Sitting on the couch with my swollen legs propped up on pillows, I looked over at the stack of newborn baby sleep books on the coffee table. Over the course of several hours, I devoured each book, skimming through the pages.
I fumbled through it for the first six weeks. I was so unsure of myself.
Thankfully, we pulled ourselves together, armed ourselves with some key infant sleep facts, developed a plan and implemented it.
We stuck with it, and at 4 months old, our son was sleeping 11-12 hours at night and naps extended to 1.5 to 2 hours. Woohoo! We’ve experienced sleep regression, sleeping on the go, sleeping through teething…and so much more!
How to get a newborn to sleep.
Getting your newborn to sleep longer stretches at night is not a perfect process. There are an ebb and flow. It’s all about trying new things and finding something that works well for your baby.
We used these tips for our daughter, and she slept so well during the newborn phase, my husband and I enjoyed a generous amount of time hanging out.
Here’s the best part: When your baby sleeps better, you will notice a more patient, more tolerant, more engaging baby after a good night’s rest or quality nap.
From birth to about age four to five months, babies innately possess a startle reflex, in which they feel as if they are falling. The sensation of falling causes jerking movements and the baby will incidentally wake up.
Keeping a tight swaddle prevents babies from startling themselves awake, helping the newborn baby sleep both better and longer. I like to think of the baby as ‘snug as a bug in a rug,’ and I used to tell my son this every time I’d swaddle him snugly.
Both help keep the baby swaddled snugly yet safely.
Even if your baby seems to dislike the swaddle I would keep trying. If you think about how it was for them in the womb, it is a very familiar feeling for a baby to enjoy a snugness around them.
We stopped swaddling once our son could regularly get his arms out and rollover. We continued to use the Halo Sleep Swaddle and just swaddled around his torso, leaving his arms out.
The dreamfeed is the feeding given to the baby right before you (mom or dad) go to bed, and it helps prevent the baby from waking up just after you finally drift off to sleep.
Isn’t this the pinnacle of sleep deprivation?
You just fall asleep and the baby wakes up.
The dreamfeed can help your newborn baby sleep for longer while you sleep. We used it until about age 4 months. After than time, it can start to disrupt sleep and create more nighttime waking.
Here’s an example of a newborn sleep schedule that we loosely used during the first 3-12 weeks.
- 7 am – Wake up, eat, play
- 8 am – Nap
- 9:30 am – Wake up, eat, play
- 10:30 am – Nap
- 12:00 – Wake up, eat, play
- 1:00 pm – Nap
- 2:30 pm – Wake up, eat, play
- 3:30 pm – Nap
- 4:30 pm – Wake up, eat, play
- 5:30 – Catnap
- 6:00 pm – Wake up, eat, play
- 7:30 – Eat again (cluster feed), then down for the night.
- 9:30 pm – Dreamfeed.
- 9:30 pm – 7 am – night feeds as needed.
Generally, if you can get a newborn to go 3-4 hour stretches during the night from birth to 6 weeks that is pretty good! From 6-12 weeks if you can get a 4-6 hour stretch that’s great. Some babies will go 8-9 hour stretches with the dream feed.
When most authors taut “getting baby to sleep through the night” they are referring to a 6 hour stretch of sleep. A newborn’s stomach is very small and I typically like to feed at least 2.5 hours during the day, cluster feed in the evenings AND dreamfeed. The more calories you’re able to feed during the day, the less they may need at night.
3. Limit the length of naps during the day.
I know it’s hard to wake a sleeping baby, but sleeping too long of a stretch during the day can rob nighttime sleep. If the baby sleeps past the 2 – 2.5-hour mark, I would go ahead and wake the baby up, feed him, keep him awake for a bit, and then lay him down for another nap. If you feel the baby truly needs longer naps, feel free to increase the nap limit to 2.5 hours. Breaking up sleep during the day will help your newborn baby sleep better at night. It also enables you to get more feedings during the day, which is very helpful.
There were, of course, times where our son was overtired and needed a little recovery nap. We would allow him to sleep for a little bit longer for just that one nap and then we started getting back on track with our daily routine.
4. Use white noise.
No one wants to miss a party, so if your baby is listening to all the fun going on in the house it can be hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.
I place a fan on medium in the baby’s room rather than directly next to the baby, so it does not blow directly on him or sit too close to his sensitive ears. Using white noise also helps immensely when we are traveling! We are usually able to avoid asking friends or family to be quiet ?
5. Follow the eat, wake, sleep cycle.
The baby wakes from sleep and immediately eats. Then the baby is awake for a while to play. Then the baby goes back to sleep….
This cycle has several purposes. First, it encourages full feedings by allowing the baby to eat immediately after waking. The baby will have the most energy immediately after waking, making him more inclined to take a full feeding and go longer between feedings.
Also, by feeding the baby after sleep rather than before sleep, the cycle prevents the baby from associating food with sleep or using food as a sleep prop. When using this cycle, feeding before bedtime is typically only feeding before sleep.
Of course, there were times where I definitely fed my baby before sleep. He needed a little TLC for a certain nap, and I was totally fine offering it when he needed it. But for the most part, I tried to avoid feeding him right before sleep.
Note: Newborns require frequent feedings and rest to ensure healthy growth development in the early months. Always feed your baby as frequently as your baby needs to ensure healthy weight gain.