Essentials Checklist for the Best Baby Sleep
(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to products I truly believe in. Little Lamb receives a small commission for any purchases made through this post. Thank you for reading!)
It can be overwhelming the amount of stuff you’re told you need to buy when you’re expecting your first baby. According to NerdWallet.com, the average cost of a new baby added to the family, including housing and insurance, could be over $20,000 for a middle income family, and over $50,000 for a high income family! Their estimate includes nearly $2,000 that the average family could easily spend on diapers, clothes, and baby gear. That number more than triples for a high income family. This is totally conceivable considering items like this Snoo Smart Sleeper alone costs upwards of $1200! While the Snoo gets great reviews and is safe for sleep, it’s not at a realistic price point for most parents.
Even for items within your budget, the crazy thing about most of this baby gear is that you will use most of it for 6 months tops, and some of it you might not end up using at all. Though many parents feel that the sky is the limit for how far they’re willing to go for their baby (and better sleep), what is really necessary to prepare for baby’s arrival? And more specifically, what will actually help baby sleep better?
Little Lamb's Essentials Checklist for
the Best Baby Sleep
1) The best swaddle you can find.
Although many parents will tell you that their newborn hates to be swaddled, solid research has shown (as expounded upon in The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp) that the vast majority of newborns will greatly benefit from being swaddled. They will soothe more easily and stay asleep longer because it prevents them from startling themselves awake and keeps them feeling cuddled and secure, just like they were in the womb. Knowing these benefits, even if your newborn seems to fight being swaddled initially, persevere.
There are dozens of swaddles and wraps on the market and many that will work fine for your newborn, so a lot of it comes down to preference and style. Mostly, you want something snug, secure, and easy to do in the middle of the night. A lot of parents swear by the Miracle Blanket Swaddle and love that it doesn’t have Velcro, which can easily startle a sleeping baby. But, if you have a little houdini on your hands, you may need something more secure that they can't wriggle out of. I personally love this Nested Bean Zen Swaddle, because it is slightly weighted at the chest and truly does seem to provide some extra level of comfort and support to help with sleep in the early newborn weeks. Another favorite is this simple Halo Sleep Sack/Swaddle, which may help you get more bang for your buck, since you can use it as a sleep sack after baby starts to roll, or wants their arms free.
2) a (smart) Video Monitor
For every stage from birth to toddler years and beyond, you’ll be glad to have eyes in your child’s bedroom. Even in the beginning when you’ll be room-sharing, you may want to be able to see your baby from the other room while she’s napping. You can monitor if they just rolled over for the first time, if they’re really sleeping or just laying there happily, and then during sleep training, it will give you so much needed peace of mind. There are a lot of monitors out there on the market, but it doesn’t get any better than this Nanit, which claims to give you a “PhD in your child’s sleep”. It gives you so much useful data, I have to agree! I wish that every parent could give me this kind of feedback on their child’s sleep, from how restless their sleep was to whether or not they cried and settled themselves back to sleep at night without you knowing. Not only does it give you peace of mind, it gives really helpful information for being able to fine-tune your sleep plan. If you're into data and/or want to know exactly what your baby was doing all night while you were sleeping, this is an awesome tool.
3) Safe-Sleep Space
There are all sorts of products on the market that will claim to miraculously help your newborn to start sleeping, but unfortunately, many of these products aren’t considered safe for sleep, according to the AAP’s safe sleep guidelines. The rule that is most often broken by these products is that they place the baby in an upright or inclined position for sleep. This puts baby at risk for asphyxiation as their neck doesn’t support their head enough, so the chin can drop to their chest while they sleep and cut off their airway. This is a terrifying thought, and the reason why it is not recommended to ever let your child sleep in a car seat, swing, stroller, etc. unattended, and to transfer them to a flat, safe sleeping position as soon as possible. These items can also contribute to flathead because they prevent the freedom of movement that babies need to change head positions.
So, a top priority on your checklist should be a safe place for baby to sleep. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bassinet, a travel crib, or a regular crib (that is up-to-date on the latest safety requirements, like the cute and affordable grey one above), just make sure it’s flat, firm, and doesn’t have plushy sides that a baby could bury their face into. (Bonus points if it's breathable, organic, and chemical-free, like this one.) For a travel option, I like this lightweight Nuna that’s easy and fast to set up, and comes with everything you need to convert it to an on-the-go nursery, with a bassinet and changing table included in the price.
4) White Noise Machine
One of the most soothing things for most newborn babies is loud white noise. You can get an expensive machine that has a much more pure sound, like this Marpac Dohm, which doesn’t have any of the crackling that some of the less expensive machines have. However, the volume level is a bit limited in the Dohm, so if you have any external noises to worry about (other kids, trash trucks or traffic right out the window), you may prefer one that goes louder, like my personal favorite the HoMetic Sound Spa.
This machine is light weight, great for travel, affordable, and goes up to a pretty high volume, which is very important for soothing a fussy baby- it’s not very soothing if they can’t hear it over their own cries. And a newborn scream can be as loud as a chainsaw! So a soft white noise machine won’t do you a lot of good in those first few months.(Check out the Top 5 Newborn Survival Tips post for more on why white noise is so important.)
5) Blackout Curtains
For several weeks after birth, a newborn still retains some of mom’s melatonin in his system, contributing to so much of the sleepiness that is the norm for 0-3 week olds. But, once this wears off, it’s another few weeks until the baby’s body starts producing his own melatonin. That is the point when blackout curtains really make a difference for night sleep, as darkness aids in melatonin production. Even a small sliver of light can inhibit melatonin production, including small light-up toys, nightlights, or sunlight coming in at the crack of dawn. Unless you want to encourage a habitual sunrise wake-up, I highly recommend getting good blackout curtains- double layer them if you have to! This continues to help them sleep well and sleep in (relatively speaking here) throughout early childhood. They don’t have to be expensive to be effective- these are the ones we use, and they work great.
6) Baby Swing
Wait a second, I thought you just said you should provide a safe-sleep space for baby, and avoid inclined positions. Yes, that is very true. But, a swing can be a very useful tool for a difficult-to-settle newborn baby (do check with your pediatrician to make sure he/she agrees). If the only way you can get them to stay asleep when you put them down is if you put them in a swing, and it's the only way you can get a break to take care of yourself, then it’s totally worth using it. The newborn phase is often about survival more than anything. (Read more about why it's so important to newborns to avoid over-tiredness here.) The swing potentially gives parents a little break if they have the type of baby who demands to be constantly held for sleep, and it’s safe as long as your supervise them. So, only let them sleep there during daytime naps (same with the Rock’n Play, bouncers, etc), not for long stretches of night sleep when no one is checking on them.
I prefer swings over other moving devices because 1) They tend to have a more vigorous motion than other options, which is necessary to achieve the soothing of a really fussy baby. (I like full-sized swings like this cute Fisher Price one. The compact ones are tempting with their smaller foot print but not usually as effective.) and 2) You can gradually wean them off of the motion quite easily, by reducing the motion level of the swing over time. This can make the transition to a crib a lot easier.
While the newborn stage may be one of the most challenging few months of your life, with some good preparation, tools, and support, it's going to be awesome!
If you want more support, check out my Pre-Natal Package.