With our first baby, we really new nothing about sleep. I babysat my whole life and was an elementary teacher, so I felt good about my knowledge of kids. I had heard about sleep training and the tough, sleepless nights, but surely that wouldn’t be our case. HA!
To be honest, our oldest was a fairly great newborn sleeper (we basically just go lucky), but it was around that four month mark that everything went downhill, and that’s why I’m now a sleep consultant! I had just become a sleep consultant before our second was born, so I felt much more prepared in the sleep department, even for those early newborn days.
And I was blown away by the difference we felt as parents, as well as the difference we noticed in our well-rested newborn, compared to the first go around. And that newborn journey is what inspired Baby Sleep from A to Z, so other parents can feel equipped, too!
With our third baby, little Isla, I once again felt confident about her sleep. I knew what was normal for newborns, I knew what was abnormal, and I had the tools to establish a foundation from the start (while also recognizing that there are just plain HARD parts about newborn sleep!).
I will say, her newborn sleep journey looked way different then our second daughter’s (Avery). Avery was a super sleepy baby and seemingly slept right from the start! We had many fewer lows with Avery (especially in the nap department), though she took longer to consistently sleep through the night and we felt her four month regression more strongly.
So this time around, I took some notes each week about Isla’s sleep – I recorded what was hard at the time, any “wins” we had had, what milestones she was reaching, etc. – really anything that stuck out to me! Which of course means there are missing details or some weeks are more full than others.
It is my hope that this recap helps you see what can be normal, what does not have to be normal (i.e. “red flags”), and the ups and downs that come with a newborn, as well as the solid sleep foundation that is possible for some babies (not promised or expected!) in those first 16 weeks.
Here we go…
The first week of Isla’s life, we didn’t ever lay her down for sleep (not naps or overnight!). Whenever we’d lay her down flat, she’d quickly make strange gurgly noises, like she was having trouble keeping her milk down, and we just weren’t comfortable laying her down for any sleeps.
She was also super noisy and we just couldn’t tell when she was sleeping and just being noisy (newborns can absolutely be noisy sleepers!) versus uncomfortable and awake. So we took turns cuddling her for naps, and between Jason, my mom, and I, we each took overnight shifts holding her upright.
We focused on getting good feeds (my milk took longer to come in, so lots and lots of cluster feeding and never going more than three hours without nursing!), awake windows (though she often didn’t stay awake the whole window), and using natural light during the day to begin the framework of day versus night.
I also set my alarm for every three hours overnight to make sure she was eating regularly.
By week two, our overnight shift work was starting to wear on all of us and we were getting more comfortable laying Isla in the bassinet, so she started sleeping in her bassinet all night (of course with wakings).
She was also back up to her birth weight by week two, so rather than setting my alarm for every three hours, I set it for 4.5 hours – but she always woke up to eat before my alarm, anyway.
We also started aiming for one nap a day in the bassinet, which was almost always the first nap of the day. We were able to swaddle her up and lay her down, and she’d doze off without any help. The rest of the naps were cuddled up on someone or in the carrier, because who doesn’t love cuddling a newborn?!
(Sidenote: when I work with families of newborns, I recommend trying bassinet naps early on, as new newborns are usually still so sleepy that they fall asleep smoothly! And it’s both encouraging to you, as parents, that your baby can fall asleep so smoothly, and it’s good practice for your babe to sleep on their back, on their own, and see their bassinet or crib as a safe place.)
Isla had also fairly naturally fallen into a pattern of around 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. So if she “went to bed for the night” around 9 pm, she woke up around 9 am to start the day (and if she didn’t wake naturally, we’d wake her). And aimed for her bedtime to fall around 9-10 pm.
Week three, Isla continued sleeping in her bassinet all night, and her stretches of sleep lengthened. She usually woke just twice, her first stretch of sleep being around 4.5-5 hours, and then her second stretch being around 3 hours.
