How to Get a Newborn to Sleep

As an expectant parent, there is no shortage of opinions on everything from how to feed your baby, to whether or not to vaccinate, to how you’ll never sleep again. Veteran parents everywhere will tell you to “sleep now” because once the baby’s here, you’ll be up all night. But is that really true? If it is, how come we don’t live in a world where people only have one child?

It’s no secret that getting good sleep in childhood is proven to help cognitive development, emotional regulation, behavior, and overall health. Fostering healthy sleep habits with your little one right off the bat will set you up for long-term sleep success. But how daunting does all of this sound to a new parent? This is where I can help! As a sleep consultant, I’ve worked with many newborns and have several tips and tricks up my sleeve to help you lay a strong foundation for a lifetime of healthy sleep!

 

Give Yourself Grace

Although newborns are not developmentally able to sleep for long stretches, let alone through the night, there are certainly steps that you can take to instill a healthy sleep foundation from the start. But you don’t have to start the moment your little one lets out their first cry. Give everyone a bit of time to adjust to their “new normal” upon welcoming your baby to the world. Around 2-3 weeks, you can begin to employ some strategies that should help to lay the foundation for healthy sleep.

 

Schedule Your Days

I’m very type A and love a good schedule, but life with a newborn can be very chaotic and unpredictable. Newborn sleep in itself is unique because it is so disorganized, so it will be hard to nail down any type of schedule to perfection. However, that does not mean that you cannot practice.

Newborns up to 10-12 weeks old can only really handle 45-60 minutes of awake time at once before they are going to need to sleep again. Making sure that you are honoring your little one’s sleep needs by giving them the opportunity to snooze frequently is important in ensuring they do not become overtired and extra fussy. In the beginning, schedule your days into blocks centered around eating and sleeping and take it one “block” at a time.

I recommend following an eat – play – sleep pattern which facilitates full feedings immediately following a nap when your little one is the most awake. Otherwise, you may fall into a “snack-and-snooze” cycle where your baby is never getting a full tummy and therefore cannot sleep for long, restorative periods. As a bonus, following eat – play - sleep will also minimize the chances that your little one will develop a feed-to-sleep association which can be difficult to break later on. Following this pattern can also help you, the parent, determine the reason for your babies cries; if you have fed them, changed them, and had some awake time, you can be certain that your little one’s fusses are due to fatigue and they are ready for a nap!

 

Help Sort Out Any Day/Night Confusion

It is not uncommon for newborns to have their days and nights confused. While in the womb, your daily movement lulled your little one into slumber while your stillness at night meant it was party time. Do you remember your little one throwing a party in your tummy at all hours of the night? To help reverse day/night confusion, you can practice: 

  • Exposing your newborn to natural light and fresh air during awake periods and make sure it is as dark as possible overnight and for daytime sleeping.

  • Being engaging and keep babe awake during daytime feedings but minimize interaction during nighttime feedings.

  • Using dim light for all nighttime interactions.

  • Implementing a bedtime routine from the beginning.

While newborns sleep a lot, it can be helpful to differentiate the days from the nights early on not only to help correct day/night confusion, but also to begin to establish a routine that can help make bedtimes more predictable and prepare your little one for more independent sleep when they are developmentally able.

 

Create A Bedtime Routine (And Stick to It!)

Routines are very valuable to babies. Studies have shown that even by 8 weeks, babies can recognize and respond to routines. Set a simple but consistent bedtime routine that you repeat each night before laying your baby down for “bed”. Routines should be about 20-30 minutes long and can include a bath, lotion & massage, books, a final feed, and all the hugs and kisses!

While sleep is certainly going to be a rollercoaster for the first several weeks, employing these guidelines can help to lay the foundation for healthy sleep and prepare your little one for independent sleep when there are developmentally ready.

For even more helpful tips during the newborn stage plus strategies to make sleep easier in your household, download the Newborn Guide or consider one-on-one support to give you peace of mind and stress-free nights.