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Getting A Newborn To Sleep

What’s that, you say? You mean
there’s more to simply praying to God that the screaming
beast falls asleep, or waiting her out for four hours until she
falls into an exhausted doze?

Well, yes and no.

While it’s true that the for the
first three months, babies have a free pass – too young to be
put into a schedule or routine, we pretty much have to follow their
lead and let them eat when they want and sleep when they need to.
For the first few months, most experts agree that babies are too
young to manipulate us – to try to “con” us into
an extra nursing or something – and that they have needs
rather than wants.

At the same time, every parent has been in that situation with a
screaming newborn where they realize the baby wants to fall asleep,
needs to fall asleep, is staring at you with imploring eyes –
“Please, O Great One, put me out of my misery and help me get
to sleep!” – so here are some tips for assisting that
newborn to snooze land, courtesy of lots of experience and advice
from other girlfriends.

First off, the obvious ones that even first-time parents figure out
pretty quick – soothing motion. Whether it’s the bouncy
seat (God bless the vibration setting) or the car ride, something
like this will generally help infants get to sleep. I’ve
known parents who drive around for hours so their kid will nap.
Exhausting and expensive, so I aim to use something simpler –
people power.

A newborn is looking to have the womb setting replicated, and one
of her favorite memories (so to speak) is all that rocking you did
while walking around. Newborns also love being in close contact
with parents physically, so wearing your baby will often guarantee
a nap as well. Bjorn, Snugli, sling, take your pick –
they’ll all serve to keep your baby close by and your arms
free. Our friend Todd paced his Manhattan neighborhood several
hours a night during his son’s infant reflux days and
wondered what all the bar-hoppers thought when they saw the same
guy with a kid strapped to his chest circle by every half-hour or
so. I’ve even heard urban legends of wealthy New Yorkers
putting a treadmill in the nanny’s room to facilitate such
walks. We’ve found that strapping a baby into the Bjorn and
sitting and bouncing on a big exercise ball is just as effective
and way less work – you can even eat a meal or type email
while putting baby to sleep. Talk about multi-tasking!

Wearing the newborn has another benefit too – it’s a
built-in swaddler. Which leads me to my next tip – swaddle,
swaddle, swaddle. I’ve heard the old wives’ tales about
how swaddled babies grow up with crooked legs, but I checked with
my pediatrician and she assured me swaddling in moderation is just
fine. I’m not recommending you swaddle 24/7; we swaddle when
we try to put Cora down for the night, and sometimes in the middle
of the day if we think she’ll go for a long nap. Infants are
born with the Moro reflex; it causes their arms and limbs to flail
about uncontrollably. First-time parents may see their
child’s arms struggling under a blanket and think, “Oh,
no, she wants her arm out! If that’s what she wants
let’s do it.” Trust me, this will just keep her awake
more. No one likes to be hit repeatedly in the face all night. By
their own arm. We swaddled every night for three months, until the
reflex calmed down. Try it and you’ll see a distinct

So here’s what happens with Cora: she nurses at night and
begins to get sleepy. When her flailing begins I know she’s
ready to swaddle. I wrap her up and sit back down in the rocking
chair. As soon as she’s swaddled she calms down and her eyes
start to droop. We continue to lure her into sleep by the rocking
thing. I used to stand over her bassinet and do this, and then
wised up and sat my butt back down. Now I rock until she’s
into a real sleep.

What’s a real sleep? First off, when you see baby’s
eyes start to flutter and roll around a lot, believe it or not,
they’re asleep. This is the first stage of sleep for them. BE
WARNED – do not put them down now. Rookie mistake. It’s
a very light sleep and they’ll startle awake immediately and
start screaming. Suck it up a few more minutes and you’ll see
them drop into a deeper sleep. When their head gets a bit heavier
on your arm, you know they’ve passed to a deeper phase and
are safe to put down.

Another rookie mistake – enjoying baby too much. Right around
six weeks your baby will start to realize there are other people in
the world. He’ll begin smiling and making eye contact with
you. Sometimes he will want to do this at wildly inappropriate
times – say, 3 a.m. If your baby tries to catch your eye and
smile and gurgle as you stumble back to the crib, harden your heart
and avoid eye contact. Keep looking at them, but not right in their
eyes. You don’t want baby to move to the full “quiet
alert” stage and be up another couple of hours, do you? I
promise, you’re not teaching him that Mommy hates him and
doesn’t want to talk to him. You’re teaching him that
darkness is for sleeping.

And speaking of that stumble back to the crib, make sure you
don’t lose that physical rhythm as you get out of your
rocking chair. You’ll get that Late-Night Sway dance down
soon enough: sway right as you step right, sway left as you bring
your left foot to your right. Repeat. Doing this little dance will
keep baby lulled to sleep all the way to the crib. Warning: do not
pick a favorite song to silently dance to. You will then be awake
and singing it for the next hour.

Once baby is down, hover for a few moments. I know that bed looks
really inviting, but investing a couple more hover minutes now
means you don’t have to invest another hour in ten minutes
when baby wakes fully up and you have to start all over again.
Being there immediately to rock the cradle, pat, keep the swaddling
tight, re-insert the pacifier, whatever, will get the baby back to
sleep without every really waking up.

Anyone else got any tips? Believe me, I’m not too proud to
get more advice.


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