“Welcome to motherhood; you’ll never sleep again!” I’m sure every new parent here has heard that one before. Helpful or not (emphasis on the not) this old adage is disseminated time and again. But is it really true?
The answer is no. You can and will sleep again. And while sleep with a newborn will undoubtedly look different than your pre-child slumber, becoming a parent did not automatically sign you up for years of broken sleep.
While some parents are empowered by going with the flow when it comes to their baby’s sleep, other parents prefer to set themselves up with knowledge and a plan. While life with a newborn can come with many unique challenges, prioritizing sleep and rest (for the whole family) can give you a leg up in handling whatever newborn-life throws your way.
If you’re team “plan,” (or even if you’re not and are just curious to learn more) here are my top 4 newborn sleep tips.
1. Be patient as you adjust
Giving birth and bringing home a baby is a world-rocking event! Don’t stress about getting things perfect from day 1. Give yourself a bit of time to adjust to your “new normal” upon welcoming your baby to the world. As you acclimate to parenthood and gain more bandwidth, you can start to focus more intentionally on some strategies to help make sleep easier for your household.
2. Schedule your days
I’m very type A and love a good schedule, but life with a newborn can be very chaotic and unpredictable. Newborn sleep in itself is unique because it is so disorganized, so it will be hard to nail down any type of schedule to perfection. However, that does not mean that you cannot practice.
NAPS: Newborns up to 10 weeks old can only really handle 45-60 minutes of awake time at once before they are going to need to sleep again. Honor your child’s sleep needs by giving them the opportunity to snooze frequently. This is important in ensuring they do not become overtired and extra fussy. In the beginning, try scheduling your days into blocks centered around eating and sleeping and take it one “block” at a time.
FEEDINGS: I recommend following an eat, play, sleep pattern which can help make sure your baby is staying awake long enough to get full feeds at every opportunity. While your baby will likely fall asleep during feedings from time to time, practicing this pattern can help avoid a “snack-and-snooze” cycle where your baby is never getting a full tummy and therefore cannot sleep for long, restorative periods. As a bonus, following eat, play, sleep will also minimize the chances that your child will develop a feed-to-sleep association where they absolutely need a feed in order to fall asleep. And finally, following this pattern can also help you, the parent, determine the reason for your baby’s cries; if you have fed them, changed them, and they’ve been awake a little while, you can be more sure that your little one’s fusses are due to fatigue and they are ready for a nap!
3. Sort out day/night confusion
It is not uncommon for newborns to have their days and nights confused. While in the womb, your daily movement lulled your little one into slumber while your stillness at night meant it was party time. Do you remember your them throwing a party in your tummy at all hours of the night? To help reverse day/night confusion, you can:
- Expose your newborn to natural light and fresh air during awake periods and make sure it is as dark as possible overnight and for daytime sleeping.
- Stay engaged with & keep your child awake during daytime feedings but minimize interaction during nighttime feedings.
- Use dim light for all nighttime interactions.
- Implement a bedtime routine from the beginning.
While newborns sleep a lot, it can be helpful to differentiate the days from the nights early on not only to help correct day/night confusion, but also to begin to establish a routine that can help make bedtimes more predictable and promote longer nighttime stretches.
4. Establish a bedtime routine
Routines are very valuable to babies who thrive on structure and predictability. Studies have shown that even by 8 weeks, babies can recognize and respond to routines. Set a simple but consistent bedtime routine that you repeat each night before laying your baby down for bed. Routines should be about 20-30 minutes long and can include a bath, lotion & massage, feeding, books, and all the hugs and kisses!
While sleep can certainly be a rollercoaster for the first several weeks, keeping these tips in mind can not only help to lay the foundation for healthy sleep for years to come, but also make it a little easier in the short term.