Whether you are a first-time parent or a seasoned mama getting your precious newborn to sleep can be a daunting and no-kidding, all day task! It can seem hopeless at times as you feel your newborn won’t sleep properly. Especially as exhaustion and those pesky post-partum hormones set in. But don’t worry mama, read on and I will tell you all about newborn sleep, how to best prepare for it and some of my best newborn sleep tips for teaching your new bundle of joy great sleep habits.
First of all, I want to be clear that as a professional pediatric sleep consultant one of my main newborn sleep tips is I do not recommend doing any traditional sleep training (the type that involves crying) with a newborn. There are many gentle ways of teaching your new baby healthy sleep habits that can pay dividends in the future and give you confidence that very soon both you and your baby will be on the path to the sleep you deserve.
Newborn won’t sleep? Newborn Sleep Tips from an Expert!
So what does newborn sleep look like?
A newborn baby spends about 16-18 hours sleeping during a 24 hour period. When they are not sleeping they are either eating, being changed or enjoying small interactions with the world around them. They only have two sleep stages, REM and non-REM sleep and they spend about 8 hours in REM sleep which is crucial because that is where they grow.
The best way to describe newborn sleep is unorganized! They will sleep anywhere from 1-3 hour stretches and even though you may want those longer stretches at night, their internal clocks or circadian rhythm have not been established yet, so be prepared for some long days and nights at first as your newborn won’t sleep for long periods of time.
Around 6 weeks, most parents see that their babies’ night sleep start to come together and they are able to sleep for longer stretches between 3-5 hours (sometimes more!), particularly at the beginning of the night. By 12 weeks old a baby that is over 12 pounds has the capability of sleeping 12 hours (yeah, you read that right) through the night. Of course, every baby is different and some take a bit longer to consolidate their night sleep, and some due to weight gain issues or pediatrician direction need to continue to take feeds at night.
While you cannot force your baby to sleep you can do everything in your power to set them up for success from day one. In fact, one of the first things I review in my private consultations is sleeping environment. We like to see babies sleeping in cool, dark, quiet rooms on firm mattresses with a fitted sheet and nothing else in the crib.
Current AAP recommendations are to room share with your baby for a up to a year or at least 6 months and you can still achieve these conditions in your room; here’s how: invest in a bassinet, white noise machine, blackout curtains and air conditioning. It is up to you when you want to move your little one to the nursery and just make sure their sleeping conditions remain the same. Also, having a comfortable, safe and easy to use infant carrier on standby will be helpful for rough nap days and especially for those last two naps of the day.
Start as you mean to go
There are so many small things you can do over the first twelve weeks of life to help your newborn sleep well and to set them up for success so that when they reach infancy they are star sleepers. During the first two weeks of a baby’s life outside the womb, I would recommend focusing on establishing a good feeding relationship, keeping your baby awake during feeds and ensuring your baby is sleeping in a safe space.
After a few weeks you can start working towards a very flexible routine of eat, play, sleep and trying to have your baby take a full feed every 3 hours. Many first time parents are surprised with how little awake time their babies can handle, for most newborns the eat and play portion of their routine lasts between 45-60 minutes before they need to nap again. Keeping an eye on the clock and following sleepy cues can really help so you are putting your little one down to nap before they become overtired.
Also, don’t shy away from giving your baby the chance to fall asleep on their own by putting them down to sleep in their crib, pack n play or bassinet awake. Yes! You can do that! Before ten weeks of age, you can even help them along by trying to put them down drowsy and awake and giving them a few minutes to try falling asleep on their own.
Tips for Success
During the first few weeks you can also start to teach your baby that there is a difference between day and night. First, decide when morning and bedtime occur and ensure there are 12 hours in between those times (many newborns go to bed between 7-9pm). Then, start each morning with a feed in a sunny area of your home and as the day turns to night, turn off most of the house lights, speak calmly and when you go in for a middle of the night feed use as little light as possible.
Swaddling can be a very useful tool as well. Newborns can fall into REM sleep almost immediately and swaddling is recommended to help control their startle reflex during that time, which sometimes is so powerful that it can wake them. You can use the swaddle for both naps and nighttime sleep, just make sure you are working toward dropping the swaddle before 12 weeks of age or it can become a sleep prop and is unsafe when your baby starts to roll.
Try to nap your baby in their safe sleeping space at least once a day, usually parents have the most success with the morning nap and then gradually attempt more naps in that same space as baby gets older. If your baby isn’t falling asleep for their nap in the crib, they don’t need to cry, pick them up, soothe them, try it again and if you aren’t having success, that is ok, make sure your baby gets the sleep they need by doing that nap in a carrier, stroller, car seat or occasionally even in your arms.
Give yourself Grace
Having a new baby is hard for everyone! People will give you hundreds of different newborn sleep tips. Do not let social media or the comments of friends or family make you feel like you are failing. Comparison is the thief of joy! Stick to the basics of the eat, play, sleep routine and attempting crib naps as often as you can.
Every day you can make improvements and try again to help gradually and gently teach your little one how to sleep well by themselves. Some days are going to be successful and other days, especially around the six-week mark you may just find yourself in survival mode, but that is ok! Reach out for help from friends and family, take naps when you can and know that the little steps you are taking now will pay off in the future.
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