Learn brilliant strategies for exhausted new mommies.

By Michele Bender and Emily Elveru

Establish a routine.

Believe in the power of a bedtime routine. Studies show that the more nights during the week your baby follows one, the better she’ll sleep. Try an evening bath to mark the end of the day; even if you skip the soap, the warm water can induce drowsiness.

Offer one last feeding.

Before you or your partner goes to sleep, gently wake your infant to nurse or bottle-feed. (This will help him wake less often in the coming hours.) Then put him back down while he’s still awake but drowsy

Don't make eye contact.

You probably know to nix playing or singing during those wee-hour feedings, but you should also avoid gazing into your baby's eyes late at night. "When your baby locks eyes with you, it's almost like she's drinking a double latte – her heart rate speeds up, her blood pressure rises, and she becomes more awake," says Alan Greene, M.D., author of From First Kicks to First Steps. Do make plenty of eye contact during the day so she knows it's time to be awake (plus, it boosts brain development and bonding).

Regulate the temp.

You know how you sleep better when the room's a little cooler? Well, your bundle of joy is no different. Keep your baby's room warmer during the day and cooler at night, Dr. Greene suggests. The optimal temperature for infant sleep is between 65 and 70 degrees F. If you don't have a thermostat you can control, leave the window slightly open or use a fan at night. (Just make sure your baby sleeps far away from windows and fans, and that the room never gets too hot or too cold.)

Use dimmers.

Light is one way to regulate babies' (and adults') circadian rhythm – the body's internal clock. Plug your lamps into dimmer units (available at hardware stores), and when the sun goes down in the evening, lower the lights – even if your baby isn't going right to bed. To reinforce these rhythms, make sure your home is brightly lit during the day, even if he's napping.

Make some noise.

Don't give your child the silent treatment. "Amazingly, the sounds they heard 24/7 in the uterus were about twice as loud as a vacuum cleaner, so babies love and need strong rhythmic noise," Dr. Karp says. Use a white-noise machine, a radio tuned to transmit static, or a nature-sounds CD – or let her sleep near the dishwasher.

Set up a baby swing.

If you swaddle and use white noise and your baby's still waking up every hour or two, add a baby swing to the mix. Put your swaddled baby in the reclined seat and buckle her in. "It's a myth that you're starting a bad habit," says Dr. Karp, who adds that fewer than 5 percent of babies need the swing technique. You can gradually stop using it when she's better able to soothe herself.

Cut the caffeine.

You know too much java can rev you up and leave you wide-eyed. It can do the same for your little one if you're breastfeeding. Caffeine from coffee and soda can turn up in breast milk. "A large coffee drink can provide enough caffeine to affect a newborn," Dr. Greene says. "It accumulates in his body quickly and stays with him longer than it does with you – about 96 hours."

Fill your baby up.

Starting at around 5 p.m., decrease the time between your child's feedings. For example, if you usually feed her every three hours, do so every two hours in the evening. "This strategy gave my daughter a full stomach before I put her to bed and helped her sleep four- to five-hour stretches by week three," says Louise Johnson, a mother of two from Norwalk, Connecticut.

Give diaper duty a rest.

The truth is, you don't have to change your baby with each feeding. "If the diaper isn't soaked through or soiled and your child doesn't have extra-sensitive skin or existing diaper rash, skip this step," suggests Michel Cohen, M.D., author of The New Basics: A-to-Z Baby & Child Care for the Modern Parent. Just use absorbent nighttime diapers and a thick diaper cream to protect his skin.

Bypass burping.

Many breastfeeding babies nurse less avidly at night, so it's not a must to wait (and wait) for that little gust of air. "At night, she'll probably be eating more slowly and therefore swallowing less air – so burping usually isn't necessary," Dr. Cohen explains. See how your child does without the burp; skipping just one step in the feeding routine can give you some extra shut-eye.

Feed him a bottle.

If your breastfeeding newborn wakes often, make it a goal to get him used to drinking your pumped breast milk from a bottle so you and your spouse can trade off feedings. By sharing the night shift, you both get to enjoy longer stretches of sleep.

Do a quick spa treatment.

Studies done at the Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine found that newborns who had a bedtime massage fell asleep faster and slept more soundly than those who didn't have one. Before bed, give your child a 15-minute massage using slow strokes, moderate pressure, and a baby-safe oil.

Breathe easy.

One way to get into – and pass on – a mellow mood late at night? "Slow down your breathing. It sends your baby a signal to be calm," explains Georgia Witkin, Ph.D., author of The Female Stress Survival Guide. To pace yourself, use headphones to listen to music that's slower than your heartbeat (anything with fewer than 70 beats per minute, like a ballad), then breathe to the rhythm.

Give her a cozy sleep spot.

A bassinet can be moved into your bedroom and may improve the quality of your newborn's snoozetime. "Babies tend to sleep better in bassinets partly because they feel safer and more enclosed there, and partly because they're closer to their parents," Dr. Greene says. A co-sleeper can have the same effect.

See the light.

When it's time to rise and shine, get into bright light ASAP. "Exposure to light tells your biological clock that you should be alert," explains James B. Maas, Ph.D., author of Remmy and the Brain Train: Traveling Through the Land of Good Sleep. Head out for a walk with your baby or sit with her by a sunny window. It'll stimulate both of you and help you remember the one other thing that's predictable about motherhood: No matter how tough the night shift is, the sun will come up tomorrow.

Toddler Sleep Tips

Make it fun.

It’s normal for a toddler to resist bedtime; kids this age want to practice their newfound independence (plus, they have major FOMO). Give her choices: Would she like to stomp up the stairs like an elephant to get to her room or tiptoe like a mouse? You can also create a chart together that shows every step of her bedtime routine, including how many books you read. This way, you choose when your toddler goes to sleep, but she gets to pick the details.

Head to bed sooner.

You might think this will lead to an earlier morning, but both babies and toddlers wake up less often and get more total sleep when they hit the sack earlier. Shoot for a bedtime of 7:30 or 8 p.m. for your toddler and expect him to sleep for about ten hours.

Delay an early riser.

While you can’t change a newborn’s wake-up time (he’ll cry when he’s hungry), you can adjust a toddler’s. Try it by using a wake-up light. You can schedule it to glow at a certain hour so he’ll know exactly when it’s okay to call you or burst through your door.

Parents Magazine


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