If you’re reading this post, you might be researching in preparation for a new arrival – seeking the best strategies to manage the sleepless nights ahead.
Alternatively, you might be reading this through crossed eyes because you’re already in the midst of those sleepless nights.
In either case, we’ve prepared this quick guide to help you manage your newborn’s sleep schedule (or lack thereof).
What is normal sleep for a newborn?
You’ve had years and years to get accustomed to the wake-sleep cycle. And while you may think it’s instinctual to sleep through the night, your newborn hasn’t yet learned this pattern.
In the first few weeks after birth, it is common for newborns to sleep during the day and at night, around 17 hours of sleep per day.
What about sleeping through the night?
Newborns will need to eat at least every 3 hours during their first few months of life. So the concept of “sleeping through the night” isn’t something you can even worry about until at least three months of age.
Unfortunately, every child is a bit different when it comes to sleeping through the night, so some will begin around three months while it might take others around one year.
When should I be concerned?
Stanford Children’s Health recommends monitoring your child’s sleep patterns but emphasizes that changes in sleep patterns are normal and natural.
If your child is suddenly waking more often than usual, it may be a growth spurt; however, if the change is prolonged or accompanied by other symptoms (excessive reflux, for example) seek advice from your pediatrician.
Create Healthy Sleeping Habits for Your Newborn
- Look out for the signs – Yawning, rubbing eyes, looking away, fussing
2. Transfer to the crib – Many newborns will fall asleep while feeding or while in your arms. This is fine while the child is still a newborn but may lead to dependencies later on. Most experts recommend allowing your child to become sleepy while in your arms but transferring them to the bed while on the edge of sleep. This way, they’ll begin to learn how to fall asleep on their own.
3. Swaddling – The swaddle is a tried and true method. There are entire articles dedicated to swaddling techniques, and many parents find special swaddling blankets to be quite useful. As a quick word of caution, swaddling requires a proper technique to be effective and safe. Below are some tips as per Stanford Children’s Health:
4. Don’t swaddle if your baby is two months or older
5. Give your baby room to move their hips and legs
6. Don’t place the baby’s legs such that they are held together and straight down
7. Beware of Overheating. Don’t swaddle in excessively warm weather or with a thick blanket
8. Consistency is key. While your baby’s sleep schedule will remain inconsistent for the first few weeks, it is helpful to begin establishing sleep cues, or routines, during this time. Sleep cues might include: singing, rocking, noise machine, swaddle, shushing, etc. Sleep cues tend to change over time as your baby grows, and as you can begin to establish a more regular bedtime.
9. Avoid overstimulation. It’s an exciting new world for your infant, full of sounds, smells, and sights. If your baby is not sleeping enough, they may be overstimulated. Try reducing their sensory input or limiting input to one soothing sound (noise machine, music, singing, etc.) Some parents also avoid eye contact with their baby. Although it may sound strange, you’re not giving your baby the cold shoulder; you are helping them disengage so that they can drift off.
10. Set the example. Just as body language is communicating vital information to those around you, your demeanor during nighttime feedings is communicating important information to your baby. Maintaining a calm, low tone of voice (even during the midst of a crying spree) will help reassure your child and set the tone of the moment.
11. Calm the storm. When your baby is too tired or overstimulated, they will often cry with a shrill tone. It is recommended to take your baby out of the overstimulating environment if you can. Stay calm and set the example for your baby. Many parents find help in the form of a pacifier, security blanket, or even a caring (and less tired) family member. One trick my mother always swore by is gently stroking your baby’s face (bridge of the nose, forehead, or cheeks).
12. Set the mood. Creating the right environment for sleep is also important. Unfortunately, there is no set standard because every baby will be a little bit different in terms of what makes them comfortable. However, we’ve gathered tips from other parents around the blogosphere so that you can find what works best for you:
13. Adjust the temperature, be sure that A/C units or other fans are not pointing at your baby’s bed.
14. Keep the room dark, with minimal lighting if any. Many experts recommend investing in blackout curtains.
15. Try a white noise/sound machine
16. Create a comfortable bed, but don’t over-stuff with toys or fluffy objects (this can lead to an increased risk of suffocation)
17. Take care to avoid making noise while opening and closing their bedroom door. Some parents have found clever ways to depress the doorknob using rubber bands or tape.
18. Preheat the bed with a hot water bottle or warming pad but be sure to remove these objects before putting your child to sleep. Warming the bed will help smoothly transition your baby out of your arms.
19. Time your diaper changes. Of course, you don’t want to allow your child to sleep with a full diaper! But diaper changes in the middle of the night can be an engaging, overstimulating activity for your baby. Most experts recommend changing your baby’s diaper before the nighttime feeding. This way you are only changing the diaper during the night if your baby has pooped or soaked through the diaper.
You’re Not Alone!
Fortunately, you’re not alone in this struggle – every parent out there has faced the uncertainty of newborn sleep patterns. Whether you turn to your parents for advice, friends, or even here to this blog, there’s a wealth of information out there to help guide you through this phase of life.