I just had my 2nd baby 3 weeks ago and I thought I was pretty well prepared for the sleepless nights and the roller coaster ride of emotions. I WAS better prepared than my first time, but it is still hard to deal with the never ending pooping, peeing, spitting up and the 3 hour sleep cycles. I am a lot more knowledgeable when it comes to sleep, but I still find myself having emotional outbursts and being exhausted and frustrated. To top it all off, I hosted a massive family reunion in my house, 2 weeks after having a newborn (long story). I had 14 family members staying in my 4 bedroom house. No hotels for my family!
When we came home from the hospital, I got the baby into a WAKE-EAT-PLAY-SLEEP schedule right away and he was doing great. Here is a great link to how a mother of 3 did her scheduling.
He was showing signs of being a good sleeper and was taking 2 hour naps and soothing himself to sleep if he woke up in the middle of a nap. I was giving myself a pat on the back for how well both of us were doing. But once the family started arriving, things started to go downhill. He was not settling down and was staring into space like a zombie when he was supposed to be sleeping. I was panicking and had a couple of nights in a row where he wanted to be held all night long. He was inconsolable when he was put into his crib and I thought that I had ruined it all. But I am happy to report that the first chance that I got to put him back into a routine, he took to it again. So I wanted to write a post about the most common mistakes that parents make when it comes to their newborns’ sleep, because I made the same mistakes, despite the fact that I am trained as a sleep expert. I still react like a parent when it comes to my own children.
1. Over tiredness – Newborns and all children show SUBTLE signs of being tired. We need to get them prepped and into their sleeping environment before they get overtired. When I had my family staying with me for the reunion, my son was over tired despite my best efforts. I became distracted with running errands and chores, that I missed the window of opportunity to put him to bed. Then no amount of rocking, patting or walking would get him to sleep. I also fell victim to the fact that everyone around me was convinced that the baby wasn’t sleepy.
By the time I was done nursing, changing the diaper and burping him, there was barely 5 to 10 mins left in the 45 min awake window before he had to be put down again. So he spent most of his time in the bedroom. In order for my family to spend more time with the baby, I made the mistake of letting him stay up longer than he should, which then sent us down the vicious cycle of over tiredness. He became a little zombie, who just stared into space. I could tell that he was exhausted from his multiple yawns and fixed stare, yet he was too exhausted to sleep peacefully. It was a tough cycle to break, but after one good night, the following days got better.
2. Over stimulation– Newborns can’t handle too much noise, light or interaction. They have been in a place that doesn’t get any sunlight, muted sounds and no interaction. So when they are exposed to people and loud noises, they get over stimulated and find it hard to wind down and sleep. With all the people in my house, and a party being hosted, he was exposed to too many voices. Imagine being bombarded with music and lights that are akin to a nightclub when you are incredibly tired and all you want to do is sleep. Well, that’s how your newborn feels when they are being handled by lots of different people. So if you have visitors ask them kindly to visit when its convenient for you and the baby’s schedule and pace them out.
3. Helping too much – Newborns spend a lot of time in REM sleep (50%), which is way more than adults (25%). This means that when they are in REM sleep, they are incredibly light sleepers and make a lot of noise and movement. To an adult, it looks as though they are not asleep at all. I had to teach myself to sit on my hands and just WAIT every time I heard him groan, let out a cry, squawk etc. It was incredibly tempting to jump in and pat him or rock him back to sleep so that he didn’t wake up, but then I would have made the mistake of helping him back to sleep each time. It is important that we let them learn on their own to self soothe at this incredibly early age. I am not telling you to let them scream and cry, but one or two cries is perfectly normal and its OK to stand back and just let it be. You will be amazed at how many times they do go back to sleep. I certainly was!
One good tip is if you are not sure as to whether they are crying for milk or just simply making sleep noises, look at their eyes. If it’s just a sleep disturbance, they most often have their eyes closed. If they are truly hungry, then they will cry for 1-2 mins continuously and will most often open their eyes and root for milk.
I hope these tips help you feel more equipped when it comes to bringing your newborn home. Good luck and just know there is light at the end of the tunnel! These months seem like an eternity when you are feeding in 3-4 hour cycles, but you will be past this before you know it.