SLEEP! Sweet, glorious, amazing sleep. If you’ve recently had a baby, then you are probably trying to remember what sleep feels like. That whole all-babies-do-is-sleep thing is a lie. Well, I take that back, they do sleep, just at really horrible times and not for very long.
Trying to get your newborn to sleep can seem like a battle that you just can’t win. Trust me, not only can you win the battle, but I’m going to help you win the war. The war on sleep that is. Here’s how.
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Establish a Routine
I cannot stress enough the importance of having a routine in place for your baby. Babies thrive off of routines. Imagine that you where forcibly dragged into a new world where everything is too bright and too loud and there are way too many new smells. People are constantly around you they don’t understand what you’re saying and you can’t understand them either. Sounds frustrating, right?
This is how your baby is seeing this new world. One thing that will help is to establish a consistent routine. If you lived in that crazy world and didn’t know what was going to happen from one moment to the next, you would be pretty freaked out, right? I present the fussy baby!
Take that crazy world now and imagine that the people you live with do the same thing, in the same order, every day. So much so that now you know exactly what to expect from each day because you’ve done it so many times. You would feel much calmer and relaxed in your situation, wouldn’t you?
Having a routine put in place is a great way to not only help your baby to sleep better, but to also be a happier baby. Once he becomes used to the routine, he won’t have to go into that freaked out and terrified stage of, “oh no what’s happening now?!”
Instead he will know when he is being fed, when he can play, and also when he is expected to sleep. Going into the sleep stage in a calm manner will help him to drift off to dreamland effortlessly. Well, as close to effortless as a newborn can get.
Now, being on a routine does not mean that you need to be rigid. I am still a believer that babies should be fed when they are hungry, so just base your activities around your little one’s feedings. Just do things in the same order. Eat, play, sleep, eat, play, sleep, etc. It still gets the same message across without being too harsh to your baby.
Once he was ready, we would sit and read a story. I would talk softly and I read. Sometimes he calmed down immediately, and sometimes I needed to use the yoga ball and bounce. Either way, he got the picture. Our bed time routine was very similar, but it would include a bath and his bed time bottle as well.
Having this routine really helped him to know that it was time for him to sleep.
Wake the Baby
I’m sure that you’ve heard time and time and time again to NEVER wake a sleeping baby. I am normally a big fan of this idea, except in one instance.
It is very common for newborns to have day-night confusion. This means that their days and nights are flipped. Sitting around in their nice, warm ball of goo for 9 months didn’t allow them to become associated with the sunlight to tell them when it was daytime. They just had you. And what happens when it’s daytime for you? You move around.
All of that moving rocked your baby to a peaceful sleep. I don’t know about you, buy my baby was always the most active in the evenings when I would sit down and finally relax. Once I stopped moving, he was able to wake up.
When babies are born, they are still on this schedule. It’ll be up to you to help him flip it. Your goal ultimately is to adjust how long he sleeps during different times of the day.
During the day, you want to make sure that you are waking him every 2-3 hours to eat. Don’t let him sleep for long stretches at a time. There should always be a feeding and a little play time in the middle. If he’s going to sleep 4 hours or more at a time, then you want that to happen at night.
Newborns also need to eat much more frequently because their little bellies don’t hold much food. Waking him during the day to eat will ensure that he is getting enough calories to promote his rapid growth.
Waking him up to eat will also help to teach him that he needs to eat during the day and not at night. Though you won’t be able to drop the night time feedings for a while, it’s good to go ahead and start that association.
If your baby learns to eat during the day rather than needing to wake at night to feed, he will be able to sleep in much longer stretches. This will also help him to learn to take larger amount of milk during the day. This is a good thing. It means he’s learning and growing. His immature digestive system needs a break.
Allowing him to take longer breaks during feedings at night gives his body a rest and allows it to grow. It should only take a couple of weeks to flip his days and nights, so just stick with it.
