by Lindsay Loring, sleep consultant
Congratulations on your new baby! You’ve navigated your fertility journey, nourished your body for 9-months and had a successful birth. You did it!
I wish I could tell you that the hard part is over!
But, try not to worry. As a certified pediatric sleep consultant and a Mama to twins, I’m here to tell you that it will get better and you will sleep again.
What to Expect
As a first time Mom to twins, I was blind-sided by the sheer exhaustion and anxiety I felt just moments after giving birth. To my dismay, those feelings did not go away; they only got worse. But that is my personal experience and everyone’s story looks different. I think it’s important to keep the discussion of postpartum depression open and honest. In addition, knowing the effects of sleep deprivation on PPD has fueled my passion for helping families get better sleep.
In the days and weeks after birth, your sole duty is to take care of yourself and your new child. Everything else can wait. Order food, ask family for help and let the laundry pile up. Take the time to bond with your child, but also, it’s okay if it doesn’t feel like a natural journey for you. Speaking from experience, it was actually quite hard to establish a bond with my daughters. But nearly 3-years later, we are closer than ever. Give yourself grace and time to heal. If you feel feelings that do not seem right to you, contact your OBGYN immediately.
Newborn sleep is erratic, and they need TONS of it. But that doesn’t mean you will be getting tons of sleep yourself. Their sleep periods are unpredictable and often their days and nights are confused. Which means, parties at 3AM for hours, and it will only take a few days for your sleep deprivation to set in. Knowing this, I want to talk about what you CAN do to optimize sleep for you and your baby.
But first, I want to always talk about safety.
You may remember setting up your baby registry, and within a day or less you were seeing advertisements for every baby contraption on the market claiming to “help your baby sleep through the night”. What we don’t know as first time parents is the misinformation and harm that some of these products can be responsible for. Graco Rock N’ Play is a prime example. They reported 32 infant deaths over a 7-year period related to the incline sleeper and its improper use.
Where can my baby sleep?
When sleeping unsupervised your baby must be in a sleep space designated as a “crib,” “bassinet,” or “playard” (more commonly known as a Pack n Play.) Be sure to look for these words when you’re shopping!
Products that sound similar or Add-ons that are marketed as amazing sleep miracles (like the Dock A Tot or the once popular Rock N Play) will be labeled as a sleeper and even be visually appealing in their ads. You will see a photo of a shabby chic nursery with eye appealing colors and trends, but if you look closer you will see things like, crib bumpers, incline sleepers, blankets, mobiles, pillows, etc. Be sure to check the fine print. If it’s not one of the 3 items mentioned above, it will clearly say on the product DO NOT USE WHILE UNSUPERVISED.
The AAP has made it simple when it comes to safe sleep. Just remember, ABC= Alone, back, crib or bassinet.
That means no bumpers, no blankets, pillows, loose clothing or stuffed animals. It’s actually quite hard to find photos of safe sleep environments on social media because it appears “cold” or “not inviting”. There is a reason this environment is recommend as pairing these environments with placing baby on their back has reduced SUIDS occurrences as much as 40%.
But hey, I wasn’t perfect. I made some questionable decisions because I was so tired. My husband had to sit me down one morning and make me promise I wouldn’t lay in bed with our 4-week old who was lost somewhere between my arm and my pillow. We vowed to make changes from that day forward, and at 9-weeks we had moved our twins into their room and at 14-weeks I felt comfortable with gentle sleep training.
How long do newborns sleep?
Your baby will sleep 15-18 hours in a 24-hour period. They will need to return to sleep after about 45-minutes to 1 hour. So realistically, your baby will wake, eat, have their diaper changed and be ready to sleep again.
Back is best
If you are wondering if a newborn can sleep on their side, the answer is No. Studies have found that the number one risk reduction factor in safe sleep is placing babies on their back to fall asleep. This should be done each time a baby is being put down for a nap or bedtime. Many babies do not prefer sleeping on their back, which can make this one of the most difficult safety guidelines for new parents to follow. Your baby is used to sleeping in the fetal position, likely on stomach or side while in utero, so sleeping on their back takes practice. The good news is swaddling helps this transition.
There are plenty of different swaddles on the market. My biggest piece of advice here is to be sure it fits very snug with arms down. A common misconception with the swaddle is parents think their baby hates it. Generally speaking, this happens when baby is over tired and parents are having a hard time triggering the calming reflex. Swaddling, in addition to white noise and jiggling can work to calm your fussy child. Transition your baby out of the swaddle at first signs of rolling.
Can my baby sleep in the carseat?
This is important! Yes, falling asleep in the car will happen. It mimics the womb and will soothe your baby almost instantly. Double check that your seat is properly installed, and the harnesses and straps are being used properly. Don’t add any aftermarket pillows or accessories to increase comfort because they could be hazardous.
However, taking the car seat out of your vehicle and placing it on a flat surface is not considered safe. It changes the angle at which your baby’s neck is positioned and can bring their chin too far forward to their chest, blocking their airway.
Want to bedshare?
I recommend using a co-sleeper bassinet that opens up to your bedside or use a crib with one side removed., that is side-cared to your bed. Place your baby in your bed for a feeding and then move them back to their own space to sleep.
