In the first few weeks of life, adjusted if your baby was born early, your baby may have what I refer to as a honeymoon period. During this time your newborn may easily fall into sleep and sleep long stretches. You may even need to wake your baby in order to get in your 8 to 12 nursing session per 24 hour period. And just as you are finishing nursing and changing his diaper, your newborn is falling asleep once again! This is normal, but will change.
Eventually your newborn becomes more wakeful, taking in and learning from the world around him.
This often occurs around the two week mark. It is during this time, that you want to focus on maximizing sleep to ensure that you and your baby stay well rested. Why is this so important? A baby that is well- rested will fall asleep sooner, sleep longer, and wake later. A well-rested baby is also more likely have an easier time learning independent sleep. This doesn’t mean that your baby will sleep through the night by 3, 4, or 5 months. But what it does mean is that he will be more likely to sleep in longer stretches, when he is developmentally ready to do so, without the need for any sleep training.
For the first eight weeks of life, your focus should be only on bonding with your baby, establishing breastfeeding, and healing from your delivery. Don’t worry about creating “bad” sleep habits. There is plenty of time to establish healthy habits once your baby has adjusted to life out of the womb! But there are steps you can take now to help you and your baby get the most sleep possible. The two most important tips I have for new parents are to recreate the womb and catch the sleep wave.
1. Recreate the womb.
Think about the space your baby just emerged from. It was dark, very noisy, in constant motion, and very tight. Recreate this!
• Get him cozy. Use a swaddle to create that secure, coziness. For the best and safest results, use a swaddle that has Velcro or zipper fasteners and be sure that you use the right size. If it is too big it can slip up over your baby’s face making breathing difficult.
• Use white noise. Think of how loud it was in your womb—Nine months of continuous blood swooshing, heart pumping, and food digesting! Use a white noise machine, phone app, box fan, or radio static to recreate this sound. Not only has white noise been shown to limit stress in babies, but it also helps block out loud older siblings (and partners!).
• Use motion. Did you notice while you were pregnant that your baby slept while you were active during the day and kicked you all night? That is because motion was lulling your baby to sleep! Use it to your advantage during the newborn period by wearing your baby for naps or using a swing. Once your baby has fallen asleep you can always stop the swing or gently put your baby down in a crib or other safe sleeping space. Naps in motion are not restorative when your baby is older, so once you hit the 8 week mark it is important to start working on non-motion sleep.
2. Catch the sleep wave.
• Watch for the window. Remember what your lactation consultant said about crying being a late sign of hunger? It’s also a late sign of tiredness. If you wait until your baby is crying, or even fussing, you’ll miss the sleep window. Falling asleep will be much harder for your little one, and take much more soothing from you. Instead, as soon as you see that yawn or first eye rub, drop whatever you are doing and begin soothing your baby to sleep using whatever method works for you and your baby.
• Sleep early and often. Just like your lactation consultant reminds you to nurse early and often, think sleep early and often. Your newborn can likely only go one hour between naps before becoming overtired, and this means he needs to be asleep by then, not just beginning the soothing routine. Do not wait until your baby is clearly tired to help him fall asleep! Balance watching for sleepy signs with watching the clock and help your baby fall asleep before he becomes overtired.
If sleep doesn’t seem to come easily for your baby, please don’t stress it. Do whatever works for your family right now!
Don’t worry about what sleep will look like in the future or how your friend’s baby is sleeping. There are no rights or wrongs in the first few months, just what works for you right now.