We still aimed for one nap a day to be in the bassinet, although she needed a little more help this week. We found that if we laid her down and gently rocked her bassinet back and forth (we had this bassinet!) it really helped soothe her fall asleep.
And then we cuddled her for the rest of her naps, and still had to be intentional about waking her up from her naps when it had been three hours since she last ate – we wanted to make sure that she regularly filled her belly during the day and also continued to stimulate regular milk production!
Week four, Isla threw a third night waking back in there, waking up around every three hours to eat.
We often still had to wake her from her naps to nurse again. She also started struggling with her bassinet nap attempts a bit more, and two times we simply called it quits and did an “emergency nap.” This week she also seemed to get very easily overtired. During one of her emergency naps, she stirred every 15-20 minutes and we had to keep rocking to get her back to sleep.
Isla also had a tougher bedtime this week, which was a first. It took her a lot longer to fall asleep and required a lot of help to get there – she also had two “false starts,” where Jason had to jump back in 20ish minutes after she fell alseep to rock her back down.
It’s like she started “waking up” a bit more this week and just needed more help!
This week, Isla started getting much more alert, in general, and with that alertness came some fussiness we really hadn’t seen yet.
She is still having pretty solid night time sleep, usually giving us a 5-6 hour stretch, followed by a 2-3 hour stretch. And she generally wakes up in the morning on her own now, around 8/8:30, and with a bedtime around 10 pm, she’s not quite getting that 11-12 hours I typically aim for.
A challenge this week has been some tougher nursing sessions where she seems hungry, should be hungry, but isn’t eating well; she seems really uncomfortabl. She’s also cluster feeding in the evenings (normal for newborns, just new for her!), and she has more of a “witching hour” with cat naps leading up to bedtime, and we have to really work for those catnaps – she’s clearly tired but really struggling to sleep.
We took her to the chiropractor at the end of this week, because she just seemed so uncomfortable. They said she had a lot of tightness in her body that they were able to relieve and it seemed to make a pretty immediate difference!
The two positives of this week are that Isla has only been waking once in the night, around 4/5 am, which has felt really great, and she’s falling asleep at bedtime really smoothly. We’re able to do our little routine (feed, diaper, jammies, swaddle, sing, down), and she falls asleep with minimal to no intervention.
Oh, and she started smiling intentionally this week, which is just the best!
But this week has also had its challenges. Naps seem to be harder across the board – it’s been tougher to get her to sleep, whether we’re cuddling her, have her in the carrier, or are trying for the bassinet; we’ve had to do a lot more rocking and bouncing than we had to do before. She’s also waking from her naps around the 30 minute mark and we have to work a bit to get her to fall back asleep.
[It’s very common to see a change in our newborns around the 6 week mark! They are becoming more and more alert, more aware of their surroundings, they’re spending more time awake, smiling and interacting more, etc. It’s a time of big change, and with that often comes more fussiness! And that certainly rang true for us.]
This week has already started getting a bit better. Isla is much more content hanging out awake (whether in our arms or on the floor), she’s smiling more, and she doesn’t require nearly as much bouncing and rocking to get her to sleep.
She also goes back and forth between waking once a night for a feed and waking twice a night for a feed.
And we’ve gotten to a pretty consistent rhythm of her first two naps of the day happening in her bassinet and she’s able to fall asleep fairly indepedently. We have found a sweet spot of singing to her and cuddling her until she relaxes and is still in our arms, then we lay her down and she happily wiggles herself to sleep.
This week our sweet girl had a lip and tongue tie released. We had been suspecting something was up for a while and finally had the bandwidth to get her checked out. She was thankfully gaining weight well and I didn’t have any pain nursing, but there were enough “off” things, including:
- making a clicking noise while nursing
- sometimes having more trouble latching on my left side
- she’s a very noisy sleeper; it’s often tough to determine when she’s actually awake versus noisily sleeping
- she often arches her back in a funny position when she’s sleeping and it looks really uncomfortable
- she sleep with her mouth open
- there are evenings when she seems extra gassy or burpy and just overall uncomfortable
(Those details are another blog for another day!)
