From the moment you find out you’re going to be a parent, the next nine months of pregnancy will be spent planning, reading, and learning everything you possibly can about parenting and what to do with your newborn infant once he or she (or they) get here.
While I’m still constantly learning every day, one of the greatest lessons I’ve gleaned from living with my little miracles is the value of laying a healthy sleep foundation during the first five years of their lives.
Just like riding a bike, reading or writing, learning to sleep is an actual skill your children will learn, and you can begin teaching them very gently early on. All it takes is a little knowledge and practice for both baby and parents and the foundation for a lifetime of healthy sleep habits will be set in place.
As soon as your little one makes his or her (or their) appearance in their new home, your world is no longer the same. Your focus shifts from “doing your own thing” to doing your baby’s thing: changing diapers, feedings, and loving and nurturing your fully dependent new housemate. It’s the start of a whole new journey of unchartered territory, and this journey can quickly become foggy when you start to lose sleep due to all the adjustments that are happening.
So I’m betting you’re ready to know the answers to a few questions, aren’t you? Well, you’re in luck! I’ve got answers for all of your questions about newborn sleep. Let’s go!
“How can I help my newborn sleep well?”
During the first six months of life the sleep goals and expectations should be very simple. You should not expect your baby to sleep through the night. Although some do, that’s not the case for the majority of babies.
Also during the first six months of life your baby will sleep anywhere from 14-17 hours in a 24 hour period. That includes 3-5 daytime naps and night sleep.
“Is there a schedule for my newborn?”
Most likely not, and there shouldn’t be since sleep is not well organized neurologically during these first six months. That just means your baby is in lighter slumber stages. Between 4-6 months baby’s circadian rhythm begins to develop which means “adult-like” sleep patterns begin. I’ll share more on that in another post. This also means your baby is most likely not ready to be sleep trained before six months of age. But this is a great time to practice putting baby down drowsy but awake and allowing your baby to do the work of putting themselves to sleep 1-2 times a day which will help you get on a schedule organically.
Between 6-8 weeks, parents may begin to see some consistent patterns emerge. This would be the time to work towards a consistent wake time in the morning and bedtime with your baby. Those will be the bookends for your day to help you work towards a schedule. Be flexible with naps in between to fill your baby’s sleep tank, allowing for short and long naps along the way.
“Does this mean sleep is all over the place?”
Not at all. After about three to four weeks, you can begin to gradually introduce some routines and patterns for your baby. It’s important to be flexible during this time and NOT look for minute-by-minute schedules that may not be developmentally appropriate for your baby.
Creating flexible routines can help you relieve stress and anxiety & save energy because you’ll know what to expect and how to best respond to your baby.
One of my best tips to share with families is creating flexible routines. Flexible routines offer freedom, a little bit of structure to have a rhythm or flow of your day. It allows you to be responsive and reflective in your decision making with your baby. It helps you understand and meet your baby’s needs and for you to be intuitive and support your baby through the day. Typically families will have a routine where your baby wakes up, eats, plays, and then sleeps. You’ll repeat this rhythm 8-12 times in a 24 hour period. By establishing flexible routines, it helps mom and dad know what to do but also allows the baby to enjoy some predictability.
“How can I lay a healthy sleep foundation?”
- In the early weeks, keep visitors to a minimum and create a calm environment for baby. Allow time to “nest in” and get to know what your baby is communicating to you.
- Establish healthy feedings from day one whether you are nursing or bottle-feeding. Check with your pediatrician to assure that your baby is growing well.
- Create a flexible routine for the day, which will be followed during the first years of your child’s life.
- Engage with your baby during floor time to help them have short periods of stimulation during wakeful times. Time on your baby’s back and belly is a great activity for your baby. This is also a great time to begin to foster self directed play.
- Implement a simple sleep routine: sleep sack or swaddle, sing a song, and time to go to sleep on a flat surface. This allows your baby to know what to expect and get prepare their body for sleep.
- Explore other ways other to soothe your baby other than nursing and feeding. Sometimes our babies simply need to be held or rocked.
