My firstborn is now 16 months old, and I feel like I’m finally just beginning to recover from the challenges of dealing with a newborn and adjusting to becoming a mother. No matter how much you think you’re preparing for your baby’s arrival…you can’t really truly prepare for baby’s arrival that much until they’re here. I spent so much time perfecting the friggin’ artwork in Hazel’s nursery, washing tiny little baby socks, and re-drafting my birth plan…and all of these things and more went out the window the second we arrived home from the hospital.
Looking back at that time, I feel like my husband and I were two weary battle-worn survivors just trying to make it to the next day. The lack of sleep combined with the sudden and immediate lack of control over my schedule hit me hard and hit me good.
For my first list of awesome baby essentials, I’m gonna talk about the biggie – sleep. It seems like for the first six (at least!) months of Hazel’s life, I was obsessed with sleep. I was either trying to sleep, trying to get Hazel to sleep, dreaming about being asleep, or frantically and furiously reading, Googling, and researching baby sleep schedules and tips.
Luckily, our little Hazel was a pretty good sleeper from early on. However, it took some time, along with trial and error, to figure out what worked and what didn’t. Today, I’m sharing with you the essential tools and sanity-savers that helped baby, mama and dad all get some good sleep. If you’re a soon-to-be-mama or mama of a newborn frantically searching for that one magical thing that will get you some zzz’s, I hope these work for you!
Please note that this post contains affiliate links, but all opinions are my own. I’m only recommending items that I actually used and (most importantly) loved!
First, I read many books about baby sleep (don’t ask me how I had the time or energy to do this, because I don’t know). The one we found the most helpful for brand-new parents is The Happiest Baby on the Block. You can really just skim it to get the gist and put Dr. Harvey Karp’s methods into action ASAP, but his methods really worked for us. He suggests the “5 S’s” to help get your newborn to fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer – swaddling, shushing, swinging, sucking, and side/stomach position. We used 4 out of 5 of these for Hazel’s first 6 months and when we found the right combination it was oh.so.glorious. Hence the rest of my recommendations below…
#1 – MAM pacifiers – Since we were set on exclusively breastfeeding the first 4 weeks, we did not introduce bottles or pacifiers when Hazel was first born. For the first few months, I couldn’t even get her to take a pacifier. I eventually figured out that maybe the pacifiers I had bought pre-birth were not to her liking, and bought a few other brands. Once she tried MAMs pacis, we never needed anything else. They also come conveniently packaged in sterilizable cases, and when your baby is over 6 months old, you can get the neato glow-in-the-dark kind. We are still using MAM pacifiers to this day, and I dread the day I have to wean her off them.
#2 – Snugabunny Fisher Price Cradle ‘n Swing – Er mer gerd y’all. This swing was the number one by far most life/sleep/sanity saving baby purchase we made (or Nana made, thanks Nana!). We didn’t get this until Hazel was about 1.5 months old, and she didn’t seem too impressed by it at first when we tried it out for naps. After 6 weeks of waking up 45 minutes into her night-time sleep (juuuust as mama would finally drift off), I put her in this swing in a moment of tears and desperation at about 2am. She then slept 5 hours straight.
From that night on, our little one slept 7+ hours (and eventually through the night) in this swing. All night, every night, and every nap…until she was nearly 6 months old, and we weaned her from it (which was actually much easier than I would’ve thought!). I know that letting your baby sleep in a swing can be a somewhat-debated topic, and I don’t recommend you get your little one addicted to swing-sleeping unless you’re out of other (non-mobile) options, but it worked amazingly well for us (combined with the other items here).
#3 – myBaby SoundSpa Portable – This fancy sounding contraption is simply a small, no-frills white noise machine. Per The Happiest Baby on the Block, loud shushing helps newborns sleep. Keyword being loud. Apparently your baby is used to mama’s super loud internal body noises in the womb and finds that comforting. For the first few months we got by using free apps on our phone, but during nap time it’d be annoying to have your phone out of commission.
I eventually found this white noise machine, set it on the basic “white noise” option (it also has rain, ocean waves, and other nice-sounding things), and Hazel sleeps away. We still use it (on a lower volume level) to this day, since we have two loud dogs and a television right below her nursery. I love this thing.
#4- SummerInfant SwaddleMe adjustable swaddle wraps – Ah, the baby burrito. The concept of swaddling was totally foreign to me (and seemed so strange and uncomfortable) until I had a newborn. This is yet another must-do “S” from The Happiest Baby on the Block, and it was essential for us. Hazel slept swaddled until she was probably 6 or 7 months, and then we had to gradually wean her from it (this was harder than getting her out of the swing honestly).
Babies like being swaddled for two reasons – they’re used to being all wrapped up and cozy from being in the womb, and they can’t control their little flailing limbs for the first few months of life and will literally smack themselves awake sometimes. Thus, a good swaddle job will keep them cozy and safe, along with help them stay asleep longer. When we came home from the hospital, we attempted to swaddle her with your usual muslin blankets, but we either couldn’t get the technique right or she’d eventually break-free. The SwaddleMe blankets are basically like little baby sacks with two velcro flaps; they make it MUCH easier for a sleep-deprived parent to swaddle their little one, and they were much harder for Hazel to wiggle herself out of. We even used these on her in the swing (and were still able to strap her in safely).
#5 – Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit – Yes, I know this thing has a ridiculous name but it is truly magical. Plus you get to enjoy your baby looking like a cute mini marshmallow astronaut in it. When it came time for Hazel to graduate from the swaddle, we quickly (after one sleepless night) realized that she was going to smack and flail herself awake all night long without something keeping her contained.
Some really amazing smart parent out there developed the Magic Sleep Suit for just this purpose. It’s basically a really fluffy padded jumpsuit you zip your baby up in. Your baby can now move his arms and legs, but still has that comforting feeling of pressure on their body that makes him feel safe and keeps them from startling movement that will wake him up. After a few months of sleeping in this, we were able to graduate to just regular ole pajamas! The Magic Sleep Suit was a great transition item between sleeping swaddled and swaddled free.
So there you have it – our recipe for baby sleep success – give that baby a nice paci, swaddle ’em tight, put them in a calming swing, and turn up that white noise! Zzzzzzz….
I’ll end this by saying that baby sleep, sleep training, and the use of what you might call “sleep props” are all hotly debated parenting issues. I encourage you to decide on your own what you feel comfortable with using and keep your baby’s safety the top priority at all times. These items are simply what worked well for us in our journey find sleep with a newborn!