You've witnessed that picture-perfect movie scene where a supermodel mom sings "Hush Little Baby" as her little one drifts peacefully to sleep. However, reality provides a much different scenario, complete with a frazzled, sleep-deprived mom begging her screaming infant to get some shut-eye. From birth to 3 months, it's basically impossible to train your infant into sleeping on your schedule, so it's crucial that you adapt to your tiny snoozer's demands as best as you can, while keeping life bearable for you and the rest of your family.
- Be safe. Even if your baby stubbornly refuses to catch any z's in her crib, you still need it to be a safe environment for her. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that healthy infants be placed on their backs to sleep, not on their stomachs. Fortunately, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has decreased by more than 50 percent since this recommendation was first made in 1992. Keep fuzzy friends out of your baby's crib, and avoid loose bedding, blankets and pillows. To make sure she's comfortable enough to snooze, keep the thermostat around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Keeping close. During your little one's first three months, you'll probably find it hard to let her out of your sight. The good news? Doctors fully endorse your hovering. "Keep your baby near you when you sleep so you can respond quickly," says Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., author of Depression in New Mothers. Consider a crib, bassinet, or co-sleeper that attaches to the side of your bed. "The AAP recommends that babies sleep in their parents' rooms until they are 6 months old, so they will be around any way," says Dr. Kendall-Tackett.
- Consider a bedtime routine. At this age, it's difficult—if not impossible—to train your baby to sleep. "I think you can begin a ritual if you want, but babies this age are not usually cooperative with them," says Dr. Kendall-Tackett. "The reason is found in their biology. They need to eat at night." However, it's never too early to establish signals that bedtime is near. Sing a lullaby, read a book, or give her a massage. A study from the University of Warwick revealed that massage may help infants under six months sleep better, cry less and be less stressed.
- Learn your baby's signs. Spending day after day with your baby, you'll learn her "sleepy" signals. Since most babies are ready to sleep after 1-2 hours of being awake, watch for when she becomes fussy, wiggly, rubs her eyes or spaces out and seems disinterested in you or other stimulation—it might mean she's tired.
- Let her try to fall asleep on her own. There are many different sleep training approaches and it's up to you to find what works best for your family. By the time your baby's 6 weeks old, try putting her down while she's drowsy, but still awake, to help her learn to fall asleep on her own. However, don't feel like you need to let baby cry it out. "Just for the record, I think it's quite cruel to let a baby cry and cry at night," says Dr. Kendall-Tackett. "Neuroscience research has also demonstrated that it can damage their developing brain. So my advice would be to be flexible, realize that babies are expressing a real need to be with you at this age, and this too will pass."
- Swaddle. Newborns love to feel secure, so it's time to master the swaddle. Lay a receiving blanket flat and fold one corner down. Gently place your baby on top with her head above the blanket. Tightly fold one side of the blanket over your baby, fold the bottom over her feet, then take the last side and snugly fold it over. Voila! You now have a tightly snuggled, content baby on your hands.
- The lovey. It's up to you whether you want your baby to use a pacifier or not. Some parents swear by the soothing sucking they provide, while others do everything they can to discourage binky use. A pacifier is a great tool your baby can use to self-soothe. While Child Protective Services acknowledge that using a pacifier may also reduce the risk of SIDS, they don't strongly advocate for their use as a protective measure.
- Be flexible. Even if your little dreamer's sleeping six hours at night on a consistent schedule, things can change quickly. Teething, illnesses and developmental milestones (like rolling over, crawling and walking) can alter your baby's sleep habits, so be prepared to roll with the punches. Consider it practice for the curveballs parenting will inevitably throw you down the line.
A big part of parenting is learning the ropes, and the more nights you spend with your baby, you'll discover sleep habits that work best for your family's sleep schedule. It might not mirror that supermodel mom you've seen on the silver screen, but it'll ensure the most important people in your life—you included—survive the tricky first three months of life with an adorable, loud infant.