supply of these sleep “props,” as Reiter calls them, are offered in most baby stores. “I think that those things work because they mimic what’s in utero,” Reiter says. They can be a great option for sleep-deprived parents, but try to offer non-motion sleep every day, too (or be prepared for a challenging transition period when you take the motion away).
5. Babywearing. Babies seem to love to fall asleep in wraps and other baby carriers. Babywearing takes the focus away from getting baby to sleep and lets mom or dad go about other tasks, Reiter says. A watched pot never boils and waiting for baby to sleep can feel the same way, she says. “What I love about babywearing is you take your focus off your baby but you’re still meeting all of their needs,” she says. “A lot of times baby will fall asleep and sleep a long time.”
6. White noise. A white noise machine can mimic the in-utero experience for babies, Reiter says, and it can help mom and dad because they don’t hear every tiny noise in the nursery. “When you’re using white noise you’re minimizing the stimulation they’re getting from all the other noise that’s happening. For some babies it works amazingly well and other babies not so much,” she says.
7. See the doctor. It could be that acid reflux or another condition is making it hard for baby to fall asleep or stay asleep, Tzelepis says. Consult with your pediatrician if your baby seems unusually fussy or sleepless.
8. Watch baby closely. Look for the early signs she’s tired like eye-rubbing or fussiness and then try laying her down drowsy but awake. Falling asleep is more difficult when baby is overtired, Tzelepis says. “Once you’ve identified that they’re tired or they get more fussy, put them down,” she says, and try to limit associations like music or rocking. “The more things you need to use to help a child fall asleep the more they’re going to be dependent on that.”
9. Use natural light. “Newborns are born unregulated,” Tzelepis says, so they have no concept of day and night yet. You can help by exposing baby to natural light during the day and a dark environment in the nursery at bedtime, she says.
10. Get on a routine. It’s not possible for every family, but getting on a consistent routine and sticking to it even during weekends will help baby and parents. A bath as part of the bedtime routine is a good idea, Tzelepis says. “The key is the regularity. If every day is different then it will be more challenging,” she says. Find more tips on getting baby on a schedule here.