We all know that newborn babies are supposed ke frequently. We're not disputing that, and nor are we about to suggest that if your baby is not sleeping 'well' then you're doing something wrong. What we do want to highlight though, is the fact that good sleeping habits really can be established early on, and there are ways to prepare your baby to be a good sleeper. When your baby is older, and able to sleep for longer stretches, you might be glad you stumbled upon this post! Here are some tips to try and establish good sleeping habits for newborn babies.
About a newborn baby's sleeping patterns
New babies sleep a lot, but most of that sleep comes in short bursts of 2-3 hours. That means that YOUR sleep also comes in short bursts, unfortunately. There is nothing you can do to change this, because your baby needs to wake that frequently in order to feed, and therefore in order to survive. The resulting sleep deprivation can feel as though it will last forever, but it won't- we promise!
Babies also have shorter sleep cycles, due to the rapid brain development that is occurring. By the age of around six weeks, babies tend to have more awake periods and often slightly longer stretches of sleep. This doesn't mean that they don't still need regular feeds though, so nights are often still disturbed as your baby wakes to feed. This is all totally normal, and almost every single newborn baby will do this.
Encouraging good sleeping habits
So how do we encourage good sleeping habits, if we know that newborn babies are supposed to wake regularly? Well first we recommend you accept that your baby is going to wake up for feeds, and accept that there is little you can do to change that. Next, take a look at the bigger picture. Eventually, all parents want their baby to sleep through the night. For some this will happen sooner and for some it will happen later. But it will happen, eventually and only when your baby is ready. So with this goal in mind, try these tips for encouraging good sleeping habits:
- Recognise your baby's sleep cues. Yawning, rubbing the eyes, becoming fussy/ irritable- these are all clear signs that your baby is tired, and signs that you shouldn't ignore. As soon as you recognise that your baby is tired, try to put her down for a sleep. The longer you leave it, the more tired she will become and the harder it will be for her to switch off and sleep. An over tired baby is not easy to settle!
- Don't stretch your baby's awake periods too much. Newborn babies from six weeks or so will be able to stay awake for up to two hours at a time before they start to show signs of needing sleep. Don't be tempted to try and stretch out this awake period in the hope of more sleep at night. As already mentioned, over tired babies can be hard to settle and we are firm believers in the theory that sleep breeds sleep.
- Make clear distinctions between day and night. Your baby can start to learn what makes day and night different from a very early age, and you are more likely to get longer stretches of sleep at night if your baby is able to recognise it is night time. Make sure night feeds are calm, lights are dim and interact only minimally with your baby. In contrast, ensure that day time sleeps happen amongst the usual daytime routine of the telephone ringing and other children playing. There is no need to tiptoe around at naptime, and your baby will soon learn that daytime sleeps are a lot different. When your baby wakes during the day, make sure you interact with her and incorporate play sessions into the day too.
- Encourage independent sleeping. This is a hard one. Newborn babies are notorious for falling asleep during feeds, and it is only natural to want to pop them down for their sleep this way. As babies get older, falling asleep mid feeds happens less often and often parents spend longer and longer getting their baby to sleep. However, if you pop baby down for a sleep awake but tired, there is a good chance she will fall asleep by herself. And the reason why this is important, is because when she wakes at night she will be able to fall asleep by herself once more if she has been able to do it previously. Obviously, if she is hungry she will need to be fed, but as she gets older the amount of feeds she needs through the night will drop. Self settling can help to encourage good sleeping habits later on.
Of course, there is no need to drastically change your baby's sleeping habits while they are newborn, and sleep training of any kind is not recommended in babies younger than six months.
Use your instincts and let your baby guide you as much as is possible. Do let us know how you get on!