Isla’s naps weren’t really affected by the frenectomy, as we simply had to do our stretches after each nap (although not simple at all, it broke our hearts and she hated it!). However her nights were affected, because we couldn’t let her go more than 6 hours without doing a stretch, and she was naturally sleeping longer stretches by this point.
So we once again had to set our alarm in the night, wake her up, stretch her tongue and upper lip, then I’d nurse her, and she got another 3-4 hour stretch before morning time. Even though I was nursing her in the night, she seemed extra sleepy so it didn’t seem like she was getting as full of feeds in.
To make things even more interesting, we moved this week! Just a mile down the road, but a move is a move, especially with young kids.
This seems to have been another “milestone week” for Isla. She is starting to find her hands and loves sucking on her little fist! This newness is likely why short naps have been her norm and we’ve had to work harder for carrier naps.
We also transitioned Isla to the pack ‘n play this week. Although she still technically fit in the bassinet, she often scooted to the side, or turned sideways a bit, and it just didn’t look comfortable. And we wanted her to have more room to move if need be!
This week naps got better again and Isla’s norm is to take her first three naps in her pack ‘n play, and then her fourth nap in the carrier. Either Jason or I wear her as we go for a walk in our neighborhood, or we wear her around the house as we hang out with our girls.
Although we still have to do her tongue and lip stretches during the day, we no longer need to at night! So this week Isla actually slept through the night two nights, going to bed at 7:30 pm and not waking again (or eating!) until 7:30 am!
Isla has started sleeping through the night (no night feeds!) pretty consistently this week, going a full 12 hours. And yes, I’m exclusively breastfeeding!
At the beginning of the week, naps were pretty rough – it took her longer to fall asleep and they were all pretty short. By the end of the week, she was back to falling asleep pretty smoothly again as well as lengthening those naps.
This week was back to short naps again, and trying to extend them (rocking or wearing back to sleep!) didn’t work most of the time. But she’s still sleeping through the night!
The big news this week is that we transitioned Isla out of the swaddle! She’s been using the Ollie Swaddle, which makes it really easy to do the one-arm-in, one-arm-out method. And she thankfully took to it well! She didn’t seem to struggle to fall asleep any more than usual, though sometimes it would take her longer to actually sleep because she was sucking on her fist – but doing so contentedly!
Naps became a struggle again this week – Isla was both struggling to fall asleep and all four of her naps have been short (usually 20-30 minutes). We are still aiming for the first three naps a day to be in the pack ‘n play, and the fourth nap is still always in the carrier.
As soon as we get into our room and get her sleep sack on, Isla starts fussing. On the sleep front, this is a good thing, in one sense, because it means the nap routine is doing its job – she knows it’s time for sleep! But it’s also tough, because she doesn’t want to go to sleep and starts to really fight.
And she continues to fight while we’re singing to her, so then we keep trying to rock her and bounce to calm her, but it’s not really working. This process is taking around 20-30 minutes and it’s frustrating because we’re doing everything we can, and she’s still upset! I know her awake windows are in a good spot, her belly is nice and full, so we decided to give her a bit more space.
So now we do her routine, sing her song, and lay her down (yes, she’s upset). We step to the side and give her 2-3 minutes in her pack ‘n play, and then we pick her up, rock and bounce her to get her calm, and lay her back down. If she’s upset again, we wait 2-3 minutes, then pick her up, rock and bounce, and she almost always falls asleep after the next time we lay her down.
It’s not fun to hear her upset and wait those 2-3 minutes, but it’s working better for all of us! Her total “fight time” is maybe 6 minutes, split into two or three segments, rather than 20-30 minutes of pretty consistent fussing in our arms.
