If you’re expecting, or recently had a new baby, then…CONGRATULATIONS! Welcoming a newborn into your family is one of the most beautiful, life-changing experiences you’ll ever encounter.
Unfortunately, it also means you can kiss sleep goodbye, at least for the next few months.
Newborns rarely sleep for more than two to three hours at a time. Their little bellies just aren’t big enough to hold enough milk to keep them sleeping any longer than that. In saying that, they still need an awful lot of sleep – around 18 hours a day!
This can sometimes be a hard thing to manage, and a bit of a shock to the system after everything you’ve already been through bringing your bundle of joy into the world. They need sleep, but they won’t always settle easily and they keep waking up.
How can you ensure they get enough sleep now AND learn to sleep longer when they’re developmentally ready?
Here are a few tips from what I learned from my own newborn journey to encourage better sleep during the newborn stage...1. Keep wake time short
Newborn babies can only tolerate around 45 minutes of time awake. Yes, their stamina is that short! Basically you have time for a feed, nappy change, and a little bit of cuddle and play time, and then it’s time to go back to sleep. Your baby’s primary activity at this age should be sleeping.
Watch your baby's cues for tired signs and make a note of the timings for when these happen. This is how you create their first routine. Newborns are still learning as well as you but if you can learn to follow their cues and timing, putting them down will go a lot more smoothly than if you simply keep them up for an hour or two, as it prevents them from getting overtired.
As a new parent, it can be tough to limit your wake time with your baby to only 6 hours a day, I know. But there will be plenty of time for giggles, tickles, squeals, and all of those other precious moments later on. And you’ll get a lot more of them with a well-rested baby.2. Differentiate between night and day
By creating a clear separation between day and night you’ll help teach your baby that daytime is for active play and night-time is for sleep. This might seem like a challenge when your newborn seems to sleep or wake regardless of the hour. However, there are some things you can do now to create a clear separation between the two periods.
The first is to adopt an “EAT – PLAY – SLEEP” pattern during the day. Feeding your baby when they wake from sleep, instead of just before going to sleep, is a flexible schedule that you can repeat throughout the day without worrying about set times.
You should also try to take your baby outside during the day to enjoy as much fresh air and natural light as possible. Doctors say this helps set their circadian rhythm (their internal 24-hour clock that takes time for a newborn to develop) and encourages them to sleep better at night. And when your baby does wake during the night, keep the lights dim and ensure interaction (eye contact and talking) is kept to a minimum. In this way he or she will learn that night time is for sleep and not a time for play.3. Start a bedtime routine
Establishing a good bedtime routine right from day one is a great way to help your baby organise days and nights and start to consolidate night sleep more quickly. By following a consistent routine, you will teach your baby to look forward to bedtime and anticipate what is about to happen next.
I recommend starting the bedtime routine off with a bath. It’s such a significantly different experience to anything else that occurs during the day, and your newborn will soon learn that a bath means bedtime is near. Of course, if your baby absolutely hates baths, don’t force them to take one; your bedtime routine should consist of fun and relaxing activities that both you and your little one can enjoy.
You could also incorporate baby massage, changing into pyjamas, feeding and kisses into your bedtime routine before putting your baby down for the night (and yes, you should expect to see them a few more times before morning at this age).4. Let them practice self settling
After the first month or so at home, it’s certainly worth putting your child down in their bassinet or cot to self settle at least once a day. Put them down drowsy at this age. This gives them the opportunity to practice self-settling - but I don't recommend you leave your newborn to cry on their own. Remember, crying is their only way of communicating. If they wake and cry, pick them up, give them a cuddle and once calm, put them back down again. The idea is to give them the OPPORTUNITY to fall asleep on their own, but don’t expect this to happen every time.
Getting the timing right (see my first point) really helps with this step. It’s also important to pick the right time of day, when you’re both calm and your baby’s not overtired or over-stimulated. Mornings are generally a good time. And don’t worry about what people say about cuddling your baby to sleep at this age. There’s nothing better than holding a sleeping baby in your arms!5. Consider their comfort
Having spent 9 months curled up in their cosy, warm surroundings, newborn babies have a lot of adjusting to do to cope in the outside world. For this reason, you need to consider carefully what you can do to help them with this. There are many products available for newborns these days, and I have listed below some of my personal favourites:
Of course first on the list is.....
And here are some things to know for your sanity: