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Newborn Sleep Tips

Newborn sleep is unique because it’s so disorganized. Babies are born and, quite literally, pushed out of their 24 hour all-you-can-eat buffet where they could eat and sleep at the same time. Imagine their confusion where now they have to do one or the other and they actually have to exert some effort to do both. On top of that, we take them out of their warm, snuggly home and expect them to sleep on a flat mattress with nothing around them. It’s no wonder that they need help getting there!

This sounds daunting to a lot of parents; how do you even start teaching a newborn something that comes naturally to an adult? And this is where I get to share the news that makes me love working with newborns. Even though they might need some help figuring out how to sleep, a newborn wants to sleep. They aren’t a toddler who is ready to explore the world and wants to be up with the family. They are tired! Their little bodies are growing and changing so rapidly that they just can’t keep up and they want to sleep! The tricky part is finding the key to unlocking their good sleep habits and staying consistent. This is where sleep consultants come in and I’m going to share some of my newborn secrets with you.

Establishing healthy habits right from the beginning is an excellent way to avoid sleep problems down the road. It’s really about understanding how newborns sleep and helping them in creating great sleep habits.

Here are practical tips that will help your newborn develop healthy sleep foundations.

Tip #1 : Environment

Make sure your baby’s sleep environment is:

  1. Safe, always follow the safe sleep guidelines, (no blankets, teddy bears, pillows, avoid exposure to drugs, alcohol & smoke etc.).

  2. When it’s “awake time”, open all blinds and expose the baby to sunlight. This is a great cue that it’s DAYTIME and will help with the development of their biological clock in a few months (right now it’s not developed yet).

Light, food and social interaction are cues that help develop our circadian rhythms. At night and during naps it should be dark, I mean pitch black darkness. Why?

Babies have stored up maternal melatonin when they are born (that’s why they are so sleepy all the time). At 3 weeks the stored melatonin is depleted. Babies don’t start making their own melatonin until 8 weeks of age, although they do get some from their mothers milk. You can understand why between 3 and 8 weeks we experience the most fussiness in babies (6 weeks is when fussiness and crying peak). Melatonin is only produced in the dark. Light inhibits the production of melatonin and thus babies will not be able to produce enough if they are always in the light. This is why for sleep, always try to place the baby in the dark as much as possible. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having babies take some naps on the-go or in the living room, however, you want them to at least practice taking one nap in the dark. They will not always sleep peacefully in stimulating environments and you want to prepare for months 3-4 when catnaps emerge ( commonly called the 4 month sleep regression).

Tip #2: Swaddle

Arms in snug swaddles work best for newborns. Swaddling helps to calm babies as it brings them back to how tight it was in the womb, re-creating these conditions helps to settle a baby who is not used to having their limbs flying everywhere and startling them awake. Once a baby is settled in a swaddle they will sleep better and longer.

***Fussy or overtired babies will not like being swaddled***

Tip #3: White Noise

Introduce white noise for day naps and night sleep. White noise is another great way to calm a baby and it’s also a great tool to make sleep longer and block out surround sound. They are fantastic. In the womb it’s as loud as a vacuum cleaner 24/7 so a quiet room is unnerving for a baby. Make sure the white noise plays continuously for the whole duration of sleep and doesn’t turn off. I usually go with just white noise as music can stimulate the brain.

Tip #4: Wake your sleeping baby

YES!! WAKE YOUR BABY. We want babies to sleep their longest stretch at night. They will usually only do one long stretch so we try to have that at night time. Wake baby if the nap is longer than 2 hours, they will also likely need to feed every 2.5-3 hours. Newborns sleep 16-18 hours a day but that sleep is sporadic and unorganized. You want the baby to sleep 11 hours overnight(broken up by feeds) and the rest during the day, but at this age they will not be sleeping 11 hours straight.

When they wake up during the day, feed them, give them 60-90 minutes of awake time (60 minutes is usually recommended and it stretches up to 90 minutes by 3 months). I usually see parents try to stretch the wake window to 90 minutes too early and the baby becomes overtired. Try to keep it at 60 minutes and watch for baby’s sleepy cues.

Feeding a baby most of their calories during the day will also become very important. Babies are really good little calorie counters so if they aren’t getting what they need during the day, they will need to compensate at night. Make sure the baby gets good full feeds and cluster feed in the evening if they are showing hunger cues.

Tip #5: Drowsy but awake

This is easy for a newborn who is sleepy. Try laying the baby down in a state of drowsiness but awake (eyelids heavy) at least once a day. This is work for your future sleep. Your goal is to have the baby fall asleep independently. If the baby cries, cuddle them. Settle them by rocking or holding. This is not about letting the baby cry, at this age it’s not recommended. Save this for when the baby is calm and will drift off to sleep on their own. It’s a good exercise to practice. Don’t be afraid to hold and cuddle your baby as well, you will not teach them bad habits!

Tip # 6: Accept Naps

Irregular cat naps are totally normal for newborns. The average newborn nap ranges from 20-120 minutes so don’t stress about the length of naps. If they won’t settle for a nap and you see it’s been a 60 minute wake window and their cues are telling you to put them to sleep. Get that nap in however you can (baby wearing, pram etc).

Tip # 7: Sleepy Cues

This is how your newborn communicates with you. You want to follow these cues because it takes about 10 minutes to go from I’m sleepy to I’m overtired, and then you have a fussy baby that will not settle for sleep easily. Watch your baby closely.

If you see any of the following and it’s been approximately 60 minutes put them down for a nap right away.

  • Red eyebrows

  • Averts eyes

  • Turns head

  • Blank stares

You have less than 10 minutes if baby starts:

  • Yawning

  • Rubbing eyes

  • Pulling ears

  • Becoming fussy

You are long gone into overtired territory if:

  • Arches back

  • Becomes rigid

  • Makes fists

  • Crying hysterically

Tip #8: Establish nap and bedtime routines

Repetition is key! Babies need time to relax before sleep (everyone including adults need some wind down time before sleep). Give them this time to wind down and get sleepy. Having a consistent routine will help with this and it will eventually become a cue for sleep, making them drowsy even when beginning the routine.

Customize this for YOUR family but do the same things at the same time, every day.

Tip #9: Consistent bedtime

Set your bedtime between 6-7pm knowing that the baby will likely need an awake feed or dream feed between 10-11pm. An awake feed is done with the purpose of getting babies to build some sleep debt that will get them through that long stretch. Spend one hour feeding, changing and at that hour mark (or 10 minutes earlier) put the baby back to sleep.

Tip # 10: Watch and Wait

Newborns are LOUD sleepers, they are often in a light sleep and will whimper, growl, groan. Ask yourself, are they really awake? It often seems like they are awake but they are not, well.. until you pick them up. Watch them and give them a few seconds before intervening, most of the time they just fall back into a deeper sleep or they will just be loud.

Enjoy those newborn cuddles….they don’t last!

For further advice contact me via whatsApp on 0490 022 371 or

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