Despite having had a newborn twice before, for the first few nights after Maeve was born I found myself wondering, "How does this newborn sleep stuff work exactly?" Thankfully, over the past month the best practices for newborn sleep and handing night wakings have come back to me as I've also developed a sense of what works for Maeve.
These nights of being awake so much and of helping a baby adjust to swaddling and sleeping on their back is ultimately a very short time. But when you are in it those dark hours can seem to stretch forever. So I thought I would share a little bit about what's working for me in case anyone needs a primer or a refresher. I'll include notes about naps as well.
Here are some sleep practices that are working for us right now with a six-week old:
+ Dividing and conquering sleep with Chris. Our current set up is that Maeve is sleeping in a bassinet pack and play in our bedroom and I handle all night wakings. Chris is sleeping in a separate bedroom and getting good sleep which means he has the energy to handle the boys, take care of the house, and make a lot of my meals. It is working so well for us each of us thinks the other one has the harder job, haha.
+ Change Maeve into her pajamas after 5:30 p.m. Maeve's bedtime is flexible right now (but usually falling asleep between 6 and 8 p.m.) and she often cluster feeds in the evening. Getting her into her pajamas and a new diaper early in the evening lets me sit and nurse and then transition her to a swaddle and bed whenever she falls asleep.
+ Set up the sleep environment for the evening. Chris usually does this for me before he puts the boys to sleep. He sets the pack and play at the end of our bed, lays out a swaddle (I love these velcro ones), and makes sure there are plenty of diapers and wipes handy. We've set up a temporary changing station at the end of our bed with a towel laid on the bed. We dim the lights and turn on the white noise machine too.
+ Nurse in a dim room with a white noise machine after 6 p.m.
+ Try to go to bed soon after the baby does. The first stretch of sleep is usually the best for Maeve so I need to get to sleep too to take advantage of it. I'm pretty tired from being up at night plus don't mind an early bedtime so this works out just fine for me.
+ When Maeve wakes up at night I follow a routine of nursing on one side, burping her, then changing her diaper, and nursing on the other side. I was changing her diaper first thing after she woke up but that resulted in some double diaper changes and now I've found it best to wait until after nursing on one side. After she starts falling asleep while nursing on the second side I pick her up, pat her back to burp her, and then swaddle her. Then I go sit in the nursery glider and rock her to make sure she's sound asleep (at least ten minutes but sometimes longer) before laying her down in the pack and play. To pass the time I scroll on my phone or watch something comforting on Netflix (The Office, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, West Wing) and love my wireless Airpods (game changer) for this. Of course sometimes she'll poo or spit up right after I've swaddled her which disrupts the routine. If that happens I'll change her diaper, nurse to settle her down, then swaddle and rock her. I also want to share that it took a a few days (maybe even a week) for Maeve to get used to being swaddled and the trick is to make it pretty snug.
+ Make sure she's in a deep sleep before transitioning to the pack and play. In the middle of the night I find myself wishing for a little device, like a clip-on Fitbit, that you could clip to a baby's pajamas and it would indicate when you could confidently lay a baby down in their crib. Someone invent that. When holding my swaddled baby burrito in the middle of the night I'm wondering, "Can I put her down now? Now? Now??" Just as it seems that she's really asleep suddenly she'll startle or kick her legs so then I do a few more minutes of rocking to be safe. Even still, sometimes I'll transfer Maeve to the pack and play, ensure that she still seems deeply asleep, and then oh so quietly crawl into bed. Just as I've pulled up the covers and begin to let my mind and body relax and think "Sleeeeeep" I'll hear Maeve stirring. Nooooo! When this happens I'll first wait a minute or two to see if she'll settle. If not, I'll pick her up and rock her to see if she'll fall back asleep easily. I might go sit in the nursery glider for another spell to ensure she's in a deep sleep. Then I'll try laying her back in the pack and play again. If she wasn't settle back down then I'd take her out of the swaddle, nurse, and repeat the swaddle and gliding routine. I've usually found that if she's not settling down it's because she needs to burp or poop.
+ If being swaddled in her pack and play is not working (i.e. she has slept less than an hour for two or more stretches in a row) I’ll bring Maeve in bed with me because at that point I am painfully tired. (This is not a practice I am recommending since the American Academy of Pediatrics says that the safest way for babies to sleep is separately and on their back.) When she was a little smaller I would sometimes lay on my back propped up by pillows and have Maeve sleep on my chest but she's already getting too big for that! So I will have her lay next to me and nurse in the side-lying position and we can both fall asleep.
+ Give myself an early morning nap. Most mornings I pass Maeve off to Chris after she wakes up and I nurse her (usually between 6 and 7 a.m.). Then I go back to sleep. Chris walks Maeve in the stroller and then usually wears her while she takes a nap and I sleep another 45 minutes to an hour and a half (depending on Maeve). It doesn't make up for all the lost sleep at night but it does make all the difference in not feeling exhausted during the day.
+ Try naps swaddled in the crib. I cherish the early weeks of holding and nursing a baby around the clock. But eventually I start to crave some time with my hands free. Plus I'm noticing that Maeve doesn't sleep quite as soundly with household noise and light like she did in the early weeks. For the past couple of weeks we've been trying to put Maeve in her crib for naps. We look for signs that she is tired such as being awake for more than 30-45 min, staring off into space, and yawning. When we see those cues we'll hold and rock her in a dark room or if she's not settling I'll nurse her. Then we swaddle her, rock her, and put her in her crib. She's had some really great naps that way and we're both able to get some hands-free time.
I hope this helps someone else up at night with a little one. Or reminds those of you with bigger ones of what those nights were like and lets you appreciate your uninterrupted sleep even more. :)