The secrets to newborn sleep
If you’re expecting, or have recently had a new baby, then congratulations are in order! Welcoming a newborn into your family is one of the most joyous, life-changing experiences you’ll ever encounter. Unfortunately, it also means you can kiss a good night’s 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 for longer than that initially. 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. 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 of my secrets to encouraging better sleep during the newborn stage…
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!
If you keep that in mind and time it right, you’ll find your baby will go back down a lot easier. Keeping an eye on the clock and putting them down at the 45 minute mark will go a lot more smoothly than if you 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!
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 of activity during the day. This will help prevent any kind of sleep/feed association that can disrupt your child’s sleep later on. Feeding your baby when he or she wakes 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 a newborn time 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 conversation 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.
START A BEDTIME ROUTINE
Establishing a good bedtime routine right from day one is a great way to help your baby organize 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, that your child will soon learn that a bath means bedtime is near. Of course, if your baby absolutely hates baths, don’t force him 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).
LET THEM SELF SETTLE
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 settling – but does NOT mean you need to leave them to cry. If they wake and cry, pick them up and calm them to the best of your ability, and try again a few more times to see if they will fall asleep without too much of your intervention.
Getting the timing right (see number 1) 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 often good. And don’t worry about cuddling your baby to sleep at this age. There’s nothing better than holding a sleeping baby in your arms!
Many new parents don’t know how to get started on healthy sleep habits for their child, especially when their own sleep has been disrupted (yes, you really should try and sleep when your newborn baby is sleeping – you’ve heard it before for a reason). By following the tips above you can help your baby start sleeping through the night when he or she is developmentally ready. And that can go a long way in restoring your state of mind after being sleep deprived for a few months.
Because everyone needs a good night’s sleep!