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Life for the first few weeks after you have a baby is, well, to say it’s hard is an understatement. I’ve been through it twice now, and while it is beautiful and exciting, it can also be tiring, stressful and overwhelming sometimes (well scratch that, A LOT of time).
Preparing a postpartum plan did help a lot during the fourth trimester period. It allows me to have a structure and network of people around me to help taking care of the house and the baby. Have you prepared one? If not, you can get a postpartum plan templates here. It’s FREE!
But one of the hardest parts of those first weeks is my lack of sleep. See, I treasured my sleep a lot. I need a good couple of hours of sleep in order to function properly.
With a newborn, well, achieving enough time to sleep is an impossible task.
You just have to adjust life with sleep deprivation and find whatever time available to rest. I also read a lot of books and trying every method possible to find a way so my baby (and I) can have longer stretches of sleep.
Realizing that sleeping and rest are important for both my physical and mental health, I dedicated a lot of time figuring out the baby’s sleeping habits. Then set up the ultimate goal: to get my baby to sleep easily, and stay asleep for a longer time. With no sleep training, or CIO. Just by following my baby’s cues.
After experiencing the fourth trimester two times, I have come to a conclusion that the best way to achieve a good sleeping habit is by setting up routines as soon as possible. Like, when they get out fresh from the oven. I started from week 1.
Yes, they both have different personalities. One would only sleep being held but can sleep uninterrupted for a long time, while the other one likes to sleep in a crib but wakes up easily. My youngest can soothe herself with a pacifier and falls back to sleep, while his big brother is a boob sucking machine and wouldn’t want anything else.
But they both thrive on routines.
Setting up a routine can take a couple of weeks, but as soon as we get the hang of it, their sleep will also improved. At 3 weeks, both of my babies sleep for 4-5 hours straight, wakes up twice for night feed (both are breastfed) and diaper change, and goes down really quickly until 7 am.
The fixed wake-up time helps me sleep better knowing when I should wake up to feed and change the baby.
How can you create and establish a sleep routine? First and foremost, you have to know your baby. What are her cues when she is tired? What is the best way to make her fell asleep? How long does she nap? And notice little things like temperature and clothing preference to get her to sleep better.
Once you know the details, create a sleeping routine based on their cues and preferences. It can be different for every baby.
It can go like this:
Relaxing bathtime (can be every other day), followed by a little bit of massage, dress up for jammies and night diaper, shut the lights off, feeding on both breasts, then burping and lay down the baby in the crib.
Or, it can start by a snuggle in the rocking chair, followed by a fresh diaper and jammies, wraps in a favorite swaddle, read a book, turn on white noise, cluster feeding and then finished by rocking until the baby is asleep.
Whatever it is, do it consistently and the baby will learn the cue that it is sleeping time and falls asleep faster.
To ensure a good sleeping routine, I also experimented with a lot of baby gears. Turns out, my babies don’t need that many products, as milk is always a winner to make a baby feel sleepy.
These are key things that I consider before labeling them as a must-have sleeping essential?:
- Does the baby associate the product to sleeping time, thus helping him to sleep faster?
- Does the product help the baby sleep longer?
- If the baby wakes up, does the product helps him fall back asleep easier?
Of course, I put in the product’s safety, price, and quality to consider too. Plus, I love reading reviews and other mommies recommendations from friends, parenting groups, and mommy blogs.
After rounding them out, here is my list of newborn baby sleep essentials that I hope also helps your baby to sleep well. I list them based on my usual sleep routine, which is bath and massage, fresh pj’s and diaper, swaddle blanket, lights out, white noise on, nurse, and then into bed.
Relaxing Bath and Massage Oil
Bath and massage are the first routines to make the baby feel sleepy. My firstborn will take a bath every day because he likes to spit up a lot and overall a messy kid (and still is). The second one I would only bathe her every other day so it would not dry up her skin. But I did wash hands, face, and neck with a warm washcloth every day.
After they are done cleaning up then 10 minutes of massage time followed. I followed massage techniques from the Infant Massage book by Vimala McClure, my babies loved them! It’s a great way to bond with your baby.
These are the products that I love to use during bathtime and massage routine. But to be honest, you can use any baby soaps and lotions in the market. It’s your interaction with the baby that is important to create a relaxing and loving bond between both of you.
1. Aveeno Baby Calming Comfort Bath with Relaxing Lavender & Vanilla Scents // I’ve been using this since I got it from my oldest son’s baby shower. Now he is almost 6 years old but still loves the lavender and vanilla scent. It’s also good for a newborn because it’s tear-free, hypoallergenic, and paraben-phthalate free.
