The 5 Habits of Well-Rested New Parents
The first 12 weeks of a child's life are infamously sleepless, but these tips could help everyone get a little more rest.
The following was produced in partnership with our friends at Fisher-Price, who enrich the lives of young families with gear like the Soothing Motions™ Bassinet, which has everything to soothe and comfort your baby.
The first three months of a baby’s life are a nonstop series of exciting (and sometimes exhausting) firsts. That includes their first attempts at breathing, eating, pooping, peeing, cooing, crying, and, of perhaps greatest impact to the parents, sleeping.
Put yourself in their booties. After spending nine months in a climate-controlled uterus, bobbing peacefully in warm water to the soothing, whooshing tones of their mother’s circulatory system, they’re suddenly placed in a quiet, empty crib and expected to doze like an angel. That’s no easy transition.
Fortunately, there are ways to smooth that transition for newborns as well as their parents. Sarah Ockwell-Smith is an expert in the psychology and science of raising kids and the author of The Gentle Sleep Book. She likes to call her work “anti-parenting books” because, as every parent learns these first few months of life, no two babies are built the same. Here, Ockwell-Smith offers five pieces of advice that will help get your newborn to sleep and, in turn, help you snag those precious extra minutes of much-needed rest.
Recreate the Womb
“It’s estimated that newborns spend 70 percent of their time alone and out of arms. That’s a massive transition,” Ockwell-Smith says. Holding and cuddling helps ease them into real-world sleeping by recreating the warm comfort of the womb. “Physical touch helps release the hormone oxytocin, which helps them relax and also helps with bonding,” she says. “Holding and hugging literally grows their brains.”
But that’s not the only way to replicate the coziness of the womb. A plush, padded bassinet that calmly sways will do the trick at naptime. According to early childhood development expert and Fisher-Price Director of Early Childhood Development Research Deborah Weber, research has repeatedly shown that babies are naturally soothed by continuous motion. The tougher part of the in-utero experience to recreate is the sound. Babies hear constant noise in the womb, so a quiet afternoon nap is jarring no matter what sleep-friendly nursery color you choose. Ockwell-Smith recommends downloading a white noise app, streaming white noise online, or even playing radio static. “It needs to be on constantly. I used to sleep with my vacuum cleaner on next to me all night because it helped my son sleep.”
Let the Baby Lead
Babies aren’t born with a fully mature circadian rhythm. “They chemically can’t tell the difference between night and day,” says Ockwell-Smith. They gradually adapt to the 24-hour day, with some babies figuring it out by three months and others taking much longer. That means you really can’t screw up or create a horrible sleep pattern right at the beginning but you may struggle to create a solid routine. Rather than get hung up on this, Ockwell-Smith says to focus your energy on following your child’s cues as best you can when it comes to feeding or putting them down for a nap, and you’ll remain (relatively) stress-free.
A nightlight can be a cute final touch to a nursery, but Ockwell-Smith believes they’re best avoided to help babies naturally learn to distinguish day from night and develop their circadian rhythm. She recommends leaving shades or curtains open during daytime naps, including stroller walks and car rides. Then, at night, make the room as dark as possible.
Don’t Expect 8 Hours of Sleep
Newborns wake every few hours, especially overnight, so you’re just not gonna sleep all that much, period. Acknowledging and living your new truth is a key first step towards fourth-trimester normalcy. “Realistic expectations are better than any advice,” Ockwell-Smith says. “No parent wants to hear ‘You don’t sleep,’ but the most powerful thing is reassuring yourself that it’s completely normal.”
Take Advantage of Their Sleep Time — In Any Way You Can
The general rule is when the baby sleeps you should sleep too. While true, that can be an impossible task for a new parent. If you find yourself struggling to sleep or focusing too much on them, Ockwell-Smith says to do the next best thing. “Download a good mindfulness app or lie down on the couch and just watch TV. Have a snooze if you’re tired but don’t worry about going to sleep. Try to relax.” There. Now isn’t that better?