The biggest lesson I learned when I became a mom: Nothing is predictable--except for a shortage of shut-eye. "It's a given that babies get up a lot during the first three months, and it's important to have realistic expectations," says Harvey Karp, M.D., creator of the DVD and book, The Happiest Baby on the Block.
By now, you've heard the basic tips for making those 2 a.m. wake-up calls more bearable: You know to keep the lights low and feed your baby before you hit the sack. So what else can you do? Get clued in to some lesser-known nighttime survival strategies.
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).
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?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.)
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.
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.
If you swaddle and use white noise and your baby's still waking up every hour or two, add the 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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
If your breastfeeding newborn wakes often, make it a goal to get him used to drinking your pumped breastmilk 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.
Everyone's heard about using blackout shades in the baby's room, but put them in your own too. You'll sleep better at night, later in the morning, and snooze more easily during the day while your baby's napping.
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.
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.
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.
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.