6 Sleep Tips for Newborns
You may have taken all of the prenatal classes offered–Baby Care 101, Intro to Breastfeeding, prenatal yoga–even enlisting your significant other for Daddy Boot camp! You set up the nursery with all of the necessary gear, made sure you have everything in place for your baby’s arrival…But then baby came home! You know what size diapers to buy, how to feed your little one, and buckle her into her car seat…but sleep? Impossible!
Newborn sleep is tricky for two reasons. First, newborns have days and nights mixed up, and until their biological clocks figure it out (with your help of course!), there won’t be much difference in sleep between the two. Second, babies need to feed frequently to ensure adequate weight gain. This definitely puts a damper on long stretches of sleep.
But there are things that you can do to encourage your baby to be a good sleeper! Here are 6 tips to help lay a foundation for healthy sleep habits:
1. Watch for signs that your baby is getting tired to prevent over-tiredness
Newborns sleep 16-18 hours during each 24-hour period, including 4-5 daytime naps. During the first few months, your baby should only be awake 45-60 minutes in between naps, so a feeding, diaper change and a few minutes of playtime and then it’s off to bed again! Some signs that your baby is ready for sleep include: rubbing her eyes or nose, red-rimmed eyes, arching her back or twisting, pulling on her ears (usually not until 3 months), and of course, yawning!
2. Put your baby to bed awake
If you’ve been rocking, nursing, or otherwise soothing your baby to sleep, this is going to seem like a tough one…but it’s actually the most important step! It’s only by letting him fall asleep without your help at bedtime that he can learn the skills necessary to stay asleep through the night.
3. Use a swaddling blanket for the first few months
You’ve probably seen your baby throw out his arms in his sleep. This is called the Moro Reflex and swaddling is great to help prevent him from startling himself awake. Around 2 months, this reflex will disappear, at which point the swaddle is no longer needed. When a swaddle is used past the first few months, babies can start to rely on that tight fitting blanket to lull them to sleep (at which point swaddling becomes a sleep prop). It’s best to start weaning your baby off of the swaddle sometime between 8-12 weeks of age.
4. Set up a calming and consistent bedtime routine
We all have a pre-bed routine…we may straighten up downstairs, make sure the doors are locked, change into pajamas, brush teeth, have a drink of water, and read a bit before turning off the lights. Everyone’s routine is slightly different, but we never just walk in the door and crawl into bed! Babies need a transition too. Starting with a bath is a great first step because the experience is so different from the rest of her day. Then a little massage with some baby lotion, dress her in a cozy sleeper and new diaper, sing a song and feed her. Do the routine in the nursery to start getting her used to her new room. Remember, it’s never too early to start a bedtime routine and it’s a great way to cue the body and the brain to settle down for sleep.
5. Remove toys from the crib
Many parents receive crib toys–aquariums, mobiles, lots of stuffed animals–as shower and baby gifts, but using these in a sleep environment can be very stimulating for a baby. There’s music, lights, little toys spinning around above their heads…it’s like a circus! My advice is to clear the crib of these toys and make the crib for sleep, not for playing. The one item I would encourage having in the crib is a lovey, so your baby can cuddle with something as he falls asleep.
6. Make a clear distinction between daytime and night time
For the first 4-6 weeks, your baby will be up feeding every few hours. In the meantime, you can encourage your baby to transition to “normal” waking hours by keeping him in brightly lit and active areas during the day and creating a quieter and darker environment at night time.
Remember that your baby is growing and learning every day and longer stretches of sleep are right around the corner! Assuming your child is healthy and gaining weight at a normal rate, night feeds will typically diminish between 11-13 weeks. Our biological clocks are programmed to be more alert and awake during the day and asleep at night…and babies are working towards this in the first 3 months of life. At about 6 weeks, their little bodies are beginning to adjust and will typically sleep 3-5 hours at a time. When babies are about 12 weeks old, most are able to consolidate their feeds during the day which will promote consolidated sleep at night. Once this happens, babies can sleep 10-12 hours at a time.
So in these first few months, use these tips to set a foundation for healthy sleep habits and you and your baby will be rewarded with a full night’s sleep soon!
Kim Schaf, M.A.T., is the Founder and President of Sleep Training Solutions and the Midwest Regional Director (USA) for the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants (APSC). After completing an extensive training and mentoring program with one of the world’s most respected child sleep authorities, she became a Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant and offers expert guidance to resolve behavioral sleep issues for families in Chicago and across the country.