2. The Honest Company Truly Calming Lavender Shampoo + Body Wash // This were my daughter’s favorite because she has more sensitive skin than his older brother and sometimes the Aveeno one would dry her skin. It has natural ingredients and the lavender scent is perfect for nighttime bath. Although it’s a bit expensive, a very small amount lathers very well on my baby and leaves her skin very soft.
3. Earth Mama Calendula Baby Oil for Infant Massage // I love this product mainly because it doesn’t leave a sticky oil residue on the baby’s skin. And the smell is amazing too! With daily nighttime usage, the 4 fl oz would last for about 3 months.
4. Mustela Soothing Moisturizing Cream // I would apply this Mustela cream after a massage to give the extra moisturizing effect. It doesn’t feel as thick or heavy like other lotions, so it’s perfect for my baby’s face too.
The Easy Peasy Pajamas and Nighttime Diaper
After the massage is done then it’s time for putting on the night time pajamas. Or pj’s, jammies, nightgown, whatever you want to call them.
There are things to consider when buying pajamas. First are the weather and temperature. During summer, pajamas made from lighter materials are best. Stay away from synthetic materials that can lock the heat and sweat to the baby’s skin. When the winter arrives, you can choose thicker but still breathable pajamas.
The second one is safety. Luckily, most of the pajamas in the market are safe as long as you buy the right size. You wouldn’t want any loose material or extra cloth that can cover the baby’s face and cause suffocation.
Lastly, for the sake of good sleep, the easiness to wear and take off for diaper change is also important. Some parents prefer snaps while the other swears by zipper. In my opinion, they’re both are okay as long as the pajamas have openings at the bottom for an easy diaper change without having to completely take off the pajama.
I like the snap ones because I don’t have to completely open it to check a diaper. Especially when it’s cold so the baby’s feet don’t get completely out and feel cold. I also like to use zipper ones when we don’t have the AC running. Zippers are generally faster to wear and take off.
Meanwhile, buttons, I suggest staying away from that. Pajamas with buttons are designed by someone who has never clothed a wriggling baby. It was such a pain to wear them to a baby and will take a longer time. Dealing with a button in the middle of the night, that’s just crazy. Buttons are better suited for toddlers, in my opinion.
For the diaper, it really depends on the baby but overall a night time diapers are better than regular ones. It will keep the baby’s bottom dry for a longer time during the night.
1. Magnificent Baby Magnetic Baby Boys Cotton Footie // This one has neither snap or zipper inseam closure, instead, there is a hidden magnetic fastener. I love this invention so much because the magnet makes diaper change so much faster and easier. Plus, it’s incredibly soft, has folding mitts, and slightly thicker that is perfect for colder seasons.
2. PARADE ORGANICS Signature Print ‘2-Way’ Zip Romper // The amazing feature of this pajamas is the double zipper. You can unzip from the bottom as well as the top for easy diaper changes. It also made from 100% organic cotton and has built-in mittens too.
3. Simple Joys by Carter’s Baby 3-Pack Cotton Sleeper Gown // It’s under $15 for a pack of three. But the quality is excellent and sleeper gown is better suited for a newborn. Sleeper gown is the best option for quick and quiet nighttime diaper changes. The downside of them is that they tend to hike up around the baby’s tummy, which can be very annoying. So to ensure warm feet and legs, sleeping gowns are best used in conjunction with a swaddle.
4. Baby Deedee Sleepsie Cotton Quilted Footie Pajama // I used this thicker quilted jammies during winter. It also has the inseam zipper to make diaper change easy and fast without fully waking up the baby. Unzip bottom. Change. Zip. Done.
One of the first important tasks for the early days after bringing home a baby is to help him differentiate between day and night. There is this term called a circadian rhythm, which means a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It’s also known as your sleep/wake cycle.
A newborn baby needs time to adjust and get in sync with the external clock, and we can help nudge her in the right direction. Study shows that stabilizing their circadian rhythm earlier in their life help them establish better sleeping practices.
At day, it is best to expose your baby to natural daylight and stimulating daytime activities. When the night comes, create a dark environment and calming condition with little social interaction.
After the day/night confusion is settled, the problem is sometimes baby associate darkness as sleeping time, thus making a nap seems difficult because of the daylight exposure.
