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DEAR NEW MOMMY Co-sleeping, Breast Feeding and Getting Good Sleep with a Newborn

Dear Mommy-to-be,

I enjoyed your last letter so much! Your stories of the crazy things people have said to you while pregnant really made me laugh, and reminded me of some of my own experiences. I remember one particular walk in Manhattan when I was about 7 months pregnant; within two blocks I had one man warning me not to eat too much of my bagel (I was munching as I walked), and another announcing loudly to everyone around, "Ladies and gentlemen, she is WITH CHILD!" As if there was any need to bring this obvious fact to everyone's attention. The good news is that while you may feel ready to pop, at least (at last!) you are finally in the home stretch! Now comes the time when you can sit back, admire your giant supply of blankets and booties, and think about how things are actually going to go once you bring the baby home from the hospital. I know the tendency is to just worry about the due date, the labor experience, and getting the baby delivered safely, but after all this is over it will suddenly be very clear that adjusting to life with a newborn is a huge challenge--and something most of us are not really prepared for!

So if you're ready, I think this is a good time to pass along some step-by-step advice for getting good sleep with a newborn. I have two main recommendations: 1) since you will be breastfeeding, it will be essential that you learn to nurse in the side-lying position. And 2) I also recommend that you plan on co-sleeping, at least for the first few weeks or months; I guarantee that it will turn your life with a newborn from madness into peace! The first week of Oliver's life I got almost no sleep, which was especially difficult since I had had a c-section and desperately needed to rest. It seemed any time I put him down he would start crying. In the hospital he was not allowed to sleep in bed with me, and after we got home we just assumed he would naturally adjust to sleeping in his Moses basket or in the co-sleeper right beside us; however, Oliver had a different plan. I was having a hard time with nursing, and we were both tearing our hair out with all the crying, so at last we had a wonderful lactation consultant (Ina Bransome of ClearBirth/ClearBaby come to our home on day six. She literally saved our sanity by teaching me how to nurse in the side-lying position (which I think is the easiest way for both mother and baby), and by conveying the importance of co-sleeping. She taught us that babies naturally want to be close to their parents because they know that is where they are safest; from an evolutionary perspective, human babies haven't yet "learned" that there are no lions or other predators around to fear, and they instinctively want to be close to the best source of warmth, contact, and food. We found that while Oliver would cry and wake up constantly in his little basket (or anywhere else, even when literally right beside our bed) he would sleep “like a baby” when cuddled next to me. Babies find skin-to-skin contact the most comforting thing, plus it’s really very soothing for the mother as well to have the baby right next to her; it even encourages a reluctant nurser! Co-sleeping allowed both me and Oliver to sleep comfortably all night and nurse on cue.

Aside from ensuring baby’s safety when co-sleeping (see the Safe Sleep Guidelines at, there are some other tricks of the trade which are really helpful to know ahead of time. The first thing is dealing with leaky breasts. One thing you will quickly learn is that while breastfeeding, the unoccupied breast will literally spray milk, so you have to be prepared so that your sheets don’t get all wet. Eventually we got a pattern going: lay down a thick cloth diaper or towel underneath where your chest area and baby’s head will be on the bed; lie down topless on your side with baby facing you (also on his/her side), at the appropriate spot for breastfeeding, and have extra washcloths or thick cloth diapers handy to lay over the other (leaking) breast—you will probably need to change these often so your nipples aren't constantly wet (which is a recipe for soreness). In terms of comfort, I found my Snoogle body pillow to be extremely helpful with co-sleeping and side-lying nursing during the night because it provided natural support to keep Oliver close to me and this way he would never fall out of the bed or roll too close to Hugo. Of course, you should find the system that works best for you. Some mothers who are really concerned about rolling over on the baby (which is extremely unlikely) attach a co-sleeper to their side of the bed, and simply move the baby back and forth for feedings; even this arrangement would have been too much separation for Oliver.

Lastly, on the topic of sleep, you will need to have very easy access to a snack and water during the night—basically within arm’s reach. I found that I would get very hungry and thirsty at night as nursing is quite demanding, so eventually part of my system was to have a snack and a drink right by the bed (a water bottle with one of those sports tops is best so you can drink even while lying down). You will also want to be able to turn on a very dim lamp while lying down. I wasn’t able to reach mine without getting up and this made for a lot of shuffling around in the bed and unnecessary disturbances. I may sound totally crazy giving you all this minutely detailed advice, but as sleep is something every new mother desperately needs and also the one thing no one else can give you, it’s of the utmost importance that you have the most easy and relaxing night-time routine possible.

Please let me know how you're doing, what your plans are for this final month, and what other questions you have. Be sure to get in some dates with your husband, as this will be your last chance for a while!

Much love,



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User Comments:
MARY L said:
This reminds me of the days when my babies were babies. The only way I escaped sleep deprivation was to do what Hannah did--sleep with them! And they survived.
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