Prior to the birth of our son Cohen, we had a plan. We read Dr. Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Baby on the Block, memorized the 5 S’s (Swaddle, Side, Shush, Swing and Suck) and actually muttered to ourselves on an airplane with a stranger’s crying baby that we could get that baby to stop crying. We were adorably confident, but I cringe at our naïveté. From Cohen’s first nights in the hospital and at home crying all night, we knew our entire plan was out the window. We found ourselves bleary eyed and confused about what to do. Every time we put him down he opened his eyes and he was wailing. We canvassed friends and family for recommendations and people found different things worked for different kids (duh). That said, there were several recurring themes we uncovered that seemed universal and ended up being the keys to unlocking sanity.
There are a million “gimmicks” out on the market that promise you a baby instantly sleeping. Everything from the Magic Merlin, to the Rock and Play to a breathing doll with lullabies. In addition to most of these being made from low quality and potentially harmful materials, through the experience of many families, we found these are crutches that may help for a period of time if at all and none are a substitute for creating healthy sleep habits.
Below are the foundations that we found to be (almost) universally true. Adopting these actually got us 4 months of decent sleep, even setting alarms to wake up and nurse. Beyond 4 months, check out the Sleep Training blog post.
Many baby experts such as Dr. Harvey Karp and Sarah Rockwell-Smith reference the fourth trimester. They explain that other mammals are born with much more developed and mature brains than humans, using baby horses being able to stand minutes after being born as an example. Us humans have it tougher -- due to the head size of a fetus at 40 weeks (about 11 cm), human mothers (whose fully dilated cervixes are about 10 cm) are not able to safely deliver a baby beyond this period of time. Thus, when our human babes are born they experience the 4th trimester, where other mammals are able to cozily experience inside their moms, outside of the body. This creates many differences between the world and womb that Sarah Rockwell-Smith highlights in this handy chart:
This fourth trimester lasts the first 3 months (actually about 16 weeks in my opinion) of your child’s life. Getting sleep and surviving this time meant creating an environment that is as “womb” like as possible.
Swaddling: Swaddling is an age-old tactic for a reason. Babies are born with the startle reflex, meaning their hands startle up scaring them awake. Swaddling keeps babies cozy and compact, the way they are in the womb. Many people say their babies “don’t like” swaddling or want to keep their hands free. We found that swaddling correctly eliminates a baby fighting swaddling and for us led to much longer startle-free sleep cycles. In order to swaddle correctly, it’s most important to have a stretchy (but not too stretchy because it will come loose) large square material. Temperature and breathability are critical too -- we were worried about our son becoming overheated or his sensitive skin turning red from a swaddle that was too thick. We tried a variety of Aden & Anais swaddles at first but didn’t love that they were 1) made in China and 2) they were so stretchy that they often came loose. My favorite swaddles are from Sense Organics for a basic swaddle or the gorgeous and luxurious Atelier Choux swaddle, both of which I think can be used in conjunction with these instructions for an awesome cozy swaddle.
Cosleeping: Cosleeping literally means sleeping in the same room as the baby. This can be in a sidecar crib, a bassinet, or via bed-sharing. The AAP has official stated that cosleeping (via room sharing) significantly reduces the chances of SIDS. Depending on your family needs and level of comfort there are many ways to incorporate cosleeping in your life:
Full bed-sharing: If done safely and correctly, bed-sharing can also actually help reduce the chances of SIDS because the mother and baby are so deeply in sync and cycle together that they typically breath in conjunction with one another and wake up at the same time. One of the best ways to create a safe bed-sharing experience is to use an infant lounger. This creates the sensation of being held for the baby while simultaneously creating a safe environment that doesn’t make it easy for someone to roll over onto baby. The SnuggleMe Organic is also made of the safest materials and prevents your baby from breathing in directly from your mattress, pillows or sheets. I also love that it is super portable so helpful for naps or travel. During my time bed-sharing I would find myself naturally waking, only to watch my son open his eyes a minute later. This was an extremely special time for us and I often look back missing those tender moments.
Side-car crib: This is a great alternative to bed-sharing if you don’t feel comfortable with full bed sharing but still want to be as close to your baby as possible. The Babybay is the only product I have found that makes this possible. Although there are consumers of the Arm’s Reach co sleeper I found this product extremely disappointing. Many of the connectors are plastic, the product is made in China, and there are conflicting reports about which mattresses are free of flame retardants. It is also super clunky and takes up a ton of space. What i love about the Babybay is the amazing materials it is made out of, it’s beautiful and compact design, variety of finish and mattress options. I also love that there isn’t a barrier between the crib and my actual bed so I can put my head in and lean in to create the “bed sharing” experience in the sidecar but without thinking twice about safety. The best part is when you are done with it you can use it as a bench, stool or desk so the investment in the product is one you will have beyond the co-sleeping experience.
Bassinet: If bed-sharing or a sidecar solution doesn’t work for your family but you still want to keep your baby close by for a combination of the safety, convenience and 4th trimester experience, an in-room bassinet may be the best option. There are tons of bassinets on the market but when evaluating them I struggled with a few issues: 1) finding a bassinet without flame retardants or plastics and a high quality mattress 2) mobility and space. The best option keeping these factors in mind is the Nuna Sena -- In addition to meeting our standards for quality, design and materials, it is also multi-functional with a bassinet attachment for that cozy womb-like feel, a changer, and a pack and play that can be folded up and put away.
Babywearing: When I realized that my newborn would only successfully sleep in my arms or attached to me I felt like a prisoner on the couch. This was exhausting and frustrating. Once I switched to Babywearing, I realized I could actually do the dishes, walk around, put laundry away all while feeling close to my son and he was happily snoozing away. I discovered Hana Organic Baby Wrap via their flagship baby carrier that I find much better for baby-wearing adventures, but love their wrap design for babywearing during this newborn sleeping stage. It is much easier to configure and put on as an exhausted parent with a crying baby, the bamboo material is extremely soft and breathable which was critical for my son who sweats year round (much like his father).
Accept this temporary insanity: This is probably the most important piece of advice that changed my perspective. The fourth trimester goes by so quickly. At the time, the days are long and tasks feel impossible. You are exhausted and not operating in the way you are used to. Just accept this temporary status, pick a new Netflix show, and enjoy some bingewatching. This time will pass quickly and you will miss the constant cuddling with your babe.