Life with a newborn can be wonderful – all those cuddles! But it can also be overwhelming, scary and exhausting. There’s no handy instruction manual for having a baby and new parents are thrown in at the deep end, especially when it comes to sleep. No one tells you that your newborn – a baby under 28 days old – will not actually sleep like a baby!
Helping your newborn learn to sleep is not easy, but it does become more manageable – you just need to establish what works for your family. There is no perfect way, but PishPosh Baby has put together some tips on what you can do to establish good sleep, for both you and your baby.
What To Expect With Your Newborn’s Sleep
Coping with the way babies sleep can be difficult. It’s not that babies don’t sleep. In fact, they sleep more now than at any other stage of life. It’s more an issue of when they sleep. Before your little one was born, they lived in total darkness and became accustomed to snoozing the day away when you were most active, lulling them to sleep by moving around, and getting energetic at night – remember those nocturnal kicks?
Newborns Don’t Know If It's Day Or Night
Very young babies haven’t yet got the hang of their circadian rhythms. These act like a clock and mean that we typically feel more awake during the morning hours and sleepy at night, regardless of when we last slept. In very young babies, this process is not yet developed. This means that sleep is more likely to occur at different points across the 24-hour day. Don’t worry – this is only temporary. At the end of the first month, your baby will start making their own melatonin, a sleep-regulating hormone.
Tiny Babies Need To Feed Every Two To Three Hours
Newborns start life with small stomachs which need to be filled regularly so they can gain strength and stay hydrated, so it’s a good thing that they are waking regularly to feed. As hard as disturbed sleep can be for caregivers, a wakeful baby is something to celebrate!
Newborns are also restless little sleepers which means they wake easily. Around half of their sleep time is spent in REM (rapid eye movement) mode – that light, active sleep during which babies move, dream and maybe wake with a whimper.
How Much Sleep Does A Newborn Need?
Tearing your hair out at having to constantly get up in the night to tend to your newborn? Remember these facts to keep from going round the bend. At first, newborns sleep a lot – about 14 to 17 hours a day – but that sleep is broken up every hour or two by periods of wakefulness. In the early weeks, your baby will mostly wake just long enough to be fed and changed before returning to snooze anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours.
When Is My Newborn Really Hungry?
Newborns’ tiny tummies mean they need to eat at least every two to four hours. So, how do you know when they’re actually whimpering to be fed or just making noises in their sleep? You’ll soon learn to differentiate between the different cries – some will mean ‘feed me’ whereas others could mean that your little one is stirring – so you can respond quickly when they’re truly hungry, feed them and let them (hopefully!) drift back off for a little longer.
What About Sleep Training?
Sleep training is teaching your baby to be comfortable sleeping for several hours through the night on their own. If they wake up, they’ll learn to self-soothe and fall back asleep. Sounds dreamy, right? Well, it’s something to aim for, if that works for your family. But right now, hold off until your baby is four to six months old, when they’ll be developmentally ready. Your newborn doesn't have a sense of day or night so simply isn’t capable of adhering to a sleep schedule. They must be fed several times a night and need your help to actually fall asleep, whether that’s soothing by shushing, swaying, rocking or nursing.
Crying Is Communication
Crying baby? That means they need to be fed, changed or comforted. They’ve just spent nine months in a nice warm, dark place and it’s scary out in this light, bright, brand-new world. You are their safe haven and there is no greater gift you can give your newborn baby than letting them know you’re there, whatever the time.
Sleep Training Techniques
If your child is still waking at night by four to six months of age, you may want to consider one of two sleep training techniques (although there are many versions of each method): ‘cry it out’ and ‘camping out’. Our advice? Research sleep training to find out which technique will best suit your baby and family.
So, How Do I Get My Baby To Sleep?
Embrace Your Newborn’s Chaotic Sleep Schedule
Don’t expect to establish a sleep routine right away. Go with the flow and accept that life will be a little crazy for a while (OK, probably for a few years!). In the first few weeks of life, babies are hungry at night, restless and don’t know day from night, leading to erratic sleep patterns. Exposing your baby to natural light during the day can help encourage longer periods of daytime wakefulness and more sleep at night. Put them down somewhere cozy. We like the MamaRoo Sleep Bassinet with built in parent-inspired motions and white noise to soothe your newborn.
Establish A Good Bedtime Routine
Create a predictable bedtime routine. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Consistency is key: perform the same activities, in the same sequence, at the same time each evening. Your baby will start to understand the flow of their day, what to expect next and that it’s time to sleep for a longer stretch.
A typical newborn bedtime routine could include turning the lights down low, changing your baby into their sleepsuit, swaddling, feeding or nursing them, reading to them and singing them lullabies.
Swaddling can be incredibly soothing to some babies – try Ely’s&Co. Jersey Cotton Swaddle Set. It's made from the softest fabric and comes with two beanies (one newborn and one 0-3 months so they don’t outgrow the set too fast).
Tiny babies love to be close to you so expect to rock, pat, stroke, shush and cuddle your little one to sleep. Never feel bad for doing this – you’re not spoiling them! Try a cradle that rocks – BabyBjorn makes a great compact model that mimics the gentle rolling motion of a stroller and is the perfect place to sleep in the early months when your baby takes short, frequent naps.
Put Your Newborn To Sleep On Their Back
Babies under the age of one should always be put to sleep on their backs – never on their sides or stomachs. Back sleep minimizes the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This includes naps as well as at night time. After the American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending that babies be put to sleep on their backs, the incidence of SIDS dropped by more than half.
How To Look After Yourself If Your Baby Isn't Sleeping
You know the drill: well-rested parents are better able to help their babies sleep. If you're exhausted, it’s much harder to get your baby to calm down. Sleep is particularly important to maintain your mental health. Taking care of yourself is one of the best things you can do to help your little one get the right amount of quality sleep.
Although lack of sleep is hard for all parents, it’s important to prioritize the mother’s sleep in the beginning. Her body is recovering from one of the biggest hormonal changes she’ll ever experience, as well the major physical experience of giving birth. Sleep is essential for a rapid recovery. More sleep may not be possible when you have a newborn, but there are strategies to maximize what little sleep you do get.
- Sleep when your baby sleeps: forget the dishes, let the dust bunnies collect under the sofa and leave the laundry pile. Snatch sleep whenever and wherever you can.
- Ask for support from friends and family. They can hold your baby, change them, take them out for short walks or bottle-feed them expressed breast milk or formula while you rest. They can also bring you food, do some housework and put on a load of washing to take it off your plate.
- Avoid caffeine late in the day, steer clear of large meals and alcohol before bed and keep your bedroom cool, quiet and free of electronic devices.
- Try sleep aids like white noise, an eye mask and earplugs, if you have a partner or someone else there who can respond to your baby while you sleep.
- It may not be possible but try to get a four- to six-hour block of uninterrupted rest. Repeatedly waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle may mean missing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is key to learning and memory.
- Above all, listen to your body. If you’re experiencing mood swings, loss of appetite, severe sleeping problems and feel like you can’t do basic everyday tasks, you could have postpartum depression. Talk to your healthcare provider right away to get the treatment you need.
Learn More About Postpartum Care
It’s completely understandable to become stressed when your newborn baby doesn’t sleep well, particularly if your friend’s little one sleeps like a dream. It can be tempting to compare yourself to others or to think that you’re doing it all wrong. But there is no one road to march down in search of perfect infant sleep – all babies are different.
It can help to remember that ‘this too shall pass’, and embrace the strange but beautiful upside-down newborn world. For more advice on navigating life with a newborn, read our article ‘Postpartum Care: Preparing For Life After Giving Birth’.