Newborns create havoc with your sleep schedules. Here are some practical tips to cope with the challenges of breast-feeding, co-sleeping and getting a good night’s rest.
So, you don’t really sleep when you have a baby. This is no secret. But while we all go into parenthood knowing this, we have no idea how our sleep will change. And we sure as heck have no idea just how much sleep affects us.

Breastfeeding on-demand and co-sleeping can make this even harder because our bed — once a safe haven for the gloriousness of peaceful sprawling — is now an overcrowded work station for an on-call night shift (with periodic baby kicks to the gut and face). It’s an on-call night job which will last for an undetermined period of time.

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It sounds rough, and it really can be. So rough, that some moms will struggle with nursing and may stop altogether — and that may contribute to postpartum depression. That’s a crying shame; both moms and babies are hungry for a beautiful parent-child bond and the amazing benefits of breastfeeding.

However, we don’t have to abandon sleep because there are tricks that make it possible both to nurse and co-sleep and to actually get some shut-eye. Here, we will look at ways to address two factors which make sleep so challenging for baby; the brain and circadian rhythms.

The brain

Babies have a sleep cycle that is half as long as the standard adult sleep cycle. But in being half as long, they have two times as many phases of active sleep and light sleep. Their sleep cycle also starts differently than an adult’s because they go through a phase of light sleep and a phase of transitional sleep before they finally cycle into deep sleep.

Thanks to all these periods of lighter sleep cycles, the chances of laying baby down to sleep successfully are pretty much always against you – even when you leave the room doing walking tai chi to distribute your weight and counter the creak of loose floorboards (my exit of choice when I have a newborn at home).

If you miraculously do manage to get baby down to sleep, the odds of getting them to stay asleep aren’t in your favor (thank you doorbells, landscaping neighbors, and unsilenced phones). This can make breastfeeding and/or co-sleeping a real challenge, because our deep-sleep snoring and body shuffling can stir baby awake when they’re in a lighter sleep cycle. But we can address that!

Brain Entrainment Music

Are you familiar with brainwaves? Well, delta brainwaves are the brainwaves connected to restorative sleep, deep meditative states, healing and repair, extreme relaxation, and unconscious thought. Delta waves also happen to be the main brainwave rhythm during baby’s first one or two years of life.

Neuroscientists and brain specialists have studied delta brain waves and sleep patterns, and turned their findings into sleep-enhancing brain entrainment music. It sounds too good to be true, but when I used this music with my son he slept for 5 hours the very first night, and sleep only got better from there! I experienced the same results last year with my daughter. Oh, and I slept 100x better too.

Herbs

Safe and natural sedative herbs contain compounds which help promote relaxation and may even induce drowsiness. For standard baby sleep troubles, Megan of Growing Up Herbal recommends using an herbal glycerite with chamomile, lavender, and catnip to help baby fall asleep and stay asleep.

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Alternatively, mama can deliver sleep benefits through breastmilk by brewing up tea using sedative herbs passionflower or hops (after consulting with a reputable herbalist and baby’s pediatrician of course).

While you’re looking into safe herbs that can help baby sleep and relax, consider looking into herbs that can be used to ease adult issues like stress, fatigue, and brain fog. You may not be able to sleep as much as you want, but at least you can do something to help you get through it with some sort of array of shining colors.

Circadian rhythms

Our bodies run on a 24 hour clock that’s regulated by daylight. When it’s dark, our brain produces melatonin which makes us sleep. Then, when our eyes can sense that daylight has arrived, melatonin production is put on hold.

The natural cycle of night and day combines with natural patterns in brainwave activity, hormone production, and other physiological processes. Of course, a developing baby isn’t born with this circadian rhythm.

According to Infant Sleep Consultant Alanna McGinn, it can take four months just for baby’s rhythm to be developed to a point where sleep patterns can even begin to be established. But we may able to help baby find their rhythm with a few circadian tricks.

Routine

Because the body and the brain work so well with cycles, a solid routine is a sure way to promote zzz’s. Having meals around the same time is a great way to help baby’s body know when naps are coming. Even better is to create a routine which includes “rituals” or “cues.”

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Evening baths, storytime, singing in the rocking chair — all of these things serve as rituals which subconsciously tell baby that bedtime is near. I did this with my son by cozying him up for a book with a special blanket and stuffed animal. After a month or two, he began grabbing his blanket and stuffy as soon as he was bathed and jammied. It was absolutely adorable (and it did wonders for my 8-9pm sanity levels).

Essential Oils

Remember how I mentioned rituals and cues? Well, using essential oils in that nighttime routine is a great way to cue baby’s brain to get ready for sleep. Essential oils only get more effective with zzz’s because of the connection between the olfactory system and the limbic brain.

The limbic system is described as the “thinking and feeling brain,” and it happens to have a strong connection with memory (like, say, when you smell cookies baking and you’re immediately washed over with nostalgia thinking of making cookies with mom). All great stuff.

There are many essential oils that can be applied to the skin with a carrier oil, but it’s a good idea to diffuse essential oils with a diffuser as newborns may have sensitivities and allergies. Other gentle and convenient options are baby-safe herbal products or herbal hydrosols.

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Look for calming kid-friendly oils like lavender, sweet orange, roman chamomile, and marjoram. And if you only end up getting one essential oil, make it lavender. This oil is incredibly versatile with so many uses and benefits, but there are various studies that back up lavender’s reputation with mood and sleep (and even anxiety and postpartum depression).

Lighting

White, blue, and green spectrum lighting mimic sunlight, and that’s a problem for melatonin production. The best lights for promoting sleep are red, but anything outside of the daylight spectrum will keep circadian interruptions minimized. It’s important to note that electronic devices and televisions also mimic sunlight.

Minimizing the exposure our children have around bedtime is obviously important, but it’s just as important during the day. It’s recommended that babies up to 2 years old have zero media time (media being everything but online video calls with family), so it probably best to keep babes away from electronics altogether.

Since artificial lighting can cause so much circadian havoc, blackout curtains are another smart purchase. They’ll block the beam of porch lights and car headlights, making for better melatonin production throughout the night. Of course, blackout curtains will also keep the morning sun from slowing down melatonin and initiating a wake-up cortisol spike.

In this case, some simulated sunlight via the Philips Wake-Up Light can address this. Sleepy parents can get a little extra pick-me-up with light therapy glasses like ReTimer and Luminette.

Best of luck to our soon-to-be parents! As for the seasoned parents reading this, be sure to share your struggles, successes, and tips down below.

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Ash Stevens Author

Ash Stevens is a mother, writer, and a wannabe shaman. She loves health, gardening, simplicity, culture, chocolate, and sarcasm. If she isn’t writing or talking family and relationships on her blog, then she’s surely playing badminton with the kids.