When you bring your baby home no one tells you that “sleep like a baby” only lasts a short time. This article will give you 10 tips to help your newborn sleep better.
Disclaimer: Before I get to the 10 tips to help your newborn sleep, I thought I should note that it can be dangerous for a new newborn baby (just a few weeks old) to sleep all night. They really do need to eat at least every 3 hours in those early days so they can grow well and thrive.
It is also safest to place baby on his back to sleep, to guard against SIDS. You may be interested in other ways to lower SIDS risks.
There, now that I got that out of the way.
Newborn Baby Sleep
1. Short Wake-time
The first week or so, your newborn baby will most likely hardly be awake, but after the first week or two, the #1 key with your newborn is to keep wake times very short, at first. You should soothe your baby for sleep after just 1-2 hours of wake time TOPS. You should look for signs that she is getting sleepy and start soothing her. If you wait until she is fussy, cranky or crying, you are actually too late!
An overtired baby will have more trouble settling down and going to sleep and staying asleep. My boys always fell asleep easiest when I caught them before they started to fuss and cry. Some babies are much more sensitive to being overtired than others, so while others will barely notice their child get sleepy before she drifts off to sleep, others will begin to realize just how in tune with their baby they need to be!
By wake time, I mean to include feedings and diaper changes and disregard how long her last nap was. For example, little Suzie starts to nap at 8am and sleeps for 3 hours. She eats at 11am and you change her diaper. Now, it’s 11:30 and you decide to give her a bath. At 11:45, she is fussy. She is already overtired and she needs a nap! In the beginning, they can’t go long before getting tired and overstimulated.
To help mimic the feeling of the womb, it helps to swaddle your newborn baby. This basically means to wrap him up in a blanket like a little burrito. You may have seen them do it at the hospital. This helps him feel safe and secure and also helps him stay asleep during any moro reflex or startle reflex moments. It is said that those reflexes are similar to how we have the feeling we are falling while falling asleep. It can take up to 4 or 5 months for your baby to stop the startling.
I recommend The Miracle Blanket for swaddling. It is a little pricey, but so easy to use and so hard for your baby to break out of! So worth it, to me! If you can’t or don’t want to spend that much, try this SwaddleMe Wrap.
We encourage you to read these tips for safe swaddling.
3. Days bright / Nights dark
Although you might be tempted to keep things quiet and darker for your newborn to nap well, it might prolong the day/night confusion that almost all newborns will have. Day/Night confusion can last up to 6 weeks. When she was in mom’s belly, mom’s movements lulled her to sleep and when mom was resting, she’d have a party. When she comes out, she doesn’t know she should act in the complete opposite fashion.
So, keep days bright and upbeat and nights, dark and boring, and it will help your newborn sort out her days and nights faster. This might be more than you want to know, but light is what cues our eyes to tell us to stay awake or whether it’s time to sleep.
4. Limit naps
If he is taking longer to sort out days and nights (or you are having a very rough time keeping up with him being up all night), you can further speed up the process by limiting naps to no longer than 3-4 hours during the day. Read more here about newborn sleep patterns and schedules.
5. Post-feeding routine
To help your newborn baby sort out day and night sleeping even more, you may want to develop a play routine after she eats during the day. Keep her awake 30 minutes after feeding by playing, singing, bathing, etc. Again, the light stimulating her eyes will help her sort out that daylight is for being awake at least a little bit. Many people recommend the eat-play-sleep routine for newborns. This is the primary message of the popular book, On Becoming Baby Wise. You might want to read why Babywise may not be right for your baby, though.
Sometimes it helps to have your newborn in the room with you for quick access for middle-of-the-night feedings and diaper changes. This also can help give him more comfort being close by as he will be able to hear and smell you. For safety reasons, you should use a Co-Sleeper , sleep positioner, or bassinette, rather than have baby in bed with you. I used the second one with my second son and then I moved it into his crib for a seamless transition to his crib. We were able to remove it a few weeks later.
7. Angle the mattress
For babies who spit up a lot or have reflux, it helps to angle the mattress when he sleeps, so baby is not flat on his back. You’ll want to angle the mattress so his feet are lower than his head, so his stomach contents can stay put. To angle the mattress, you can simply change the support platform level on one side on most cribs. If that is not feasible, you can put blankets and pillow under the mattress. Please note that the mattress should still remain flat at all times, just at an incline. You must make sure that you do not tilt the mattress so much that your baby slides down the bed, either. I strongly recommend that you first check with a knowledgeable health care provider to make sure that what you do is best and safest for your child. I only wanted to highlight the idea.
8. White Noise
White noise is made up of the sounds like a fan whirring, vacuum cleaner, hair-dryer, etc. It helps a newborn sleep because inside mom’s womb was all white noise. The sound of her blood flow, heart beating, etc. That’s why he finds comfort when you may run the vacuum cleaner. My son used to love when I turned on the blow-dryer. Of course, you can’t run the vacuum all day, so I recommend getting a White Noise machine, sound machine or a White Noise CD. I have two of the second one in each boy’s room so they don’t wake each other and they work like a dream! Read more about How White Noise Can Help Your Baby Sleep here.
Read here about some smartphone White Noise apps that can help your baby sleep.
9. Wear baby
For particularly fussy babies or just for parent’s convenience and snuggling, it helps to “wear” baby using a sling. They get very folded up in a sling, but again, it mimics the womb and babies love it! I didn’t use a sling with my first, but used a BabyBjorn Baby Carrier and loved it! It really helped me walk off the baby weight, which was a bonus. But, with my second, I did use this sling (there are many others!) and my son would fall asleep in less than 5 minutes until he grew out of it. This helped tremendously when I needed to cook dinner and do stuff with my toddler, at the time. I have also heard good things about the Moby Wrap and the Maya Wrap.
Here are ten reasons to wear your baby.
As I said earlier, mom’s movements lulled baby to sleep while in the womb, so I also recommend trying a swing, but don’t be surprised if your newborn only likes it at high speeds. Our family teased us we were making our first son “drunk”, but he just loved it going FAST and it was the only way he’d fall asleep in it! We used something like this swingto help him sleep (I don’t see the exact one I used anymore — guess I’m officially old now). My friend has the Fisher-Price Ocean Wonders Aquarium Cradle Swing and loves it. They didn’t have that when I was shopping for one!
Important Note: Some say it might not be safe for a newborn to sleep in a car seat, so be cautious about that. Some say it’s just fine.
Unfortunately, some of these tips do create sleep associations, but during the first weeks, you really do what you can to survive. Obviously, it never hurts to try to put your baby down to sleep without any of these “tricks”, but as I’ve probably said a billion times already on this site, it just doesn’t work for all of us.
For more product and site recommendations, please view my baby sleep resources page.
For additional information on helping your child sleep, you may be interested in our free guide, 5 Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night or our e-Book, The 3 Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep.