I think it’s safe to say that my newborn has officially left newborn world and we have entered baby world. My husband can’t wait to throw her in the air and wrestle her, and I’m sad she’ll slowly start needing me less and less. But we’re both of course excited to continue to see who she becomes. And we’re thrilled that she SLEEPS!
Newborn sleep was part of my certification this summer and I got to put my new learning into practice when Avery joined us this fall. Although you cannot “sleep train” a newborn, you can absolutely establish healthy habits from the start, and after walking through it with my own babe, I came up with my top five newborn sleep tips for you:
An awake window is the amount of time your child is awake from nap to nap, or nap to bedtime. From 0-6 weeks old, a newborn can only handle 45-60 minutes awake before becoming overtired, and from 6-12 weeks old, a newborn can only handle 60-90 minutes awake. (Yes, I know, that’s not a lot of time!)
Whether you’re aiming for a crib nap, carrier nap, stroller nap, etc., keep a close eye on the clock so you can give your baby the opportunity to sleep before it becomes an overtired fight, as it’s incredibly challenging for an overtired baby to not only fall asleep but stay asleep.
I remember my dad was holding Avery when she was just a few weeks old and her awake window was coming to an end, so I simply told my dad to “let her fall asleep.” He didn’t stand up and start bouncing, and didn’t start singing and rocking, he simply stopped playing with and engaging her on his legs, and instead snuggled her on his shoulder – and within a few minutes she was out! He could absolutely continue snuggling her (because who doesn’t love newborn snuggles?!), I just asked that he paused the play and let her little body and mind drift off into dream world.
Honor those awake windows and watch the clock!
As all babies are born with a “startle reflex” (also known as the Moro reflex), swaddling for both naps and night time (when you are practicing in your baby’s bassinet or crib) those first several weeks of life is helpful to keep that reflex from waking your baby. There are SO many different choices in swaddles out there, but I have a few favorites.
The biggest trick with swaddling, however, is not swaddling your newborn for too long. While we must transition out of the swaddle once babies can roll over, I actually suggest parents transition between 8-12 weeks old. Read more about that here!
Setting up a little nap time and bedtime routine is key in helping alert your baby’s body and mind that sleep is coming, and this is something you can start day one! Take a look at this post to get some ideas for how to set up those routines. This is the piece that makes it easy for anyone to put your child to sleep, as you are able to leave a caregiver with the steps of your routine, and you can use this same routine as your baby grows.
My toddler has had the same nap time and bedtime routine since we sleep trained her at 10 months, and my five month old’s is just about the same. When Olivia is playing with her baby dolls, I often find her “putting them to sleep” using our routine, and she loves helping me walk Avery through her routine.
Babies can be noisy!! Even in their sleep. And they sometimes stir or slightly “wake up” between sleep cycles, and we call these “partial arousals.” With my first, the moment we heard her wake up or saw her eyes open on the monitor we jumped right to her. Sometimes she was really truly awake, but other times we totally disrupted her sleep; she’d either fall back asleep on us right after we got her, or she would be in a super grumpy mood because we clearly cut her nap short.
When you hear your newborn stir, pause for a few moments before responding! Is she crying? Fussing? Just grunting? With Avery, I quickly lost track of the number of times I waited an extra two or three minutes before getting her, and she’d fall right back to sleep. Or my toddler was taking extra long to walk down the stairs, or needed a quick potty stop, and Avery fell back to sleep. Or my hand was literally on the doorknob to go get her, and she passed back out.
Taking a moment to pause and allow your baby to slip back into sleep could turn an assisted nap into an independent nap, a 30 minute nap into a two hour nap, or six night wakings into three!
Fussing v. Crying
When working with newborns, I really don’t ask parents to leave their child crying, as newborns aren’t yet capable of self-soothing (that comes around four months!). I do, however, emphasize the importance of noting if a baby is fussing or crying, because that changes our response or the speed at which we respond.
When a baby is fussing, it sounds more like a choppy/inconsistent “eh eh eh,” whereas crying is a continuous “eeeeeehhhhhhh, eeeeeehhhhhh” (can you picture the difference??). If your newborn is fussing a bit, give her a moment or two to work it out! There’s a good chance she could squirm herself right to sleep. If the fussing continues, try to offer comfort from the side by shhh-ing, and using your voice and gentle touch to lull her to a drowsy/asleep state.
If the fussing turns into crying, however, and the sideline soothing isn’t working, scoop up that sweet babe and help her calm down. It’s all about giving our babies the space and time to learn how to fall asleep, while also giving them the comfort and support to learn a new skill.
Do you know that I work with newborn families? Sure, newborns are newborns and they’re going seem to be awake all night and asleep all day, and you can absolutely expect multiple night feedings.
But having a newborn does not have to mean you’ll forever spill your meals on a sleeping child, wait until the last possible moment to use the restroom so you don’t wake her, hold in every sneeze that comes your way, or spend hours rocking and re-rocking your fussy baby just so she gets a small nap.
I’m here to tell you from firsthand experience that teaching your newborn sleep skills is absolutely possible, and it generally negates the need to formally “sleep train” down the road. Doesn’t that sound amazing? Let me tell you, it is.