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Sleeping like a baby

By Amanda Lasater

Research shows that babies’ circadian rhythms are not quite in sync with those of their parents, and for a good reason. Their tiny tummies mean they need to eat every two to three hours, and their even smaller bowels and bladders mean frequent diaper changes. Their three- to four-hour sleep cycles simply don’t match their parents’ need for seven to eight hours of shuteye. So how can you clock up the rest you need to be the best parent you can be?

Dream feeding

If you have decided to breastfeed, try pumping throughout the day so you can prepare a late-night bottle for your newborn. Breast milk can be stored in a fridge for up to five days and easily reheated to body temperature. Head to bed early and let your partner handle the 11pm feed. This will let you sleep uninterrupted until around 2am, when you’ll need to give your baby their next meal.

Share the load

Whether it’s a split-night shift pattern, one night on and one night off or taking turns on weekends for the responsibility of night-time baby care, you’ll both benefit from some undisturbed time to sleep.

Sleep environment

Don’t forget that everything is new and potentially stimulating to your little one. Seemingly mundane activities such as cleaning, going for a stroll in the park or popping to the store can leave your baby too excited to sleep. Similarly, the musical mobile hanging above their cot, the smell of cleaning fluids or turning on overhead lights for diaper changes can make it difficult for them to drift off.

Pay attention to the sights, smells and sounds in their bedroom. If evening activities disrupt your baby’s sleep then consider a white noise machine to drown them out. Black-out blinds to keep bedrooms dark and small nightlights for diaper changes can also have a beneficial impact on your little one’s sleep.

Relax, you’re doing fine

Finally, try not to get too worried about your or your baby’s sleep. Babies develop so quickly that what is an issue today will be forgotten in a week’s time. Know that it’s okay for babies to wake regularly; there is no “negative” way to fall asleep (if a pacifier, lullabies, breastfeeding or other techniques work, don’t be afraid to use them!); and that housework can always wait until tomorrow.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, either. Babies don’t come with instruction manuals, each one is different and you will discover what works for you and your family. Try to rest when the baby does and congratulate yourself on any successes you have. Worrying only makes it harder to sleep, so be kind to yourself. Sleep how and when it’s best for both you and your baby.

Amanda Lasater is a writer and sleep researcher.

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