There are so many classes to prepare you for the birth of your baby, but what happens when you get home? One thing I do know as a parent (and currently going through it myself) is no one prepares you for the sleepless nights - I can confirm it does however, get slightly easier the second time round as you know it doesn't last forever.
This week we spoke to mama and Qualified holistic gentle sleep coach, Hannah from Little Nest, on the science and art of newborn sleep. Hannah had a really hard time adjusting to motherhood and dealing with sleep deprivation. As most new mums she found that night-time parenting just seemed to get harder as the months went on, but she didn't want to go down the sleep training route, so she ended up becoming obsessed with the science (and art) of supporting baby sleep. Hannah trained as a holistic gentle sleep coach with Lyndsey Hookway and the team at Baby Em and is now here to help us.
The Science and Art of Newborn Sleep!
Newborn babies sleep on average 18 hours a day. So why are new parents always so tired?
If you are reading this before your baby is born please do not be scared by what I am about to say – the newborn phase is delicious and magical, but it can also be exhausting and bewildering.
You can go from feeling utterly invincible, blissed out and high as a kite on pure oxytocin to sobbing into a cold cup of tea wondering why on earth you ever thought you could handle this.
Hormones, sleep deprivation and falling madly in love with your little one is a wild ride.
Feeling rested and informed certainly helps things run a little more smoothly though, so here are my tips to gently support your little one’s sleep from day one…
Babies don’t have a circadian rhythm (aka a body clock) when they are born. They have literally no idea whether it is day or night. This can last several weeks, or several months, but there are things you can do to help set that clock to GMT.
Daytime & Night-time
Teach your little one the difference between day and night by making the two as different as possible.
Expose your baby to as much broad spectrum daylight and noisiness as possible between 7am and 7pm. Keep the radio on, chat, open the curtains, be loud throughout naps.
Sunlight in the afternoon is particularly important, a walk in the pram after lunch has been scientifically proven to result in longer sleep at night for babies aged 6 to 12 weeks old.
At night-time though, you want their world to be the opposite: dim lights, hushed tones, low stimulation.
When you do a night-time nappy change, make it stealthy and quiet.
If you need to watch some telly to keep awake during a night-feed, use headphones if you can.
Blackout blinds in the summer are a lifesaver come 5am.
Doing things roughly at the same times, in the same order every day helps us all have a smoothly running body clock. On a solely biological level, humans love predictability.
That doesn’t mean sticking to a tight schedule though – in fact research tells us that about 50% of new mums who follow strict routines from baby books feel anxious and misled, and that it makes little to no difference in how their babies sleep.
Following your baby’s individual cues for feeding, sleeping and playing will help you establish the right daily rhythm for your family.
So when we talk about routine, I simply mean that when you are ready, try to wake up and go to sleep roughly at the same time each day for example. If you need a lie in or a day off schedule that’s totally fine and normal! It’s a marathon, not a sprint after all.
In terms of a daily rhythm, you might find that your baby is in a good mood at about 10am most days, so that’s a nice time to play at home whereas a walk outside at 3pm could help diffuse your baby’s afternoon fussiness.
I’m not saying you need to live the same day on repeat every day, but you will probably find that as your newborn gets older they will want to sleep at roughly the same times every day – the gaps between naps will grow, but a pattern will naturally start to emerge so just roll with it!
Feeding – whether boob or bottle, or both – should always be done responsively and not at set times. It sounds obvious but remember a hungry baby won’t sleep, so make sure you have the right feeding support with however you are getting milk to your baby.
If you’re nursing there are actually lots of clever ingredients in breastmilk that change throughout a 24 hour period and interact with your baby’s brand new circadian rhythm which can certainly help babies sleep better.
Again, only when you feel ready, you might want to introduce a calming bedtime routine that will help teach your little one that sleepy time is coming.
It should be simple and relatively quick, about 15-20 mins and consisting of 4 or 5 steps that you can repeat in the same order every night. An example would be bath, milk, sleeping bag, story and song – do what works for you though, in whatever order you like!
Follow Little Nest on Instagram and Learn the secrets and science behind how and why babies sleep whilst meeting other new parents in your area, by signing up to one of Hannah's Newborn Sleep Workshops.