How can I reduce risk?
You’ve told me a ton of things I can’t do…What can I do in the beginning?
My newborn guide is perfect for first and even second time parents. In the guide, I’ve laid out actionable techniques and things you can do to help soothe your baby and prioritize sleep. I tell you what to expect so that you aren’t constantly questioning what is going on, which in turn decreases your anxiety and your baby’s fussiness. Shop my newborn guide here.
In addition, the 5 S’s invented by Dr. Harvey Karp is where you want to start. When done right and with intention, you can calm your fussy baby and achieve sleep easier. Triggering your baby’s calming reflex is your end goal. The 5 S’s will help you do that.
The first 3 months of your child’s life will be full of ‘firsts’ and many sleepless nights, but it’s never too soon to create a routine and environment that is conducive to sleep. Implementing a quick bedtime routine along with the soothing techniques I mentioned above will help you lay a path to better sleep.
AUTHOR BIO: Lindsay Loring is a certified pediatric sleep consultant and owner of Tweet Dreamzz. Lindsay is certified through The Family Sleep Institute and has completed studies in baby and toddler sleep, as well as breastfeeding support and SIDS Awareness. You can find Lindsay providing expert sleep tips on her social media accounts and she hosts a FREE Q & A session every Friday.
Sleep is a passion of Lindsay's, and she truly believes it makes up the groundwork of a family's dynamic. Through her personalized coaching, Lindsay designs plans that will ensure the success of the child according to the family's goals. To learn more about Lindsay, visit her at: www.tweetdreamzz.com.
Considering the current climate around birth in this country, I wanted to write about something that may be deeply painful but needs to be addressed. A lot of birthing people are being asked to give birth alone, without their support system, or with their support system on a video chat or phone call. It is an absolutely heart-wrenching way to give birth, and I know this from experience.
When I had my daughter 2 years ago, my husband was waiting in the Middle East for a plane to fly home to us. He had left when I was 14 weeks pregnant, barely showing and only just getting over the nausea. He finally did arrive back home one week after my daughter was born. I do not write this for pity’s sake, but hopefully to encourage those people getting ready to give birth that do not know if their partner will be allowed to be with them. So I’m going to write about a few things that I went through in my pregnancy and birth experience that those people might be going through, and how I got through it all alone.
A lot of birthing people are being asked to give birth alone, without their support system, or with their support system on a video chat or phone call."
Like I said, my husband was gone by the time I was 14 weeks pregnant. Our situation was obviously different, but the lack of a partner is the lack of a partner. He was across the world, in a dangerous place, and I didn’t know if he would come home at all, let alone in time for me to give birth. I’ve heard from families that they’re facing the same kinds of issues during the pandemic. “The doctor’s office won’t let my husband into the room for ultrasounds.” “I don’t know if they’ll let him be at the birth.” My husband was not at any of my ultrasounds, of which there were many, except for the first “dating” ultrasound at 11 weeks. It is hard sitting in a room with people you don’t know, excited and giddy at the sight of your baby’s toes and nose and belly and having no one to share it with. The technicians were always willing to print extra photos, however, since they knew I was alone. So ask the technicians if they’ll print you some extra keepsake ultrasounds.
During your pregnancy, it is absolutely paramount that you educate yourself. You have to be the person in the room willing to ask questions of your doctors and midwives, because there is no one else there to advocate for you. Find your voice, educate yourself, and do not be afraid to ask the questions you need answered. I was much more assertive with my doctors and midwives during my third pregnancy than my second, because I had to be. If we’ve learned nothing else during these last few months, we’ve learned that we can do hard things. Take a childbirth education class, research every aspect of birth, hire a doula experienced with virtual work just in case, and be ready and open to talking with your providers.
Now, to the hardest part. Giving birth alone. It is not guaranteed at this moment that you will have to give birth alone without support. Most hospitals will allow you to have at least one support person there. But I encourage you to pre-mourn the experience you wanted. Acknowledge that times are different now, and while you can still have an absolutely beautiful empowered birth, there are things that may not be possible. Educating yourself helps here too. Know the questions to ask your providers if they come in and recommend things to ‘speed things along’. Research the policies of your birthing place to see what changes they’ve made during the pandemic. And recognize that you are doing an incredibly brave thing. Acknowledge the greatness and the beauty and the wonder in yourself that you are capable of giving birth alone if you must. And take a million photos. Video call your partner during labor if they can’t be with you. Enlist the help of your nurses and doctors and midwives. They feel the weight of this burden and want to help you lift it. When I gave birth to my daughter, the anesthesiologist held my phone with my husband on a video call throughout the entire surgery. He did not have to do that. The OB who delivered my daughter sat with me and patiently answered my questions about the surgery I was about to have, making sure I was an active part of the decision. The OR nurse found the perfect song to play on her personal phone so my daughter could be born to the sound of David Bowie. And they did this because I asked.
The same goes for after your wonderful baby is born. Take a million pictures, and enlist the help of your nurses. I gave birth at a baby friendly hospital with no nursery, and the nurses took turns holding my darling girl so I could sleep for a few hours in between nursing. I will be forever grateful for that.
