If you are in the early phases… check out my Ultimate Newborn Sleep Schedule: Week by Week for all you need to know.
Helping a newborn sleep, you say.
Newborns sleep well without any help.
While this is mostly true, there are a few things you can do in this honeymoon phase that will help ensure your baby continues to sleep well long past the time that you can barely wake them up.
three five of my children, I’ve found that the first month or two it is hard to keep the baby awake.
This phase can be deceiving as you sit there, drinking the coffee you may have deprived yourself of during pregnancy, and think you are destined for a quiet life with a child who sleeps well.
Then, what happens, but at 3 or 4 moths your baby starts to “wake up” and you find they aren’t sleeping so well anymore.
This is because this is the point at which the training you’ve done – or not done – starts bearing fruit.
If you’ve trained the baby to sleep well then by 3 months they generally go down without a fight, nap well and are well on their way to (if not already) sleeping through the night.
If the motto has been “live and let sleep” then at this point you’ll begin looking for ways to get your baby to sleep because their extreme drowsiness will begin to be a thing of the past.
Here are some things you can do from birth that’ll help your baby sleep well in the beginning and keep doing so as they grow older.
Note: I’ve done these with all three children and had the same results so while I’m no expert, I am a fan.
1. Swaddle from Day One.
I swaddled from the first day in the hospital until I weaned them months later. I never gave them an option to “like it” or “not like it”
I just did it.
All three of mine liked being swaddled of which I was happy about. Swaddling serves a few purposes.
First, it helps guard against their reflex to jerk their arms up towards their face which, inevitably, wakes them. This is called the startle reflex.
They’ll rarely sleep long periods unswaddled and definitely not after the first month or two. Swaddling also helps signal that it’s time to go to sleep.
If you unswaddle them during their wake time and swaddle them to sleep they’ll understand what’s happening and it’s a great way to get some routine and consistency in early. The more we can do regularly, the better.
2. Feed unswaddled during the day and swaddled at night.
This helps communicate the difference between night and day. During the day, I unswaddle the baby to feed and cuddle and play. Then I swaddle and put them back to bed. During the evening, I keep them swaddled to feed them and this works miracles.
First, it keeps them drowsy enough that they barely wake to feed and then are basically comatose by the time the feed is over and you put them back in their crib to sleep.
By leaving them swaddled you are communicating that it is not the time to wake up, but time to keep sleeping. This is particularly helpful for the 5:00 am feeds. If you are not careful your baby may think this feed means wake up.
Don’t give in, honey, you don’t want to be a tired mom forever.
If you keep the baby swaddled, lights low and feed them put back into the crib they will understand that is still too early (unless you also wake then and like the day to start early).
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3. Change diaper after a feed during the day.
During the day, I unswaddle the baby, feed them, then wait a minute or two for nature and change them. This serves two purposes. It helps to save on diapers because you aren’t changing then immediately changing again, and it also helps to wake them up.
I had a hard time getting all mine to wake up for the first month or two and so changing the diaper helped. Cold air. You get the picture.
4. Change diaper before a feed at night.
This also communicates nighttime.
If the baby rouses enough to make some noises and you know they want to feed, change them quickly and leave them swaddled. Then, with the swaddled baby, feed them a full feed.
three five of mine fed peacefully like this and were back to sleep at the end of the feed. I just gently put them back to bed and that was it.
5. Turn no lights on at night.
This can be a bit tricky, but is golden. I use a flashlight app on my phone if I need some light, but I keep it dark. After their days and nights are straight you don’t want to do anything that will unnecessarily awaken them in the evenings.
If you can help the latch on or find their mouths with the bottle then that’s light enough. This will also help you go back to sleep after the feed.
6. Natural light during wake times, darken the room for naps.
When you wake the up for a feed (or if they wake up on their own) then open the blinds, turn on the lights, unswaddle and feed. This signals very clearly “daytime” and helps wake them up.
Then, as you want them to go for a nap, close the blinds and the curtains and dim it enough that you’ve created a distinction between day and night.
Sure, babies will sleep in the daylight, but that’s not the point. The point of dimming the lights is to, again, signal that it’s time for them to nap. You decide the time, then you give the signals, then you let them get at it.
7. Encourage them to take a full feed.
If you’ve opted to breastfeed then you will run into the baby wanting to snack. Snacking should be avoided for a number of reasons, but as we’re talking about sleeping, snacking is a good nap’s worst enemy.
