Updated: Sep 12, 2021
There’s not that much written about newborn sleep strategies because the reality is that sleep comes second at this stage, tailing behind the most important thing - keeping your newborn well fed and thriving. I’m going to teach you 5 simple tips to help your newborn sleep more.
When it comes to newborn sleep your number one goal is to Keep Your Baby Well Rested.
Sleep begets sleep.
The more well-rested your baby is the easier it will be to get her to fall asleep and then stay asleep.
Keeping your baby up too long before naps or bedtime will make it harder for her to fall asleep and increase your night waking and short naps.
Here are 5 simple strategies to help your baby fall asleep with minimal effort and help you achieve your goal of keeping your baby well-rested.
Tip #1: Watch the clock
Those first couple of weeks your baby will likely fall asleep feeding. It really does seem like all she does is eat, sleep and poop. Soon though, she’ll be awake for longer periods of time, and here’s a shocker…. babies don’t just fall asleep when they are tired!! It is your job to decide when it’s sleeping time and the clock can be the most helpful tool to understand when sleep should happen. We call these awake periods between sleeping “awake times”.
Your newborn cannot comfortably stay awake longer than 45 minutes in the morning to 90 minutes during the rest of the day. These are the maximum times to be asleep. She can always go to sleep earlier than these maximums.
She may not “seem” tired at 1.5 hours, but try and get her to sleep at that time regardless. If you wait too long, you may see inconsolable crying, back arching, and have a very hard time getting her to sleep…. Only to have her wake up 30 minutes later in tears again.
This applies to bedtime too. You’ll want to be getting her down for the night around 9 pm but ideally, this will be about 1.5 hours after waking up from her evening ‘nap’.
Below is my "Sleep Summary by Age" chart to help guide you with ideal nap timing and how much sleep your baby needs by month as she ages.
Want to keep this on your phone, or print it out and tape it to your fridge? You can get yours here.
Tip #2: Become a newborn detective
There is something instinctual about hearing a baby cry that is like nails on a chalkboard. We want to stop them ASAP! Remember though that the tears are your baby’s way of trying to tell you something. Your best strategy to combat tears is meeting her needs and prevention…. Making sure she doesn’t become overtired by not staying awake too long. Refer back to tip #1.
Your second-best bet is to be able to accurately meet her needs and learning The Dunstan Baby Language is an effective way to do so.
Developed by an Australian opera singer, this baby language teaches you how to differentiate your newborn's tears to find out if she’s hungry, tired, gassy, tooty, or just plain uncomfortable. The catch is that you have curbed the burning desire to stop the tears and listen to them for 3-4 minutes to hear what your baby is trying to communicate to you with these tears, and figure out what’s bugging her.
Taking those 3-4 minutes to be an observer, listening, watching your baby’s body language can save you hours of fighting sleep in the long run. The tears might feel overwhelming and make you do anything to stop them so you nurse or put in a pacifier to mute the tears. I get it, I’ve been there, but consider that you just muted the real reason she is crying and that reason will return shortly. Taking 3-4 minutes to breathe and observe can save you tears and time.
Tip #3: Use Your Toolbox
There are tools that you can use to help you coax your baby into sleep when the timing is right. These include ssshing, swaddling, pacifiers, and swings. Sounds, sucking, motion and touch can all be helpful in recreating the sensation of the womb and help soothe her into sleep. Remember to never leave your baby unattended in a swing.
Tip #4: Learn How to Dreamfeed
Dream feeding is when you pick your sleeping baby up and feed her with the goal of aligning her longest stretch of sleep in the night with yours. The idea here is that you would pick her up and feed her before you go to bed so that you can get a 3-4 hour stretch to start when you go to bed. There’s nothing more painful than finally getting yourself into bed, only to be woken up 1 hour later by feeding time.
Tip #5: Practice Putting Her Down Awake
In the 2nd and 3rd months of life, we are inadvertently training our babies how sleep happens, which they carry into the next months. If you always have to nurse or rock your babies to sleep, that’s what she’s going to expect at the end of the 4th trimester when she starts waking up to the world around here. This means that during the 4-month sleep regression, when she starts waking up more at night and taking shorter naps, you’ll have to be nursing/rocking more to get her back to sleep. This can be overwhelming and exhausting. Help yourself now by working on getting her falling asleep in her crib, so she’s used to that scenario when she goes through the 4-month sleep regression. The first nap of the day is the easiest to get a baby down for, so work on having that nap in the crib and going into the crib “calm by awake” and helping her with your touch and verbal reassurance to fall asleep in the crib at the appropriate awake window.
Life Tip: Parenting is a SKILL
I have 8 years of university health education. I understand the human body from embryo to elderly. I was prepared to breeze through parenthood and have the BEST sleeper because I myself LOVE and NEED sleep. Having a newborn was a shocker to my body and my ego :) It was MUCH harder than I expected. I want you to remember that parenting is a skill that can be taught and honed. Much of it is intrinsic, the intensity of your love and desire to do anything to help your baby, but getting them to sleep… not always intrinsic. Be kind to yourself, this is a new role and it’s going to take PRACTICE. Keep trying and take a deep breath on this incredible journey.
Hey, I’m Sarah! A sleep consultant and the owner of Helping Babies Sleep. A chiropractor by training I was all in on natural and attachment parenting when my son was born, but unfortunately that parenting style just didn’t work for my son and I. I had to find another way to parent so that we could all get some sleep! Now I empower tired, frazzled parents to teach their babies and toddlers to sleep so they can enjoy parenthood to the fullest. I offer 1:1 personal plans and consultations. I’m also the creator of the online sleep class and community A to Zzzzs for Babies 4-24 Months.
I’m a Canadian girl living in Mountain View, California with my husband, son and daughter. Dr. Sarah Mitchell BKin DC