Don’t Ignore the Cues
Though your baby can’t tell you when he is tired with words, he will give you signals. It is your job to pay attention to those cues and not ignore them. If you wait too long then all you’re left with is an overly tired, and typically overstimulated, newborn that is really pissed off.
The cues can be as obvious as yawning and rubbing his eyes, or they can be as small as his eye brows turning red. I know, it sounds weird, but it happens.
J has never been a good at signals for anything. The one thing I could count on was his eyes turning red. Not the eye itself, but the skin around it. It sounds weird, but that was always my cue that he was tired and I would start our nap time routine at that point.
Just pay attention to your baby and see what cues he gives you. He’ll let you know when he’s tired. You just need to make sure that you listen.
Get Him Full
So everyone has their own opinion on this one. Some say it doesn’t make a difference, but I say it can’t hurt. In the beginning especially, I would always make sure that J was really full before he went down for bed time. I did this for a couple of reasons.
- I wanted to give myself the most amount of time possible that he would be asleep. If you feed him an hour before he goes to bed, then that is one less hour that you get to sleep. I like sleep and I was going to get it any way possible.
- Having a full belly makes me tired and more likely to pass into a food coma. I figured the same could be true for my son.
- I was trying (though unintentionally at first) to help him know that he should take his milk during the day and less at night.
Some people don’t think it works, but I’m a believer. I had J sleeping 4-5 hours by 2 weeks, then 6 hours by 3 weeks. 9 hours stretches happened around 5-6 weeks, and he’s been sleeping 10-13 hours a night ever since.
Think about it, babies like to cluster feed, typically at night. Now if you’re nursing, they may do this because your supply is naturally at its lowest in the evenings, but they will also typically do this when they’re trying to go longer in between feedings. They know that they want/need to sleep and they’re trying to get the milk necessary to sustain them.
Since J and I had so many issues in the beginning with breastfeeding (you can read about our journey HERE), he was getting either a bottle of formula or a bottle of expressed milk in the evenings already.
My lactation consultant told me to let him take what he wanted and that the goal is to have him stop when he’s full rather than when the bottle is empty (meaning you want milk left over). So I started filling the bottles a little higher and he drank a bit more. He’d get that really cute “milk drunk” look and would pass out and sleep for a few hours.
Help Your Baby
Your newborn does not know how to fall sleep on his own yet. That is a skill that he won’t have for a few more months. That means that you have to teach him to fall asleep. So figure out what works for you.
Some babies want to be rocked, some fed, some walked around. J wanted to bounce. He became a big fan of my birthing ball (aka yoga ball) while I was pregnant, and it was the one guaranteed way that I could get him to relax enough to sleep. (I have one like THIS and I love it!)
You’ll just need to figure out what works for your baby. All babies are different, so don’t be surprised if it takes a bit of trial and error to figure out what works best for you. The goal is to get him calm enough to where you can put him down awake but drowsy.
Don’t worry if it takes you a while to get him to this point. Like I said, babies don’t learn the skill to self soothe until around 4 months. So go ahead, rock your baby until he’s asleep. It’ll be fine for now. We can talk about breaking sleep associations later.
Once you have the big things out of the way, then there are just little things to help with sleeping. Things such as swaddling, pacifiers, and white noise machines are all baby specific. They are great when they work, but they don’t work on everyone.
For instance, J hates pacifiers (I know, weird kid), and we’ve never used a white noise machine. I mostly just didn’t want to HAVE to use a white noise machine for the rest of our lives. J liked to be swaddled, but I didn’t do it every night. Only when he was really having trouble getting to sleep.
These small things are not the end-all-be-all of infant sleeping help. While they can help, your main focus should really be on establishing a good routine and helping your baby differentiate night and day. If you have those things in place and you’re still having issues, then start going through the list of little things. Something will click.
Hang in there, Mama! You will sleep again, I promise.
Have you found something else that has helped your baby sleep? I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a comment below or join the conversation in our Facebook group.
Until next time!