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The Basics of Newborn Sleep

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

The newborn period, or 4th trimester as it is often called, can be a tricky one to navigate. Mom is often recovering. Siblings, if there are any, are trying to adjust. And your partner is searching for ways to help out the best way they can. Your newborn has just moved out of her comfy womb and is expected to exist in an entirely different and stimulating world. No wonder efforts to soothe can be tricky and to add to the mix, sleep is all over the place. So, I wanted to list just a few basics of newborn sleep that can hopefully offer you some perspective and insight.

1. Establish a feeding routine. Without a feeding routine in place, we can’t expect a newborn to sleep well. Most new parents set up a “feed on demand” approach during the first few weeks of life. But, once baby is around 3-4 weeks and has established a healthy weight, many parents move into a more scheduled feeding option while also allowing flexibility based on baby’s cues. At this point, it is typical to feed every 2-3 hours during the day and around 3-4 hours in the night. Of course, following baby’s lead on this and getting your doctor’s approval is key! And after the first few weeks, many parents benefit from an Eat, Play, Sleep routine so that every feeding isn’t directly related to sleep.

2. Be realistic about your expectations. Let’s face it, a newborn’s sleep is extremely disorganized. They sleep A LOT, and their naps are short. Wake times are brief. It’s unrealistic to expect anything more at this early stage of life. On top of everything else, some newborns begin to have day/night confusion. Parents sometimes think they should keep baby up longer in the day to combat this issue but respecting your newborn’s wake windows (as short as 45 minutes and basically the time it takes to nurse and change her diaper) is crucial. And going outside or sitting by a bright window during those wake times will work wonders to reverse the confusion.

3. Set up a safe sleep environment. A bare crib or bassinet fitted with a secure sheet, a tight swaddle, blackout curtains, and a sound machine with a constant white noise will get the job done. But don’t feel guilty about holding your baby for daytime sleep during the first few weeks of life. These are some of the most precious times for bonding. Do, however, consider giving baby a chance to nap one or two times a day in her crib or bassinet. If baby begins to fuss when placed in the bassinet, try to soothe her with a pacifier if you are using one or a side to side gentle sway while leaving her down. It is important to give her an opportunity in those sleep spaces so that she will be set up for success down the road. Obviously, baby is too young to self-soothe but you can practice giving her opportunities, and if it’s too much for you or her, pick her up and try again at another nap time.

The newborn period can certainly be difficult since there are no real predictable sleep patterns. But, by remembering these three basics and combining them with appropriate soothing techniques, you will be on your way to building a healthy little sleeper! And if you need some help or extra info, my new/expectant mom package might be a perfect fit!

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