- Learn and observe your baby’s cues for eating and sleeping to help guide you.
- Observe your baby’s active and deep sleep patterns.
- Pause for 1 minute when your baby begins to fuss before you intervene.
- Learn to accept short and long naps during the first few months. Naps don’t fully develop until somewhere between 6-9 months of age so being flexible will help you as sleep develops and matures.
- Practice putting your baby down to sleep drowsy but awake. Be there and support your baby as they are learning and practicing these new sleep skills.
“What happens if I don’t understand what my baby is telling me?”
As new parents, sometimes you might not know what your baby’s cry is really trying to communicate to you. This was one of the big reasons I spent over 3.5 years sleep deprived — I didn’t know what I didn’t know. When I created Sleep Doula Solutions I had in mind sharing the education and support that I offer families when I’m with them on a postpartum doula shift. It’s a little by little approach to help families get calm, confident, and rested with age appropriate expectations. This is a learning process for both parents and baby, so be kind and patient with yourself.
Reaching out for help, along with having a postpartum support plan, helps provide positive outcomes for parents and baby. A postpartum doula, sleep consultant, or newborn specialist can help you interpret what each of your baby’s nuances mean. Other trusted resources can be lactation consultants, nurses, doctors, specialists, support groups and even mommy gatherings.
“What do I do when someone asks, ‘How can I help?’”
Be sure to guide them towards your dishes, folding some laundry, preparing a meal, or any other tasks you need done. During these first few months, you are going to need some time to get acquainted with your little miracle. Take advantage of all of the help you’re offered. If your family lives too far away to be a consistent source of in-house support, it’s okay to ask for gift certificates to help provide some of these services and support for you.
By asking for help you ensure the well-being of both mom and dad is in place. If mom or dad isn’t well there’s a good chance your baby won’t be either, and this could be one of the reasons he or she isn’t sleeping. If you are a mom that is experiencing any stress, anxiety or depression, this could hold you back from delighting in this journey with your little one. There are many wonderful resources to reach out to and get support locally. Check out support groups available with Kerri Kristoff, Support For Newborn Moms or Moms Supporting Moms. For support in your area check out Postpartum Support International.
“When should I sleep train my baby?”
It is not recommended for you to sleep train your baby until after six months of age. Developmentally your baby may not be ready to sleep through the night. And yes, it’s still common for babies to have night wakings that include night feedings. It’s important to know that sleep for children begins to shift toward adult-like patterns between 4-6 months of age.
“If I hear, sleep when baby sleeps, one more time, I might lose my mind. What can I do to get more sleep? “
Sleep when baby sleeps is usually not the most helpful advice for parents. It can be very challenging and overwhelming to navigate our rest during these early weeks when our baby needs to be fed more frequently, there is always laundry, we need to eat, and mom is still recovering from birth. I’ve also had moms share that it makes it more difficult to sleep at night if they sleep during the day.
Parents are navigating and trying to figure out the new normal with their growing family. My one tip to help you feel better is to give yourself permission to rest for 5-20 minutes. Set an alarm if that helps you. Lay down and get horizontal helps your body feel better, recover, and can take the edge off of being so tired.
Don’t sleep, just take a rest. Do some breathing.
“I hear about all these babies that are sleeping through the night. Why won’t mine? What’s wrong with my child?”
Nothing at all! There is absolutely nothing wrong with your baby. Each baby is as individual and unique as you and I are. They all have their likes and dislikes. Some babies are easy going, while others need more “entertainment.” The key is to figure out what your baby needs, love your little one right where he or she is, and use the process that works best for your little blessing.
It takes time, patience, and consistency to establish healthy sleep habits, and using the first six months to practice this will pay off in spades — in sleep! — in the long run.
As an educator, I believe all children can learn healthy sleep habits. Everything is learnable! You are your child’s best and first teacher as you guide them through these first years. When you begin to establish these gentle sleep habits with your little one, you’ll be amazed at the foundation you’ve laid. And you just might find yourself not having to sleep train your baby!
Do you have questions? Let’s hop on call.