The topic on every new parent’s mind seems to be, how do I get my baby to sleep? It’s no secret that babies, especially newborns, are not the best sleepers out there. The first few weeks can be really tough, and I thought that reading “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” was all I needed.
It turns out that that book is super helpful, but it didn’t even begin to cover all that I needed to know and all that I learned during those first few months, about how exactly to get my newborn to sleep better. The most important lessons being:
- NEWBORNS NEED TO EAT EVERY 2-3 HOURS, because they will lose weight in the first week or so of their life and it’s important to make sure they gain it back. So, even if your kiddo is a naturally good sleeper, you need to wake them to eat. *Insert look of horror* I know. Hang in there.
- BREASTFEEDING IS HARD. It most likely will not just come naturally for either you, or your baby. It isn’t something that is talked about a lot, but knowing this is so helpful in managing your expectations. This post talks about everything that helped me successfully breastfeed both of my kids (and I needed a lot of help!).
- FOLLOWING A SCHEDULE for your baby can greatly help their sleep.
I had absolutely no clue how I wanted to approach sleep. We were 100% winging it. We had serious breastfeeding struggles, so my only goals were to try to get my son to eat, and then I let him sleep — four hours at time, five hours if he wanted. Essentially, he slept when he wanted, and ate (or tried to) when he wanted.
This resulted in us being up all throughout the night, which I thought was just normal. And – no judgment zone here – it totally can be! But for my family, this was just not sustainable. We were exhausted, and I was combatting some serious baby blues.
So how did we get our babies to sleep?
What changed everything was when a friend mentioned a book about baby sleep called “Babywise.” I immediately purchased it, and we took the fundamentals of the book and applied them in a way that we were comfortable with and that worked for us. This is so so important. Only do what you are comfortable with and what works for you. The book (and my experience!) is only a guide and not something you have to follow to the exact letter.
So when my son was about 4 months old, we made some major changes, and it transformed our days and our nights. With our daughter, we followed the principles of the book from birth, and she has been an amazing sleeper. Here’s what we learned.
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BABY SLEEP FUNDAMENTALS
1. Eat, Wake, Sleep (EWS)
Eat, wake, sleep (EWS) is the mantra we followed and is the basis of Babywise. It’s very hard to keep a newborn awake for any period of time, so go easy on yourself and your baby those first few weeks. There’s nothing to stop you from getting into the routine of EWS from the start though.
EWS is just as it sounds — baby should follow a cycle of eating, waketime – which is essentially playtime (or in the case of a newborn, really just a diaper change) – and then sleeping. The cycle continues throughout the day.
When baby wakes up, the first thing they do is eat. The goal? To eliminate any association of needing food to fall asleep, and to allow them to build the skills they need to fall asleep independently; e.g. not needing to be rocked, not needing to nurse to sleep, and not needing to sleep in your arms.
Mom Tip: Swaddles are a great tool to help your baby sleep. They do two really important things: help your baby feel snug and as though they are still in the womb, and help keep your baby’s startle reflex from waking them.
Our favorite swaddles – and my babies’ favorites – are the Halo SleepSacks. After trying basically every brand out there, I cannot recommend these Halo SleepSacks enough. They grow with your baby/are customizable, come in tons of different fabrics to suit whichever climate you are in, and are very affordable. Also, most importantly – they work! My little Houdinis could not escape these swaddles.
2. Appropriate Waketimes Are Key
Most reasonable people would think that the longer you keep your baby awake before bedtime, the more tired they’ll be, and thus the longer they will sleep. This is (unfortunately) false!
Keeping your baby awake for the appropriate amount of time (mostly determined by age, but also a little trial and error) is so important. An overtired or undertired baby usually will not sleep as well.
Below is a summary of waketimes our kids have generally followed, but there are a ton of different charts online, so it’s always helpful to look at different examples and find what works best for your baby.
One key thing to remember is that waketime includes feeding time, so with a newborn who is still learning to eat efficiently and taking, for example, 30 minutes to finish eating, it’s not uncommon for them to simply wake up, eat, have their diaper changed, blink for a few minutes, and then go back to sleep.
3. Full Feeds Are Also Important
One major goal to focus on in the beginning, is getting baby to stay awake during feeding time. Feeding is soothing and wonderful to them, so it’s no surprise that many fall asleep while eating. Do your best to keep them awake so that they eat until they’re full. Full feeds = longer sleep. Some tips to accomplish this feat:
- Take off their clothes/jammies
- Tickle their feet
- Blow gently on their face
- If breastfeeding, change their diaper after they finish with the first side, so they start the other side wide awake
That’s it! Those are the key pieces we used. So let’s put this into practice with a sample schedule that we followed with my daughter.
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SAMPLE DAILY SCHEDULE: NEWBORN – 8 WEEKS
Ok, on to a sample daily schedule you can implement to help your baby sleep better during the day and at night. A few notes:
Note 1: Try to Stick to the Waketimes & Naps
You’ll want to aim for 45 minutes to 1 hour max of waketime, and roughly 2 hour naps. Follow your baby’s cues and try to learn their signals that show they’re tired. Some common signs: rubbing eyes, yawning, sucking their thumb, or just flat out crying.
If they wake up early from their nap, they may have been overtired. If they take a long time to fall asleep, they may need a longer waketime.
Note 2: Prep Early for Nap
I start prepping my daughter for her nap (changing diaper, getting into swaddle, etc.) about 15 minutes before her max waketime. Ideally, you want them in their crib right before they start showing the signs that they’re tired.
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Note 3: Try to Put Your Baby Down Awake
Ok, this is a hard one. When you have a newborn, I wouldn’t worry about this too much. They are tiny, and you have plenty of time to get baby used to going to sleep without your help. However, it’s never too early to build good habits, so you can at least try (maybe once per nap and at bedtime – don’t drive yourself crazy) to put your baby down while they are still awake.
Why is this so important? A few reasons:
- It helps them figure out a way to self-soothe and put them self to sleep. If you put them down already asleep, they can become accustomed to this and then have no idea what to do when you one day decide to put them in their crib or bassinet awake.
- Waking up in a different environment than they fell asleep in can be startling and unsettling. Meaning, if baby falls asleep in your arms, and wakes up an hour later on their back in a crib in a different room, it can be upsetting. If they fall asleep in their crib, on their own, while sucking their fingers, and then wake up randomly, it may not be as unsettling, and they can know to try the same self-soothing technique to fall back asleep.
Note 3: Be Flexible
All this being said, give yourself and your baby a lot of grace in the beginning! Try to put them down awake, but don’t stress if you need to hold them or rock to sleep those first few weeks. That is completely normal, and they have plenty of time to learn independent sleep skills, so enjoy the snuggles!
The goal at this point is to get into a routine of eat, wake, sleep.
A Few Other Notes on This Schedule:
- By 8 weeks, my daughter was shortening Nap 4, and skipping Nap 5 altogether, so I gradually moved her bedtime up to 7pm, sometimes 6:45pm, to make sure she wasn’t awake for too long and overtired.
- The bedtime routine can be anything you want. The idea is to create a consistent routine, and eventually your baby will learn that the steps in their routine lead to going to sleep for the night. We do a bath, put on pjs, feeding, and then read a book. Try to keep that last feeding at at least 15-30 minutes before bedtime.
- After the 8pm bedtime, you will still need to wake your newborn up to eat every 2-3 hours until they are at least back to birth weight. Talk to your pediatrician about this and any questions you have. They are the experts and will make sure you’re doing what you need to keep baby healthy and growing. Once we did not have to wake our daughter at night to eat, she would sleep for about 4-5 hours at a time.
What helped you most during those first few newborn weeks?