Dash of Darling | Baby Sleep Essentials
Dash of Darling | Baby Sleep Essentials

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Dash of Darling | Baby Sleep Essentials

Parenting a newborn comes with all sorts of incredible highs - from witnessing their first smile to those late night heart exploding snuggles. But there's nothing quite like the life of newborn sleep deprivation, amiright mama's?! Parenthood is basically a series of never-ending all-nighters that leave you feeling the happiest you've ever been and the sleepiest you've ever been all rolled into one.

And you know the saying, 'sleep when baby sleeps?!' Haha! Yeah, that's laughable. Because when Luna is napping that's the only time I get to shower, eat breakfast, get some work done, do the laundry, take a phone call, heck, brush my teeth! So there's no catching this mama up on her much needed zzz's mid-day. That's why we've been working hard to set Luna up with healthy sleep habits now and so far, it seems to be working pretty well. 

So today I'm finally sharing the much-requested baby sleep tips and newborn sleep essentials!

Dash of Darling | Baby Sleep Essentials

Baby Sleep Tips To Create Healthy Sleep Habits For Your Newborn Thanks to Cara Dumaplin of Taking Cara Babies

Hire a Sleep Specialist

First and foremost, hire Cara of Taking Cara Babies. I honestly can't recommend her enough. She is truly a baby sleep wizard, you guys. We took her class when Luna was just three weeks old and she pretty much single-handedly saved our sanity.

She offers several courses, both in-person and online, based on babies age. We took her newborn class and, like I said, it did wonders for Luna. Straight away we started consistently getting around 6-hour sleep stretches from Luna at just four weeks old. Now, she's averaging about eight hours from the time we do her dream feed and the time she wakes up for her first feeding of the night (usually around 5am). And by the way, no, this isn't sponsored, Cara is just that good. The best gift you can give yourself as a mom is the gift of sleep haha. You can read about her philosophy here and see her course options here.

But in addition to her tried-and-true sleep tips, which will help you get long stretches of sleep from your baby, she also offers some awesome methods for getting your baby to clam when she cries. Ugh, she's a genius.

But here are some additional tips that Cara shared that will help get your baby off on the right foot from the start.


Light It Up

Newborns have a hard time distinguishing whether it's day or night. When you're pregnant, your movement during the day rocks them to sleep and when you lay down at night they're ready to party. So life outside the womb can be much the same - a little backward.

Cara recommends establishing healthy sleep habits by teaching your baby the difference by using light strategically. During the day, open the blinds and allow sunlight to shine through and nap your baby in a well-lit room. In the evenings, dim the lights a few hours prior to bedtime to induce nighttime sleepiness. This has definitely helped us get Luna on the right track.

And on that same note, when your baby wakes in the night, don't turn on the lights or actively stimulate their brain. I like to turn on a dim nightlight (this one is my favorite) to feed Luna in the evenings and, as hard as it is, I try not to wake her too much (aka get her all excited by smiling and looking her in the eyes). I keep her nighttime feeds as dark, relaxed and quiet as possible (and downright straight to business).

Swaddle Your Baby

The swaddle is like magic. I have tried to put Luna down for naps without one and she just looks and kicks around. But as soon as I swaddle her she knows I mean business - and shes out a few short minutes later. At first, she would fight the swaddle but, I promise, it works.

That said, swaddling has been shown to be the cornerstone of comfort for babies. It recreates their snug and cozy womb and decreases their startle reflex to help them stay asleep longer.

For naps, our favorite is the Ollie Swaddle (as recommended by Cara) because it is SO easy to just wrap her arms in snug at her sides with the help of a little velcro. But we also have and love our Halo Sleep Sack on colder days and nights (we used it in Utah and it was perfect).

These are also both so great because you don't have to unswaddle your baby at night for diaper changes, you can simply just unzipper or pull them up if need be.