Installing blackout blinds in the nursery will eliminate 99% of light, creating a darker environment especially during the spring and summer months. These are my recommendations for the best blackout blinds:
1. NICETOWN 100% Blackout Window Curtain Panels, Heat and Full Light Blocking Drapes for Nursery // One of best blackout curtains on the market. This has amazing reviews because it can block 100% of sunlight and UV rays, noise reducing, but also eco-friendly and easy to wash. It comes in many sizes and color options to match the nursery themes.
2. HLC.ME Arrow Printed Blackout Room Darkening Thermal Grommet Window Curtain Drape Panels for Kids Room // This one has a gray arrow pattern that is perfect for a gender-neutral nursery. Beside blacking out the light, it also can reduce noise.
3. Gro-Anywhere Blind Stars & Moons // A portable blackout blinds with cute stars and moons design and can be set up in minutes.
4. Easynight Portable Travel Blackout Blind // This has a variety of size options and folds away easily. It comes with a small carry bag so you can take this anywhere.
White Noise Machine
It is known that when the baby spent months in utero, the mom’s blood flow makes a shushing sound for up to 95 dB (or the sound of a very loud vacuum cleaner).
Basically, you can mimic this shushing or white noise with your own voice to help the baby falls asleep. But using a white noise machine is obviously more convenient -who wants to make that noise all night long?
Sometimes I still wonder why oh why this static noise thing works, because I personally hate loud noises during sleep time. In the middle of the night, when the baby is awake for feeding time, I turn the white noise on and it helps them sleep again faster. But it annoyed me to no end.
Still, it successfully calms down both of my babies. So for the sake of my precious sleeping time, I bite the bullet and bought 3 different types of white noise machines. One for the nursery, one is an app installed on my phone, and lastly the portable one for sleeping on the go.
When I turn this noise on, both of my babies knew the sound meant sleep.
1. Baby Shusher For Babies // This one came out recently so I used this for my second baby. I love it because it’s the only one that sounds like a real human voice, shushing for 15-30 minutes straight. It sounds like someone going “ssshhhhhhh” for a couple of seconds, then momentarily pause between each “shush”. Unfortunately, the timer sets for up to 30 minutes so I have to rush in and turn it on again. In my opinion, it’s better for naptime use instead of night.
2. Hatch Baby Rest Sound Machine, Night Light and Time-to-Rise // This one is on the expensive side, but has many great features and can be very useful for my older son. First, it comes with a phone app with a Bluetooth connection to set up a program. Programs can be set from start to finish at any time each day, and include a setting of your choice of sound, the volumes and nightlight color. So every night I just turn it on, and it knows the drill.
For my 5-year-old, the ‘ok to wake’ function has been a lifesaver because sometimes he likes to wake up earlier than usual. Instead of barging to my room and wake me up, with this machine he would stay in his bedroom until the light turned green on the ideal wake up time. So for longevity and durability reason, I fully recommend this product.
3. SOAIY Baby Sleep Soother Shusher Sound Machines // It’s relatively cheap, portable, rechargeable, and can last for 30 hours. What else can I say? The battery is awesome and it has hooks to attach to the baby car seat or stroller. If you’re looking for a nice loud white noise machine small enough to travel, that you can set for all night, this is the one for you.
Babies spent nine months snug and secure inside the womb. After they are born, it makes a lot of sense to replicate that same snug, being-held sensation to calm babies and helps them to get to sleep.
Swaddling a baby also can be beneficial to avoid disrupting his sleep. Newborn babies have Moro reflex (or often called a startle reflex), that occurs when babies are startled by a loud sound of movements. In response, the baby will extend their arms and legs, arch their back, and then curl everything in again. If this happens during sleep time, the reflex will often wake up the baby and thus disrupting his sleep.
I’m a big fan of swaddling babies at least for the first 6 months. Plus, they look insanely cute when turning into a baby burrito.
Yes, there are babies that seem to hate swaddling and would frequently try to get out of it. This happened to my second baby. But in my opinion, it’s not that she hates being swaddled, it’s because I need a better swaddle blanket to keep her from wiggling out of it. Once she is snug inside the right kind of swaddle, she would stop fussing to get out and sleep happily.
Another thing to consider when choosing the right kind of swaddle blanket is the practicality. Yes, you can use a regular muslin square. But during night time, you wouldn’t want to move the baby too much that will wake him up. Or turning on the light so you can fold the blanket. Um, no thank you. I prefer to use the regular one on early morning wraps after diaper changes.
