Whether this is the first baby you’ve brought home or the fifth, the newborn days can easily feel like a vortex. And piling on too many things at one time doesn’t slow the swirl, it strengthens it. So, instead of trying to do all the things, focus on these three (or just one of these three) and slowly add on when you gain your footing.
But, I do recommend, if you can only manage one thing (been there!), choose number three!
1. Focus on Baby’s feeds more than a nap schedule
Newborn sleep is unpredictable and sporadic and typically ranges in length from 30 minutes to 4 hours, day or night. Newborns wake easily thanks to spending the majority of their time asleep in the REM cycle, a lighter stage of sleep, also known as “active sleep”, that has similarities to waking states. It’s called “active sleep” because this stage of sleep is characterized by rapid eye movement (hence the name), vocalizations (all those cute noises they make while sleeping), body movements (body jerks and facial twitches), and irregular breathing.
With that unpredictability, it’s easier and more beneficial to focus on being sure Baby is being fed every 2 to 3 hours (timed from the start of the feed to the start of the next feed) during the day, even if you need to wake them for their naps, and pray they take those 4 hour sleep stretches at night.
Since babies aren’t born knowing the difference between night and day (their circadian rhythm isn’t set), establishing a loose feeding schedule during the day and feeding at night only when they wake to eat (unless otherwise stated by their pediatrician), will help establish that circadian rhythm and encourage great sleep.
So, yes, wake a sleeping baby during the day if it’s time to eat and only at night if the doctor says so!
2. Focus on establishing routine and rhythm more than a schedule.
Not only will shifting your focus from having a set schedule to a loose one remove some pressure from you, it will help your newborn gently learn night from day.
I define the terms routine and rhythm as: a routine is a set order of actions done around a specific time of day, even if that time of day isn’t the same time on the clock each day. Rhythm is the general flow of the entire day including the routines even if the time varies each day.
Having simple, yet repetitive nap time and bedtime routines will cue your baby into what’s ahead - sleep.
Creating rhythms around the day and the night will cue your baby into which is which.
An example of a bedtime routine for your newborn may look like:
Take a bath or get wiped down
Nurse or bottle feed with skin-to-skin contact
Lotion and swaddle on and maybe jammies or a onesie under the swaddle. (Those depend on what’s comfortable for your baby. When in doubt, it’s better for them to be slightly chilly than to overheat.)
Read or look at a book
Help get to sleep
A nap time routine will look very similar to your bedtime routine, just cut out the bath or get wiped down step and the feed may or may not happen. The feed depends on when they ate last. Since eating and sleeping is so frequent, it may work out that they don’t need or want to eat during one of their awake windows.
Your family’s rhythm will start to naturally appear on its own over time, but there can be intentionality in its development. One intention I encourage to help in the development of a solid circadian rhythm and full feedings for Baby is:
Where you feed Baby and how they’re fed (and I’m not talking about nursing or formula feeding).
>> Where? << Only feed Baby in their room (or the room they’ll be sleeping in) for their bedtime and in-the-night feeds. During the day, feed them outside the room they sleep in at night and the room they’ll be napping in (so, most likely, they'll be eating in the living room).
If your situation is like mine was and you don’t want to feed Baby in your bedroom through the night, even though that’s where they’ll be sleeping, it’s ok to take them to their room to feed them and bring them back to their bassinet in your room once they’re done eating. Keep their room for night feedings only until their circadian rhythm is well established.
>> How? << During the day, feed Baby with the overhead light on and with them fully awake (as much as you can keep a newborn awake! Those early weeks it’s nearly impossible and that’s ok!). During bedtime and every night feeding, feed them with a well-lit lamp on and with them fully awake (again, as much as you can!).
The “where” aspect of this intention will bring some differentiation between night and day to help Baby’s circadian rhythm solidify, which happens around 9 weeks old. (Let’s keep the all-night partying where it belongs... not at your house.)
The “how” aspect of this intention helps Baby take full feedings so they can sleep longer stretches without getting hungry again in a few minutes and also helps establish that eating is for nourishment, not for sleep.
With that said, it is perfectly normal and beautiful to nurse or bottle feed your baby to sleep! Especially in the very early days, it’s pretty unavoidable. And that’s ok! I suggest to keep trying to keep Baby awake during most feeds and not feed to sleep at every sleep time.
Now, this is a completely personal decision that you should feel ZERO GUILT about - no matter what decision you make.
3. Focus on your health (physical and mental) and healing!
No matter how this baby came to be a part of your family, whether you had an all-natural birth, c-section, unmedicated birth, medicated vaginal birth, through foster care, or through adoption -
you are going through a major life change and it is good, necessary, and encouraged to take care of yourself.
If you’re recovering from birth, it takes time (think months) to fully recover; even if you’re feeling great soon after. The placenta leaves a large wound in the uterus (sorry for the visual) and like with any injury, rest, plenty of fluids, and good nutrition are crucial in it’s proper healing.
Don’t neglect yourself.
Taking care of you is also taking care of your family.
Some things may take the back burner for a while, but still make time for the necessities (showering isn't a luxury, though it does feel great) and a few “extras” to help you feel like you.
Here are 5 tips to help:
Take a shower or a bath everyday. It will make you feel human and help with your healing. (Take it a step further and get dressed each day and wear a little makeup. No need to get too fancy if you don’t want to - lounge sets are very “on trend” right now for a reason!)
Do something for yourself at some point everyday that’s just for you. Read for pleasure (even if it’s on your phone or kindle while you nurse or bottle feed the baby), paint your nails, do your make up, get dressed like you’re going somewhere, go for a walk. It can only be a few minutes of something, but those few minutes can be life-giving!
Stay connected to your friends and family. Motherhood, especially in the early days with a new baby, can quickly become isolating and unfortunately even those closest to us aren’t always quick to check-in. But, don’t let that stop you from reaching out - even if you’re feeling great! It’s important to keep those lifelines intact through the good and bad times.
Ask for help! Think specifically: a load of laundry, doing the dishes, bringing dinner, holding Baby while you nap or shower, helping Baby get to sleep - people want to help (and very few say no to holding a newborn baby), they just need a bit of direction. >>It is not selfish to know and ask for what you need!! << If what you need is help knowing how, when, and where to get your baby to sleep - it’d be my honor to guide you! You can set up a free 15-minute call here where we’ll briefly talk about what you’re facing, where you’d like to see improvement, and what newborn package would best suit your needs. (I also added more support for newborn parents! You can check out the packages I offer here!)
And, saving the best for last, if any of the advice you’re given, warranted or not, does not sit right with you - let it go. It wasn’t meant for you at this moment. If this blog post overwhelms you or you feel like it’s not right - let it go. It wasn’t meant for you at this moment. A lesson that motherhood is consistently teaching me (🙋♀️ work in progress over here!) is
there are many variations of “right” and we won’t all align in the same “right”. And that’s ok and beautiful!! Be confident in and embrace what’s right for you!
The newborn days can be all-consuming and with so much advice readily at our fingertips, it can be overwhelming.
It’s ok (and encouraged!) to take things slowly, to find your new, temporary limits and respect them, and to silence the noise. Enjoy your baby the best you can!
If you’re struggling to silence the noise and are feeling completely overwhelmed, please reach out to your doctor or midwife and share those feelings with them! They understand and can help. Your health, both mentally and physically, matter. You matter. Take care of yourself, Mama!