Life with a Neonate Roommate

sleeping infant, for article on infant sleep

At the end of pregnancy, a mother’s heart is torn between two desires: to have her body to herself (Get out, dear baby. Get out.) and to be able to sleep without being awakened by a crying, hungry baby. If there is one thing expectant parents look to with anxious anticipation, even more than birth, it’s sleep.

It’s now advised by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that infants sleep in the same room with their parents for six months at least, if not longer. I can say, from experience, that having my baby close enough to hear, see and touch was healing and relaxing for me with all three of my girls. They slept soundly in their bedside bassinet, and I would lie on my side, feeling their belly rise and fall before snuggling down myself.

Infant sleep, particularly newborn sleep, is a different animal than any other stage. What can you expect with your tiny new roommate?

(Please do) Feed me after midnight

Until your baby returns to birthweight or is otherwise cleared by your doctor, you will need to wake them up every two to three hours to eat. It sounds simple enough, but you will find it hard both in your heart (But she just went down!) and in practice, as new babies are notoriously sleepy and can be difficult to keep awake long enough to eat. It can take weeks for the return to birthweight to happen, so prepare your heart for short sleeps. Midnight snacks and morning coffee are your friends.

Even after this time, when they are free to sleep as long as they need, babies will wake at various times for diapers and a feed. Feeding on demand has been shown to promote secure attachment, emotional regulation for both parent and child and reduces the likelihood of weight gain issues such as Failure to Thrive. Babies are darling, cheeky little people, but they are too young to intentionally mislead or manipulate. If a baby is crying, they need your help. Crying is communication.

World’s Busiest Sleepers

For the first three months, babies often experience “active sleep,” during which they move, flutter their eyes open and make endless amounts of endearing little noises and lip smacks. It will seem that baby is awake, but often they are completely asleep. Take a moment and watch before you scoop them up. They often will settle back down into a quieter sleep stage and give you a little longer to shower or eat hot food.

Have a Plan

Preparing for nights with baby really helps to smooth the process when you wake up a bit hazy from your own rest. A small basket by the bed stocked with diapers, wipes, burp rags, pacifiers and any supplies needed for feeding will be a real blessing.

With my babies, I have usually formed a habit from birth to help them learn what to expect and help me when I am groggy. When baby wakes, I use the restroom first (so I am comfortable to hold baby as long as I need), then scoop baby up and lay her on my bed. I turn on a small ambient touch light and change her diaper, placing the clean one beneath the used one to prevent any midnight sheet laundry. After diapering, I put my baby back in her sleep sack and then pick her up to feed her. When she has had her fill and enjoyed a little cuddle afterwards, I place her in her bed. I wait until she is asleep and lay her down bottom first, then head, before placing my hand on her belly. If she stirs, I reach over while I lie down and use my hand to help her use her pacifier, stroke her face or hold her hand. My newest daughter, now three months old, routinely falls asleep holding my hand or stroking my face as I hold her. Talk about heart-melting.

It is worth noting that for the first few weeks, as I healed from birth, my husband would wake with us and change the baby’s diaper while I got ready to feed her. Each family will find the system that works best for them, but ideally everyone can find a way to support both baby, as they acclimate to life outside the womb, and mama, as she heals from growing and expelling a tiny human being.

What is Day? What is Night? What is happening?

Babies are born with many fascinating skills and interests, but also have many mundane details they have yet to experience. Among them, the sensation of being cold or hungry, wearing a wet diaper, having a bowel movement and seeing bright lights. Also unknown to your baby are the concepts of day and night, which means you will have to help them understand daily rhythms and what to expect at certain times. It’s common for babies to have their “days and nights mixed up,” meaning they are more wakeful during the nighttime and sleep more soundly during the day.

You can help your baby learn days and nights by filling days with sunlight, sounds and interaction, leaving nights for calm, quiet and dim lighting. Balancing how to be interactive during the day without overstimulation or being attentive at night without being too exciting is an artform, but every parent finds their way, and this phase is a brief one.

The key to sharing your life (and your sleeping space) with a new baby is to focus on the relationship you are building. The joy and trust in your baby’s tiny body as they sense your closeness will carry you through many midnight diaper changes and all sorts of feeding challenges. And one day, very soon, they will look into the eyes of the one who has held them throughout their first nights, gently rescuing them from cold hands, wet diapers and empty bellies, and share their first genuine smile. To borrow from a common adage, the nights may feel long, but the years will be short. May you find sweetness sufficient to compensate for the temporary lack of shuteye.

Alicia KobilnykAlicia Kobilnyk is an Early Childhood Educator who works with young toddlers. She finds joy and inspiration to write in their cheeky shenanigans, as well as those of her three daughters.

Sept 2023 Infant Sleep Pin

Categories: Little Ones