Although naps have been tougher, bedtime has thankfully still been a breeze and she most often falls asleep on her own without any fuss. And her bedtime now falls somewhere between 7-8 pm.
Isla is between three and four naps this week. She either takes the fourth nap and has a later bedtime (as late as 8 pm), or she only takes three naps and we stretch her a bit to an earlier bedtime (6/6:15 pm).
She’s also been taking shorter naps again this week. On those three nap and early bedtime days, her morning wake time has been as early as 615/6:30 am a few times. I am really not a morning person, so one morning she woke up at 6:15 and I fed her and then put her back down, treating it like a night waking instead of starting the day.
And while she fell back asleep smoothly and woke up at 8 am (which feels better to me!), her naps were really thrown off that day. She had a harder time falling asleep and her naps were shorter. So lesson learned to not try for a “night feed” when it’s really time to just start the day!
When it comes to falling asleep, Isla still fussed quite a bit through getting her sleep sack on and singing her song, and we gave her a bit more time to settle before picking her up again. So we’d run through her nap routine, lay her down, and this time step aside for five minutes.
While that of course didn’t feel so fun, she almost always fell asleep around the four minute mark, so we didn’t have to pick her up again and reset! And as we made this shift, we finally saw her naps start to lengthen again, which was such a relief!
And again, bedtime was still a breeze; thank you, natural melatonin production!
Isla has fallen into a pretty consistent daytime pattern of waking up for the day between 6:30-7:30 (we wake her at 7:30 if she’s not up yet), taking three naps, and being in bed for the night by 6:15/6:30 pm. Her long naps have continued to stick this week and we can count on at least one nap a day to be 1.5-2 hours.
She’s also happy during her nap routine and she usually falls asleep independently and happily! Though if we have her in the carrier for an on-the-go nap, it takes her much longer to fall asleep.
She is still sleeping through the night this week, though there were a few nights when she stirred aroud 9 and 11 pm. Jason went up to rock her back to sleep one of those times, but the other times we were able to wait about 5 minutes and she settled back to sleep on her own. There were also two mornings that she stirred around 4/5 am, but again, after a five minute wait, she was able to put herself back to sleep.
[These random stirrings were likely the first “sign” of the four month regression! The only other sign was that any sort of drowsiness in her bedtime routine was now causing her to struggle to fall asleep more. So I started doing her bedtime nursing session in the living room where there was more action happening, and then go to our room and finish her routine. And that was that! We didn’t have any other classic effects of the four month regression.
And as I push publish on this blog, our sweet girl is 6.5 months old. She has continued sleep through the night, of course with random off nights here and there, and her naps in general have remained solid!]
Remember, my intention with this blog post is NOT to tell you what your newborn’s sleep should look like. Because your baby’s sleep very likely won’t look like this, even if we both did the same things every single day. Every baby is truly different, and of course every family is different.
What I DO hope you take away is this:
- We CAN lay a foundation for sleep right from the start (nope, not sleep training!) AND enjoy lots of sweet newborn cuddles.
- Newborn naps are hard! And short naps are very common.
- While there is zero expectation for newborns to sleep through the night, it is possible for some!
- You can exclusively breastfeed a baby and both sleep well without co-sleeping.
- A newborn can start learning how to fall asleep on their own, and it comes with lots of help from you! Sometimes you can even avoid formal sleep training down the road because of this foundation.
If you’re reading this and are skeptical of anything I wrote, here’s another blog post from a family I worked with a few years ago! We started when their little guy was just eight weeks old – read their story here.
If you’re reading this and would like personalized help learning how you can lay similar foundations with your newborn, I’m so glad you’re here and would love to help you!
If you’re reading this and have no desire to lay your newborn day for any naps a day, let alone one nap a day, I’m so glad you’re here, too! Aren’t those cuddles the best?!
And if you’re somewhere in the middle, I’m so glad you’re here, too. One of the coolest things about parenting is that we all get to choose what’s right for our babies and for our family!