It is not guaranteed at this moment that you will have to give birth alone without support."
I also want to touch on a topic that is not fully mine, but needs to be addressed. The guilt of the partner that misses it. It doesn’t have to be a partner that misses either. It could be a mother, a best friend, a sister. My husband has struggled with the guilt of missing his daughter’s birth for the last two years. It’s a hard thing to grapple with. So it’s important that we address the guilt and the grief a partner may be going through in this situation and remind them that it is not their fault in any way. There is nothing they could do or have done to make it this way. And maybe help them find a way to be there in other ways for the new baby, and for you. Help them brainstorm these ways now, so they do not feel they are left out. Something quite sweet that a friend of mine did for his wife was decorate the house when she brought their son home for the first time. He bought a special garland, put a sign in the yard, had fresh flowers waiting for her. Find a way to make that moment when they meet their child for the first time special. I had a onesie printed for my daughter to wear at the airport that said, “I’ve Waited My Whole Life To Meet You, Daddy,” and it made my husband cry (quite a big feat). Find these little special things to do, and make it better for them in the ways that you can.
Giving birth alone is one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through. And while it was lonely, I worked hard to make sure that I had a good experience, and I feel like I did. I also recognize that it pales in comparison to the situation at hand. Giving birth alone during the pandemic is a different beast, and I applaud anyone going into that situation. And my God, what a story you’ll have to tell your child.
I have been called to birth work since the first plus sign I ever got, in a dark basement apartment 13 years ago. I knew then that my life would be changed. I soaked up every single bit of information I could from every person I knew that had given birth. My grandmother had numerous miscarriages for almost a decade until she gave birth to my mother. My mother had a surprise pregnancy with my sister, then a very planned pregnancy with me 8 years later. I was the first of my friends to be pregnant, and became a sounding board for their pregnancies and births later.
I love everything about the birthing body. It’s fascinating to me, what we go through. The physical and emotional pain, the biological functions that bring new lives into the world. It took me until my third pregnancy to realize that what I wanted was to help families in their transitions, to guide them over the precipice into parenthood.
It happened quickly. I became a postpartum doula after an absolutely shockingly hard pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience, and it has always felt easy to me. I love helping women sort through the first few weeks after birth, doing their laundry, holding them when they cry, cooking them good food.
My husband got military orders early in my career as a postpartum doula. We were finally moving back to our home state, a move we made because of aging parents and little children we want them to know. I decided that with a social safety net of family and friends close enough to watch children through the nights and days of laboring with new parents, I would finally dive into the research and work of training to become a birth doula. I studied, I read, I researched and googled my way through a comprehensive birth doula training course. I was scheduled to go to Chicago in March, how fun! I booked a private room in the AirBnB we were to learn in, I set aside money carefully for the fun things I wanted to do in my favorite city. We moved to Illinois at the end of December. And then a pandemic began.
By my daughter’s second birthday in March, it was clear that my training was not going to happen in Chicago, and that we were to hunker down for the foreseeable future. I booked two birth clients the evening of March 13th, and then the country shut down.
But we innovated, we learned how to use Skype and Google Meets and Facebook messenger video. It felt like we were all one people, united against this invisible illness, that we all loved each other.
I attended BEST’s first all virtual doula training. I holed myself up in our walk-in closet with my computer and I sat in 12 to 14 hour Google Meetings, scribbling notes and asking questions, and breaking off into groups to do mock births. All my careful research and all of my learning really came into focus. Could I do this on a computer screen? Doula work is tactile, we need to be in the room, feeling the things happening. But I learned that I absolutely can do this work virtually, and I feel called to do it as safely as possible now.
Two weeks after my certifying weekend with BEST, my client texted me that she thought her water might have broken. We had spent a lot of time on video calls together, talking through the possibilities and her birth preferences, and I taught her husband how to use a rebozo for pain relief and belly sifting. We had managed to get her breech baby to turn!
When she had her baby early that morning, I was on her husband’s phone, in a video chat, gently encouraging both of them, reminding them of her birth preferences and making suggestions as I could. I was in awe. Her medical providers were so gentle and patient with her, and willing to listen to me. I was in the room, and she knew I was there. She labored beautifully and had a completely unmedicated birth, which is exactly what she wanted. Her husband wrote me an incredibly sweet thank you message, and last week I finally got to visit her and hold her baby for a moment (masked and hands freshly washed, of course).
This year is not going the way any of us pictured it. And the work of a doula in a pandemic is hard on us, on our hearts and souls. We want to be in the room with you, holding your hand and wiping your brow, looking into your eyes as we assure you that you can do this and your baby is almost here. But I haven’t lost hope that we all love each other and care about each other and want to keep everyone safe. I am proud of the virtual work I can do for my clients, and I want every birthing person to know that these incredible circumstances mean that you are incredible people. Learn everything you can so you can have the birth you want, and as your doulas, we’ll be there. Even if we’re just staring at the ceiling, forgotten in a video chat, as we listen to your birth happen. We can hold space across the technological void.