Healthy Sleep Habits For Your Newborn Baby
Bringing your newborn baby home is all rainbows and butterflies.
Until the lack of sleep starts catching up with you. It could be a few days. A few weeks. A few months.
Mix that with all the hormonal changes you might be experiencing after giving birth, trying to feed your baby around the clock, and learning all about this new little person you created...and you might have a recipe for disaster. Sleep deprivation is no joke.
I thought, heading into parenthood, that I had it all figured out. After all, I was a NICU and post partum nurse. I worked with babies all the time!
However, after learning about and dealing with a tongue tie, a reflux and colicky baby, and not knowing any better about sleep, I fed my first baby to sleep quite a bit. This isn’t bad in and of itself, it just will make things harder down the road...which we learned around 4 months old when the first regression hit. It hit us hard. Read all about the 4 month sleep regression here.
I don’t say all of these things to scare you - that’s not my intention at all! But more so to keep things real when it comes to early motherhood and those first few weeks and months in your postpartum period. And, of course, to offer some advice!
When it comes to your little one’s sleep, I’m your girl!
Your goal during the newborn phase should be to:
get to know your baby
focus on getting full feeds
snuggle and bond
keep your baby safe
I have nine tips to help you help your baby start forming some healthy sleep habits right from the start!
Keep your expectations around sleep...pretty low...
Your baby’s sleep is going to be very sporadic the first few weeks especially. Around 6-8 weeks their circadian rhythm will start to settle down, and you can help them distinguish between day and night by trying to get outside or expose them to sunlight - once in the morning hours and again in the later afternoon or evening if possible. Your baby will pretty much be able to sleep anywhere as a newborn, however, as they get older, you’ll want to make sure they’re sleeping in total darkness as this will support sleep-hormone development and release at appropriate times, promoting quality sleep patterns in the future.
Expect lots of catnaps and night wakings every few hours the first few weeks too. Your baby’s tummy is pretty small, so they need to eat frequently and will wake to do so.
You can start incorporating sleep routines as soon as you are ready. Doing a bath, a diaper change, putting on fresh pyjamas, offering a top-off feed, swaddling your baby, and ending with some cuddles before you lay your baby down to sleep is a great starting point for a bedtime routine. If you can (it’s hard, so no worries if it doesn’t work!), try to keep your baby awake during their last feed to ensure a full tummy going to sleep.
Following this pattern throughout your baby’s day will support quality sleep. Upon waking from the night or from a nap, offer a full feeding. After the feed, burp your baby and maybe do a few minutes of tummy time on the floor. If your baby is awake enough and engaged, do some play! At the newborn stage, it’s mostly just staring into their eyes and talking to them. Before you know it, they’ll be starting to stare off in the distance. Their eyebrows might get red. These are the first signs that they’re tired. If you see a yawn, it’s definitely time to do a quick naptime routine and, you guessed it, put them down for a nap. This can feel like a vicious cycle.
Practice the first nap of the day in the crib.
The first nap of the day is always the easiest to practice in the crib because your baby has leftover sleep pressure from the night before. You might even notice that as the days go on, your little one gets fussier and more difficult to soothe in the late afternoons and evenings. This is normal. You can, however, cut this fussiness by offering naps frequently throughout the day to ensure your baby isn’t getting overtired. Naps later in the day can be in a carrier or in the stroller. You can hold them. Grandma can hold them. Just make sure whoever is doing the holding is totally awake and can assure that the baby is safe in their arms.
Soothe your baby with the 5 S’s (from Dr. Harvey Karp)
Swaddle your baby! Your baby was held tightly in your womb for the last nine months. A swaddle mimics this tight feeling and is comforting for a baby.
Sucking can also be soothing. Offering your breast, finger, or a pacifier can help calm a fussy baby.
Shushing also mimics the sound of the blood rushing past the womb that your baby heard nonstop for 9 months. It was 80 dB inside your womb! Use white noise, and don’t be afraid to crank it up if your baby is fussing. You can always turn it down a bit when they’re calm. Leave it around 55-60 dB for sleep.
Side/Stomach holding can also help soothe a fussy baby. Just make sure your baby is on their back for sleep.
Swinging/Rocking is another go-to for calming your newborn.
Follow appropriate awake times!
Did you know that your newborn baby can only handle about 45-60 minutes of time awake before they need to sleep again?! Consider that a feeding likely takes 20-30 minutes, a diaper change takes a few, and you need to play for a few, shorty thereafter your baby is going to be ready to sleep again soon! I know this seems like a lot, and it is, but I promise that offering naps frequently is the key to ensuring that your baby doesn’t get overstimulated and fight sleep later in the day and at night when they really need it. Sleep begets sleep!
Snag my Master Sleep Chart here, gives you all the sleep averages by age and is an invaluable resources to use the first few years of your child's life.
Contact and carrier naps are your friends :)
This seems like a lot of rules, doesn’t it? How about a fun one?! Do some contact naps each day! Your baby needs to feel safe and as the day goes on naps get more difficult. Instead of it being a battle to get your baby to sleep in their crib or bassinet, just do a contact nap. A little skin-to-skin can also be magical for calming your baby later in the day.
Use a pacifier.
Pacifier use in the first few months is highly recommended as it helps prevent SIDS. Sucking also helps your baby calm down if they’re fussy, and it might even help them sleep better. At a certain point, a pacifier may become a problem if your baby becomes dependent on it and you find yourself having to go in and replace it for them. Weigh the risks and benefits and decide what will work best for your family.
Keep your baby safe.
Your baby’s sleep space should be a crib or bassinet, with only a tightly-fitted sheet over a breathable mattress. No swings. No surfaces with inclines. Nothing else in the crib besides your baby in a swaddle or sleep sack. Lay your baby on their back. Have some airflow and keep the temperature between 19-21 degrees Celsius (68-72 degrees Fahrenheit). If you’re ever feeling too tired to hold your baby for a nap, don’t do it. The same goes with driving. Driving while overtired is comparable to driving while intoxicated. Please don’t drive you or your baby around if you are overtired.
Needless to say, I followed these tips with my second and third babies, and things were a lot easier!
Did you know I offer a Newborn Sleep Class and Newborn Sleep Plan that you can purchase? If this sounds like something you want to learn more about and set your baby up for success when it comes to sleep, go check it out on my website. The Sleep Plan and Class also comes with email support, so you can ask all your newborn questions to set your baby up for sleep success!
I'd love to help you navigate these hards days with confidence.