Establish a Bedtime and Work In a Bedtime Routine

Establishing a bedtime and bedtime routine can help wind your babe down and let her know bedtime is coming. It's consistent and calming and helps her get more drowsy. Plus, it gives us some nightly togetherness that we love and cherish. It can be as simple as dimming the lights and swaddling, but we love to also read her a book, give her a bath, kiss her on the cheek and recite our 'goodnight' poem. It's just nice to have some quiet, quality time together.

Put Your Baby to Sleep While Awake, but Drowsy

In the beginning, this was a really tall order because Luna loved to fall asleep immediately after I nursed her. So give yourself a few weeks to adjust, but it will get easier as your baby gets a little older. But Cara teaches that it's important that babies drift off while awake so they can learn to fall asleep on their own and self-soothe. This will save you in the long run. Plus, have you ever fallen asleep in one place only to wake in another and feel a little disoriented? It wakes you up! So our goal is to put Luna down swaddled and awake at least twice a day: at least one nap during the day in her crib (so she gets used to her crib), as well as at bedtime. This way, she will learn good sleep habits and won't wake up confused.

Get in a Dream Feed

I know, I had to google what this was too. But essentially, Cara recommended 'topping off Luna's tank' with an extra feeding right before Ben and I hop into bed. This will help Luna get a longer stretch of sleep without waking due to hunger. So, without turning on the lights, I gently lift her out of her bassinet and nurse her and put her back to sleep without a diaper change or burping her.

Just to give you an idea, here is an example of our typical evening routine: we dim the lights around 5pm, feed her at 7pm, get her swaddled, do our little bedtime routine and put her down in her SNOO (more on that below) around 7:30pm. Then, when we're ready for bed, we will sneak into the room and I will give her a quiet, extra feeding (without a diaper change if I can avoid it so as not to wake her). My goal is for her to keep her eyes closed if I can help it.

Relax on the Nighttime Diaper Changes

Speaking of diaper changes, once your baby is old enough and past that initial pooping every five minutes phase, Cara says you can relax a little on the nighttime diaper changes. Unless she's poopy, we try to avoid jostling Luna awake at night with unnecessary diaper changes. But if necessary, we love having her in a zippered onesie for easy on-and-off's and always use warmed wipes thanks to our wipes warmer. The cold wet wipes tend to startle her a bit more and the warmer wipes are just more soothing.

Dash of Darling | Baby Sleep Essentials
Dash of Darling | Baby Sleep Essentials
Dash of Darling | Baby Sleep Essentials

Noise Is Your Best Friend

There's this misconception that babies need absolute silence to fall asleep. Babies are used to the noise from within the womb. So aside from letting Luna get used to loud noises throughout the day (I let the dog's bark, doorbell ring, talk at a regular noise level etc), I also love using a sound machine for bedtime - this one is our favorite (and I keep it at the highest level of sound).

Babies love white noise: it's hypnotic, continuous, low-pitch sound mimics the soothing flowing amniotic fluid surrounding your velvet womb walls. It's been said that continuous noise is more effective than heartbeats, harsh shushing, ocean waves, nature noises etc. so we've stuck with the white noise and it's worked great for us.

Naps are Important

Good sleep brings about good sleep. When Luna skips her naps during the day we know we're in for a rough night of sleep. Too little of sleep can result in the production of cortisol (a stress hormone) which makes it harder for your baby to settle. They are over-tired, feel irritable and are fussy. Luna is our guide when it comes to naps as we watch for tired behavior (rubbing her eyes, pulling at her ears, yawning etc), but we also try to have a schedule and stick to it.

I feed her every three hours and afterward, we have playtime (tummy time, singing, bicycles, brain stimulation etc). Then, I usually put her down for a nap. If I can help it, I do it at home and in her crib. But, life happens. So obviously there are (lots of) days when her naps happen in her car seat. They aren't as great of quality of naps but every little bit helps. If I feel like she didn't nap well one day, then I will bring her bedtime a bit forward to make up for it or will even stretch out another nap in its place if I can.

