The big day has finally come – your baby is here! He or she has made a grand entrance into your lives, and you couldn’t be more thrilled.
But you’re also likely experiencing the beginnings of intense exhaustion like you’ve never experienced before (unless you’ve had other babies!)
Most of you will have just gone through many hours of intense labor and possibly a sleepless night or two leading up to the birth (or maybe even the whole second half of your pregnancy was filled with sleepless nights!) Even for moms with scheduled C-sections or quick labors, your body will still feel like it has been hit by the truck of exhaustion.
Now on top of that, you’re full-time, 24-7 in charge of a baby that needs to fed, soothed, changed, and dressed around the clock and may start off only sleeping for 1-hour chunks at a time.
Some babies might start off extremely sleepy so you won’t need to do much to assist their sleep while in the hospital, but you can still use your time there to learn from the experts. Other newborns will come out of the womb and quickly become so overstimulated by their new surroundings that they become hard to settle right from the start. Should you just embrace this next-level sleep deprivation and just go with it – yes and no.
Although you’re likely to stay quite sleep deprived for the next month or two, there are things you can start doing from the beginning that will set you up to have a more contented, well-rested baby.
Here’s what you need to bring and what you need to learn while in the hospital to set you up for success.
Bring the Right Gear
Besides your cute baby outfits and the necessities, you pack for yourself, to help optimize sleep, make sure to bring:
Your own muslin swaddling blankets
These are much easier to swaddle with than the stiff, thicker hospital blankets – and can be much cuter, too! Newborns have been packed tightly in your womb for 9 months but now they have space – and they have no control over their limbs as they flail all about, making sleep much more difficult. Swaddling helps them feel secure and keeps the morro reflex (or the “startle reflex”) from waking them up.
Portable white noise machine
Your baby is used to the loud shush of your body – the beat of your heart, your breathing, muffled outside voices… but nothing clear and distinct. White noise outside the body can be extremely soothing to a newborn. A portable one will allow you to put it close to the bassinet without worrying about cords and outlets.
An eye mask
Ok this if for you, but the same concept applies to the baby. Most of us really need darkness to sleep and the same goes for newborns, who are used to the darkness of your womb. Since you can’t put an eye mask on him, if baby is unsettled, try keeping the lights dim or off in his corner of the room to help him settle. Bright lights can be way too much stimulation for a brand new baby.
Learn from the Experts
While still in the hospital, take advantage of the team of newborn experts around you!
Learn how to swaddle from the nurses.
Nurses usually have some great swaddling techniques and they’ll know how to do it safely and effectively. Watching them and then practicing in their presence will build your confidence when you get home.
Watch different soothing techniques to expand your arsenal.
Soothing a baby doesn’t always come naturally to every new mom, so don’t feel bad if you’re having a hard time figuring out what your fussy baby needs. Ask your nurse if she can show you her best techniques and don’t be afraid to try motions and methods that you haven’t seen before. Before I had my own children, I remember watching my good friend in amazement as she did fast, deep squats while still jiggling her fussy baby, all while having a conversation with me! The baby – her third – quickly calmed to sleep, and I made a mental note to be willing to try anything to soothe my future babies.
Get support with feeding.
If you really want to encourage good sleep from the beginning, one of the biggest keys will be to encourage good, full feeds. If you’re bottle feeding, learn how to do a paced feeding to minimize gassiness. If you’re breastfeeding, ask for more help and support than you even think you need to make sure you guys are getting it right from the get-go. Sure, you can You-tube this later, but there’s nothing like that hands-on, in-person support. And although you’re likely to have follow-up support from lactation professionals, those first few days are critical.
Check for tongue/lip ties.
If you are having trouble with your newborn’s latch, make sure you have an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) check your baby for tongue and lip tie. It’s a surprisingly common issue these days, and although there has been a slight trend towards over-diagnosis in the last few years, your IBCLC will be able to tell you what to watch and observe for over the next 1-2 weeks. Keep in mind though that issues with latch right in the beginning don’t automatically mean tongue-tie. Speaking from personal experience an IBCLC did diagnose tongue-tie in my second daughter in the hospital, but a week later when we went to have it corrected, she had been gaining weight great and no longer had any signs! The doctor said it’s because their muscles get cramped up during childbirth but start to relax over time, helping their tongue and lips to be less restricted.
Really listen to their safe-sleep guidelines!
I can’t emphasize this enough – take that literature they give you, read it, listen to their warnings about not falling asleep while holding your baby. SIDS is the number one killer of babies in their first year, and the highest risk is in month 1-6. You will definitely face the temptation to throw out safe-sleep practices in desperation for some unbroken sleep, but do your best to resist.
Most of all (and this might sound crazy) but enjoy your time in the hospital! Although I’m sure you’re anxious to get home, it’s a nice reprieve from daily life and the demands of home where you have meals brought to you, your bathroom cleaned for you, and you’re not expected to do anything but sit there and recover – and figure out the baby (as moms of more than one kiddo already know!)
For more tips on what to do to encourage your baby to sleep one you’re home from the hospital, read my Newborn Sleep Survival Tips, the Dreaded Overtired Cycle, and the Essentials Checklist for Baby Sleep.
Lindsey is founder of Little Lamb Childhood Sleep Consultants and certified baby and toddler sleep consultant. With bachelor’s and graduate degrees in psychology and pastoral care to women, decades of experience in childcare and education, plus 2 little girls of her own (and another on the way!) who struggled with sleep, she knows first-hand the hardships of extreme sleep deprivation in parenthood. With her personal and professional experience plus passion for helping women, she’s helped hundreds of families get the rest they need to thrive and enjoy life again!