First off, snacking means they aren’t full enough to sleep a good long time because they’ll wake up early hungry. Of course, the first month they will sleep anyway so you’ll be fooled.
Then, by the point, they will have gotten used to snacking they will stop sleeping so much and you’ll be in a pickle. If your baby falls asleep during a feed, then wake them up. A cold rag, rub their feet, strip them naked, do what it takes.
They need to eat a lot to nap well and if they haven’t eaten enough during the day you can bet they’ll wake up a few extra times in the night to make up for it.
8. Avoid overtiredness.
With all my newborns, from the time I feed them until I put them down for a nap was never longer than 50 minutes. Including feeding time. If I fed at 1 pm then by 1:50 pm at the latest, they were swaddled snuggled and down for a nap.
With my third son, at just shy of 3 months, he still went down around 35 minutes after I started feeding him. As in, 1 pm I feed him and by 1:35 pm or 1:40 pm he is down for a nap.
It seems crazy, but it’s true.
9. Establish a pre-nap and bedtime routine.
I liked to swaddle, hold upright for a few minutes, sing and then put down for a nap. At bedtime, it may be different and even include reading, even for a baby, but the routine should remain the same.
Whether it’s bath, a story, diffusing essential oils in the room or singing a song, keep it simple. Routine before sleep signals the baby what you expect of them. They will quickly, quicker than you realize, understand that sleeping follows the ritual.
10. Decide to use cry-it-out or not.
If babies are well fed and not overly tired then there will be very minimal, if any, crying to be had. At least in my experience. Of course, some babies will cry longer, but if you are going to do it sometime then do it from the get-go.
All my boys kind of fussed here and there but 90% of the time they just went down quietly. That is because, however, they are not overtired and I do the above steps.
If you don’t use cry it out then give them the paci or whatever else you’ve decided to do but know this.
Crying does not mean they don’t want to sleep.
Crying simply means they are letting off steam, getting around to sleeping or having trouble getting on their own. Don’t mistake the crying for them not needing a nap.
(Update: Crying it out is not leaving a baby screaming in despair for long periods. When I say ‘cry it out’ I simply mean allowing a minimal amount of fussing as they settle into sleep. It’s not throwing them in a dark room at your convenience to make them go to bed.)
11. Shelter them.
I thought this would go without saying, but I’ve heard tell of it recently so I’m going to add it. If the baby is asleep in their crib, swaddled and snoozing away, for heaven’s sake, don’t wake them up or get them out just so someone can hold them.
Once in a blue moon, fine. Special occasions, sure. Regularly, however, this is very counter-productive. If someone comes over and expects to get to hold the baby then too bad.
They should have asked what time was better to get an awake baby. Sheltering also means having them far enough away (not every nap, but most) from other siblings and people so they are not likely to be disturbed.
If someone is running around their crib screaming then they will sleep through it for a month or two but not at 4 months or 6 months and definitely not at a year. Defend their sleep as a favor to them.
12. Choose an awake time and regular feed times.
From the start, you need to choose a time you’d like your baby to wake up in the morning, and when you’ve done it, always feed him at that time. With my three I chose 7:30.
From birth each morning, I made sure to feed them within that 7:30-8:00 am period. Their body metabolizes to that time and they begin to awaken naturally at that time. I like to create a routine and stick to it when possible.
Sometimes the baby will wake hungry and need to eat early, which is fine. It goes without saying, but always always feed a hungry baby. If you want to do a routine, great.
If you don’t, fine. However, I highly recommend choosing a window of time each morning and always feeding them then because that will create a “wake time” that their metabolism will remember. Whether you choose to do a routine or not your baby will likely fall into one on its own.
Good Luck, Mama
I suggest you adopt the start out how you can hold out motto. The first few months can seem so easy and serene that you may have a rude awakening at 4 months.
On the other hand, the first few months may seem difficult and you aren’t quite sure what to do. I hope these tips will help you get started on a road to a well-rested baby.
I’ve created a free email series just for you! There are truly only a few reasons why babies and toddlers have struggles sleeping… really, I mean it. I am going to teach you the main 3 reasons and how to start making small changes to help your baby go from:
- fighting sleep to embracing it
- night wakings to sleeping through
- needing you to jump through hoops to going to sleep on their own
Click here to sign up for my free email series or simply click on the image below.
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