I have been writing this blog post for months. I am not joking. All those naps where you are trapped under your newborn baby? I have been mentally writing blog posts during those times. And during the times late at night while I watched Kieran sleep (that’s right, my kid slept and I would lay there thinking)…. That’s how much sleep I was getting. But before I started getting sleep, I was like most new mothers – completely sleep obsessed. When I was expecting, I tried not to dwell on future things like losing sleep once the baby arrived as I didn’t want to create expectations of what it would or would not be like. I presumed I would be obsessed with my own sleep (RIP sleep pre-child). Little did I know that it would blossom into an obsession with my newborn’s sleep. I quickly found out that my infant’s sleep directly affected my own sleep. That is when I realized that newborn sleep is serious business. Like can’t think about anything else serious.
Newborn Sleep Is Serious
There is so little you can control when you have a baby (hello new unpredictable life!) but I do believe that you can definitely foster positive sleep routines from an early age. I learned within a week of having Kieran that sleep would make or break the next day. I know that sounds incredibly dramatic, but it does. And thus, I embarked on my journey for newborn sleep bliss (my definition of this is getting stretches of sleep longer than two hours!).
A few important things to share, I exclusively breast feed (EBF) my baby (breast milk metabolizes quicker than formula fed babies thus EBF babies wake up more frequently) and we co-sleep. I know that co-sleeping isn’t for all parents but I felt like it was the way to go to maintain my sanity. I encourage anyone who is interested in co-sleeping or bedsharing to read Nighttime Parenting by William Sears and Sweet Sleep by Wiessinger, West, Smith and Pitman (Leche League International). This is a good time to mention the Safe Sleep Seven. Please go read about how to safely co-sleep before attempting it. Even in this day and age of being inundated with information, new breast feeding mothers are often still shamed (or feel shamed in some manner) into thinking that co-sleeping is not safe. I don’t feel like getting into the politics of co-sleeping and know that parents choose different sleep environments/strategies based on what works for them – so let’s just leave it there.
Now, back to our sleep story. When I became a mom, I was incredibly thankful to be able to turn to a large network of friends to discuss things with over text, messaging online and in person. I got to hear a multitude of stories from friends and acquaintances and learn what worked for their babies. Every baby is different but there seemed to be some common elements. I think that is what most baby books discuss – such as The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp. Together with all this knowledge (formal and informal), James and I set out to figure out what would work for our baby. We tried different swaddles, we attempted different soothing techniques, we waited for the cues… and then things just came together for us. A friend told me a funny story about becoming desperate parents of a newborn who wasn’t sleeping. You become insanely superstitious and will do anything to get sleep. She recounted wearing the same clothes at bedtime as they thought it would help their daughter sleep. The crucial key to our newborn sleep bliss? Two very important sleep aids that I will sing the praises of for years to come (I have been dishing out this advice religiously since Kieran was 2 months old): we began swaddling Kieran in the Miracle Blanket and co-sleeping with him in the Dockatot. These two magical items transformed sleep for us. Here is my (uneducated) attempt at explaining why this combination worked so well for us (…until very recently, more about that later!).
First off, the Dockatot is basically an amazing cozy baby nest – an elongated “donut” that babies fit snugly into. That sounds amazing, right? Well, Kieran loved it. For us as new parents, I was so unsure of what I wanted to do sleep-wise – crib, bassinet, bedshare, a combo of these things? I grew up bedsharing but I didn’t want to assume that I was going to do it as well and maybe not right away. As a new mother who had a very hungry little baby on her hands (and some terrible postpartum mommy thumb), I was feeding Kieran a lot in the night, so having him close to me was necessary for pure survival. I quickly realized after the first week that Kieran needed to join me in bed. He wasn’t far (sleeping in a bassinet pulled up beside me) but that was too painful and caused too much disruption and arousal for the baby. The Dockatot was the perfect solution for the anxious new mom. If you want to read about the safety aspect of using one, Dockatot provides information surrounding safety and some additional baby sleep tips.
Step two for us was finding a swaddle. When Kieran was first born, we diligently swaddled him in simple, DIY 30″ x 30″ flannel blankets. I ordered some beautiful organic flannel online and my stepmom helped turn down the edges. Was perfect for keeping him cozy but as Kieran quickly grew his arms began a’flailing. We were struggling to contain him in regular blanket swaddles. We tried a few hand-me-downs before a colleague of mine (who I am sure researched the hell out of what swaddle to use) suggested I try the Miracle Blanket. Bingo! We found a safe way to burrito little Kieran. Now it is important for me to note that as part of the Safe Sleep Seven, you should not swaddle a baby if they are in the bed with you – but since we were using the Dockatot, I was able to swaddle. Between Kieran being cozy and safely contained beside me and the security that our swaddle provided, we began getting more sleep in a single stretch from our baby. It was honestly pure newborn sleep bliss. We created our own sleep routine and he began going down anytime between 7-8pm. His stretches grew and I was able to benefit heavily from these sleep stretches. Once Kieran woke up from his stretch, I would pull him out of the Dockatot and unswaddle him for feeding and changing. Then I would curl him into my nook and we would fall back asleep. This was our routine from 4-weeks-old to 3.5-months-old. It was a glorious time for the most part. I have shared this magic combination with many friends with new babies and with most of them, it has also helped. Sometimes it might just be one or the other. I credit the Dockatot with allowing me to rest soundly without fear in those early days and letting us both get a good chunk of sleep….We were both happy and well rested. With naps, I didn’t always use the Dockatot as Kieran was always less predictable in the day nap-wise but here and there, he would also sleep for 1-2 hours happily in the Dockatot.
Want to take your co-sleeping to the next level and just get luxurious? Get yourself nursing pajamas. Honestly, they are amazing and let’s all be honest, in the early days, those clothes are being worn well past wake up. I loved mine from Boob Design. They are so lived in that if I have any more children, I will have to buy another pair. They are so soft and make night feeds a million times easier.
Image source: Boob Design Instagram
One last honest personal story about why I love the Dockatot. The semi we are attached to has been under construction since the day Kieran was born. Yup. Luckily for him, he is use to the jack hammering, shouting and banging – me? Not so much. One day, I went out to run errands and got a message from our concerned dog walker who upon returning Nan to our apartment, saw a spray foam insulation trunk working next door. She was concerned as she knew that it wasn’t safe for humans or animals to be exposed to those fumes. Unexpectedly, we were thrust into the situation where we had to evacuate our home with only 5 minutes to pack up with our newborn and pets in tow. Seriously. Our first night away with a baby and it was happening on the fly. As I packed up the essentials for an overnight with Kieran and the pets, I threw the Dockatot in its convenient travel bag and drove off to my moms for the night. I had no idea how things would go. I figured we could be up all night with the baby but at least he wasn’t inhaling foam insulation fumes. I am not joking, Kieran slept the most typical night ever – he had zero reaction to being shifted to a new house and room. My mom even told us in the morning that she didn’t hear him all night in the bedroom next door! What a champ. But I guess in his eyes, everything felt pretty much the same thanks to the Dockatot.
I know I have been writing about baby stuff a lot lately, but friends: having a baby is all consuming and I feel like by writing this blog post, I am just making texting with friends/family/followers a heck of a lot easier. Whenever I mention or have posted about the Dockatot, I get a flood of questions. Since we started using it with Kieran and experienced so much success, I recommend it to all of my expectant mom friends. I personally also loved having a second cover for when my super soaker kid leaked.
Some other newborn sleep tips that I read about that were helpful with our newborn: Babies need more REM sleep than adults (so it is OUR job to put them to bed more often. In the first 4 weeks we made the mistake of letting Kieran decide when to sleep which lead to many hysterical nightly freak outs). Babies have no concept of day or night (thankfully Kieran seemed to get that memo early!). In the early days do not worry about ‘spoiling’ a newborn – they have no cognitive concept of manipulation or learning bad habits, do what works. Babies do not usually fall asleep on their own and need about 20 minutes to fall into REM, so do whatever you need to do to get them through the first 20 minutes then put them down. Lie down with your baby once they fall asleep, stay with them until you hit the 20 minute mark. Putting a big hand on them helps when they start to be restless (nothing like a big old dad hand to help settle a baby). White noise is magic and works, we used the SkipHop moonlight and melodies soother. If you are co-sleeping, do everything you can to NOT get out of bed (so burp and change your baby in bed overnight). Stop doing the over night diaper change once your baby stops pooping over night (nobody told me this until Kieran was quite old!!! Big regret of mine). Lastly, most babies have the ‘evening fussy period’ or Witching Hour as we called it. Really, it was witching HOURS. Kieran would get so over tired and just go crazy. It was bad. We couldn’t soothe him or figure out what was happening. In his newborn way, he was trying to tell us that he was getting too tired. One last thing that Sweet Sleep pointed out that I found incredibly helpful – have sleep routines/patterns NOT schedules.
Wow enough advice from me yet? One last thing – do what works. I became militant about our sleep routines. I wanted everything to be comfortable and safe for Kieran and I at night. We created an environment that was comfortable and maximized sleep for both of us – we slept alone for awhile (no partners or pets), had a white noise machine, ran a humidifier, kept a small diaper change kit on the bed and lots of water on my bedside table. These things made my life so much easier. And lastly, no technology between 9pm – 7am. Seriously. Don’t look at a bright screen, it only tells your brain to wake up.
And on that note, I will just say, enjoy baby sleep while you can…. because as I found out, it changes. When Kieran turned 3.5 months old, we entered the dreaded sleep regression stage – he is changing rapidly and wakes often during the night. We are weathering the turbulent storm and continue to at almost 5 months of age. Teething. Developmental changes. Sleep evolution. All the fun stuff. The nights may not be going as smoothly as before but he sure makes up for it during the day with giggles, smiles, his engagement with us, rolling over and learning new skills daily!
Disclosure: Some links in this blog post are sponsored links and some of the products mentioned were supplied to me by Dockatot for me to try. The opinions and text are all mine. Honestly. I would go out and buy this product if I had not been given it. It is worth it’s weight in gold when you are sleep deprived!