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Getting Your Newborn Baby to Sleep

30 Jul 2014 – 08:48 PM EDT

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When my first child was born, I dutifully followed the advice from friends and family to “put your baby on a schedule and make ’em sleep in their own bed.” I tried everything to get the kid to embrace sleep on a schedule in his crib and eventually a bed, but my son fought it every step of the way. There were nights when my husband put him in the car seat and drove around the neighborhood until he finally fell asleep (the baby, not the husband!). He would arrive home, creep into the house with the baby and delicately put him down in the crib. All because we were focused on getting him to sleep in the crib. How I wish someone had given me newborn sleep tips like “do what works for your baby, advice be damned.” We followed this advice with the last kid and we all slept well.

Since it’s been a while since I had a baby in my arms, I asked around to gather some newborn sleep tips from seasoned and brand new parents:

Swaddle ‘Em

This age-old tip is still one of the best. Newborns have reflexes that jerk them out of sleep–swaddling keeps all the body parts in one place and gives babies a sense of security. Use a thin blanket to swaddle and make sure your baby is comfortably warm. Here’s a cool guide on swaddling or you can purchase specially-made swaddling products with easy Velcro closures.

Rock a Bye Baby:

My saving grace was a big rocking chair in my living room. I spent many days and nights holding my baby/infant/toddler/little kid in my arms, rocking that chair back and forth. I can remember holding my breath and waiting for sleep to finally happen. You know what–hang on to those moments. All too soon, you’ll miss the days of rocking them to sleep.

Sing it, Baby!

Humming, singing, and white noise are all effective in helping newborn babies get to sleep. Babies don’t care if you’re off-key or tone deaf. They love the sound of your voice and the vibrations they feel through you. Dr. Karp of Happiest Baby recommends white noise to soothe babies to sleep and increase their sleep time by 1 to 3 hours.

The Swaying Dance

I’m pretty sure I burned off most of my post-pregnancy weight doing this sleep dance with every kid (Although I don’t know what happened after the third kid–it’s 16 years later and I’m still carrying post-pregnancy pounds). The swaying dance starts like this: hold your baby close to your chest with their head turned sideways. It helps to use a baby wrap like the Maya wrap. Hips to the right, hips to the left–keep up the rhythm until the kiddo falls asleep. Add humming, music, or white noise for a compound effect when babies are especially fussy.

Finally, my friend Jess Jacobsen-Buckley has this to say:

My advice would be this: every child is different. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. And what works for your first child most likely won’t be effective with your next one. My first was a champion sleeper. He started sleeping through the night on his own at 9 weeks. Went through a wakeful period at 5 months and we did modify cry it out (coming in to reassure in intervals) for one night and he started sleeping all night again. He’d crawl to his crib when he was tired and would go in awake and chatter himself to sleep. We thought we deserved a Parents of the Year award because we were obviously owning parenthood. My second? He was born aboard the Hot Mess Express. He didn’t sleep unless he was held. Literally nothing worked for him. He had tummy issues (food allergies and gastro stuff) and reflux and was always mad and couldn’t self soothe. We resorted to co-sleeping (after a lot of research on how to do it safely) and we did the Sleep Lady Shuffle when we transitioned him to his crib (around 18 months). We were frustrated at first because he wasn’t doing what we thought he should. He made us question everything we thought we knew and made us feel like rookies. But once we figured out what worked for everyone to get good sleep, it didn’t matter what all the books said. With our youngest, we’d finally learned to just trust our instincts. She slept in a Rock N Play (aka: a divine gift straight from heaven) in our room for a while, co-slept for a while and transitioned easily to a crib. When I talk to new parents about sleep, I always just say to listen to the (unsolicited) advice they’ll be given and glean what they can, but remember that they are the experts on their own child and they should take cues from him or her and do whatever works.

And the best newborn sleep tip of all? Get some sleep when your baby sleeps!