8 Tips to Help Navigate Your Baby’s Sleep Challenges
“How is the baby sleeping, is he a good baby”? Sound familiar? These are common questions new parents receive, insinuating that a baby who sleeps well is a “good baby”. This is NOT helpful for a sleep-deprived parent to hear, at least it wasn’t for me. While I was blessed with an incredibly healthy, happy baby boy, my perception and expectations around his sleep have been a challenge. Before I go into too many details, there are two things I want to point out right away, and these are two pillars of what Dr. Sears teaches:
- Do whatever sleeping arrangement gets everyone the most rest.
- Trust your instincts above everything else. Do the research, read the books, talk to trusted friends, but at the end of the day trust your parental instincts. Just like a fingerprint, you have your baby’s needs imprinted on your heart.
Navigating this new season of motherhood has been the greatest adventure. I’ve experienced every emotion from joy, shame, guilt, confusion, and gratitude. To the new mom out there in the thick of a rough day, I see you! So, mom to mom, this is how my journey is unfolding and I hope this can give you a little hope. While every mommy/baby pair has different needs, here are my mindset shifts and lifestyle hacks that helped me get through the sleepless nights and experience joy through the journey:
Top 8 Tools that have helped me:
1. A rock-solid understanding of and devotion to the benefits of nighttime parenting. These include increased prolactin (the hormone-stimulated by breastfeeding which helped me feel more relaxed and sleep better), increased milk supply, the opportunity to love and support my baby when he is experiencing an important developmental leap and brain growth, and creating an even stronger bond to help him build a sleep association that is safe and trusting.
2. Choose nutrition that will energize me for the day and night ahead. This is an area that is extremely personal to each new mom, and there is definitely grace and compassion around having an extra treat, but always come back to that question “Is this really serving me”? Maybe try an experiment. Try a few days without that extra sugar or coffee (or whatever your thing is), see how you feel at the end of those few days. My little one still nurses quite often at night so I always need a bedtime snack, and I definitely have a sweet tooth so here are some balanced ways to have a little treat but also fuel up for the demands of nighttime parenting:
Full-fat Greek yogurt with berries and a little honey, low-sugar granola with a non-dairy milk option, whole-grain or gluten-free toast with nut butter, and a chocolate protein smoothie (freeze for a couple of hours and it becomes frozen yogurt). Being sleep deprived makes it really challenging to choose healthy food options. It’s been studied that lack of sleep leads to weight gain because we naturally turn towards extra carbs to give us that energy push. What I had to ask myself is “Is this really serving me?” Some days Mama just needed some chocolate, but I also see how some extra treats ended up making me more tired and depressed. More nutrition tips here.
3. Utilize movement. This provides that extra energy boost and release of happy hormones.
4. Beware of the internet. Find just a few trusted resources. I have to stop myself from going down the rabbit hole of information which would often leave me more confused and stressed.
5. Protect your thoughts and speech. Here is an experiment: Try not complaining about your sleep/energy level for one week. I noticed a big improvement!
6. Calming Yoga. Try a yoga pose called legs up the wall to calm your nervous system to help you optimize the sleep you do get.
7. Co-sleeping. The Arm’s Reach Co-sleeper was really fantastic at the beginning as I loved having the baby so close but still having a little space for my husband and me. It became clear very early on that I had the type of baby that needed more nighttime parenting than others. After trying a lot of different configurations, bed-sharing became the easiest way for me to get rest. We could nurse in the side-lying position and both fall back asleep pretty easily. Click here for safe co-sleeping guidelines.
8. Community. I understand that I am not alone. Finding groups that provide education and validation for attachment parenting was key. I remember feeling a huge relief just by understanding that frequent night waking was completely normal.
Now, that being said, it is still important to validate the fact that this nighttime parenting is extremely hard at times. I have called my Mom and Dad any times in tears saying “I can’t do this”, “Why didn’t you warn me about the sleep regressions?” They would lovingly encourage me and help me find some serenity around the things I can control. This gave me an opportunity to up my self-care game and surround myself with compassion one day at a time. I absolutely cherish this night-time bonding experience, but it is not for the faint of heart. Trust in time you will find what works best for your family.
Erin Sears Basile