Don't Be Afraid to Use a Pacifier

When we first had Luna I was scared to introduce a pacifier because I'd heard stories about it undermining breastfeeding efforts. But honestly, the pacifier can really help encourage your baby to self-soothe (and it didn't interfere at all with her nursing). So I am so glad Cara suggested it. It's been a great tool to use at night when she wakes too early and I know she's not hungry and doesn't have a messy diaper. Sometimes she will fall right back asleep and that's a nice relief for both mama's sleep needs and gives my boobs a little longer of a break haha, even if they do get a little over-full (more tips on this to come, by the way, in a later post).

Dash of Darling | Baby Sleep Essentials
Dash of Darling | Baby Sleep Essentials
Dash of Darling | Baby Sleep Essentials

Find The Right Sleeper For Your Baby

Right now, we are using Luna's SNOO by Happiest Baby as her main sleep space. We keep it in our bedroom next to my side of the bed so I can easily nurse her as needed (PS, I keep her swaddled when I nurse her at night).

Developed by sleep guru Dr. Harvey Karp, the SNOO is an app-operated smart sleeper that has its own built-in swaddle system with protective wings that are designed to keep your baby on their back. It's a miracle worker. It's basically her night nanny haha. It uses intelligence to choose the best rocking speed based on how fussy she is (slow and steady when she's calm and faster movements when she starts fussing to help rock her back to sleep). I definitely love it because the moment I put her in there she is asleep within minutes. I usually nap her in her SNOO for the first nap of the day as well because she seems to nap the best in it.

Note that although the SNOO does have its own white noise, we prefer it to be a little louder, so we use it in conjunction with this white noise machine that I mentioned above. The added white noise also helps to drown out other noises. As a mama, I think we just have a tendency to be light sleepers as we're keen to listen for any signs that baby needs us - so any random noise had me stirring even if Luna was fast asleep. I definitely sleep better now with the extra white noise.

Anyway, in addition to our SNOO, we also sometimes swaddle her and use her dockatot if I am feeling particularly tired and don't want to have to get out of bed when it's time to nurse her (or we use this if we are washing the SNOO's bedsheet and swaddle sack). I've heard that the dockatot is also helpful for transitioning your baby into the crib. It's great because it's so lightweight and portable so I can even move it from room to room or use it as a lounger. (Bonus: If you prop their arms over the permeable bumpers during awake time it can help them develop their neck strength too).

During the first few weeks, I also lived and breathed by the Rock N' Play Sleeper for nap time. As you guys know, Luna has bad reflux and the rock n' play allowed her to nap on an incline to help alleviate the symptoms. It also offers a soothing rocking motion that lulled her right to sleep. I'd feed her and she would just pass right out in those early days, so I would either snuggle with her or put her into the rock n' play while I made myself lunch / did laundry etc. But sadly, she seems to be over her rock n' play as of late, and I've heard that's quite common. As she's grown she's been less likely to nap well unless she's swaddled and in her SNOO, dockatot or crib, so we've kind of moved on from the rock n' play, but it was a lifesaver those first few weeks for sure! And who knows, maybe she'll come back to loving it one day.

(Note, I have had a lot of you ask about our mamaRoo too... we don't actually have her sleep in the mamaRoo - it's more of just a swing I put her in to entertain her while I shower and get ready).

And lastly, as I mentioned above, we also try to nap Luna in her crib (with a baby monitor) at least once a day to get her used to it. We will eventually transition her into her crib full time once she grows out of her SNOO. But for now, the combination of these three seem to work well for us.

Anyway, I want to know... mama's, what are your top baby sleep tips? I'd love to learn any more tricks you have up your sleeves. And when you're ready, hop on over takingcarababies.com for some baby sleep guidance that will save your mama sleep-deprived life.

Also, if you're new around here, you can check out more of my motherhood posts here. Get it girl!

Dash of Darling | Baby Sleep Essentials
Dash of Darling | Baby Sleep Essentials
Dash of Darling | Baby Sleep Essentials
Dash of Darling | Baby Sleep Essentials
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