Much like with baby bottles, you might need to face trial and error to see what works best for your baby. Once you find the right one, then you’ll want to stock up. I recommend getting at least three.
1. Happiest Baby Sleepea Swaddle // This one is designed by a top pediatrician and the world’s leading swaddling expert, Dr. Harvey Karp. I’m a big fan of his 5S’s method so I tried his product to see if it’s any different than other swaddles. Well turns out, it’s the best thing ever. So sad they don’t have it sooner (like, around 2013 when my firstborn needs it). I can wrap my baby in 5 seconds flat. I love every feature of this swaddle, like the quiet velcro, the soft organic cotton, to the 2-way zipper that opens top or bottom for easy diaper changes. Dr. Karp certainly knows what the baby (and mom) needs to sleep safer and longer.
2. The Ollie Swaddle // Like mentioned above, there is a period when my second one would always try to wiggle her arms out when being swaddled.
I’ve tried the Miracle Blanket, SwaddleMe, and Halo one, and while they are great, the little Houdini can still get out of them. Then after some swaddle research I came across the Ollie, but boy it was expensive. Well, I decided to try anyway and the first night on she would sleep 6 hours straight with her arms in! I thought if the double price could mean 3 more hours stretch of sleep, I’m totally ok with the high cost. I only have one and would alternate between this and the Sleepea swaddle for my second one.
3. Halo 100% Cotton Sleepsack Swaddle // This is my first’s favorite and has been around for a long time. It comes in many sizes and colors (but I love the grey ones!). My newborn was about 7 lbs and wears the newborn size until about 5 to 6 weeks old. It is soft and comfortable but secure enough to keep his arms in. And the reverse zipper meant I could change the baby’s diaper half asleep and still get it right without fully waking the baby. There’s a reason this swaddle has been around for a long time, and it still has rave reviews as one of the best swaddle in the market.
After the baby is cleaned, clothed, and fed, the white noise is on and the room is dark, the sleeping routine is pretty much done. I didn’t rock the baby to sleep but laying them on the crib instead. Usually, after a good amount of milk, they will be out in a short time.
That said, there are a couple of more things that my babies loved during sleep time and I believe contributes to the good night sleep (or nap). But honestly, they are not really must-haves. You can still achieve and establish a baby’s good sleeping habits whether you buy them or not.
1. Owlet Smart Green Sock Baby Monitor // This one serves only for my own peace of mind. I can’t tell you how many times my baby was sound asleep and I would wake up frantically just to stare at their chest to make sure they are breathing. Or even worse, I’d place my hand on their chest to make sure and end up waking them up. I may sound crazy, maybe it’s the hormones or anxiety, who knows. SIDS scares the crap out of me.
But this thing can track the baby’s heart rate and oxygen level, and notify me if something appears to be wrong. I have not experienced any false alarms, so for me, I don’t think I would get any peaceful sleep at night without my owlet.
2. SNOO Smart Sleeper by Happiest Baby // This thing is so darn expensive. If it weren’t so highly recommended (even one of my friends said it’s a “game-changer”) I would say no, thank you, bed is a bed.
But turns out, this is not just a baby bed.
As I love Dr. Karp’s 5S method, the Snoo is combining the gentle rocking, shushing, and swaddle built in a bed. I had this for my second baby, and when she starts to wake up and fussing, the bassinet will gently rock her back to sleep. Unless she has a wet diaper or hungry, most of the time I didn’t have to do anything. The Snoo takes care of it. It also made for the safest sleep possible. And didn’t I say I love their swaddle too? If the price is too much for you, you also can rent Snoo monthly from their website. Will this work for everyone? Probably not. But for me, it was kind of a miracle and absolutely worth the cost.
3. Philips Avent Soothie Pacifier // My second baby couldn’t soothe herself to sleep without this. This one is the closest to the look and feel of what a nursing mother has. But his older brother hated pacifier. Because pacifier preference is individual to each baby, I wouldn’t label this as a must-have. Either they would love it or hate it. But if they do, stock up a lot because this small thing can get lost anytime.
To end this rather long post, I just want to say that the newborn phase is indeed very hard to go through, and you will be sleep-deprived, but it will end soon. We have been there, in a battle trying to get to the other side and it seems like it’s taking forever. But I promise it will happen before you even realize it. Their little personality starts to emerge, and you start seeing the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
Do you have other sleeping must have that works for your newborn to sleep faster and longer? Or a special routine that you want to share? I would love to hear them! Please comment below.