Since newborn sleep is different from our own, newborns need a little more help getting to sleep than we do.
We all need help getting to sleep. We have our routine we like to do before bed, the jammies we like to wear (or not), our favorite pillow or blanket - maybe even a childhood lovey or stuffed animal, a favorite position to sleep in, and a preferred bedtime.
The difference is we’re able to do these things ourselves. Newborns need all the help they can get from someone else.
Here are 3 ways (other than creating the perfect sleep environment) to help your newborn get the sleep they need while also laying the foundation for independent sleep once you’re both ready.
1. Keep with age-appropriate wake windows.
If I could shout this from the rooftops and not be deemed crazy, I would.
So, take my blog as a rooftop and this as my shout -
“Don’t keep your baby up just because they don’t seem tired!”
Not all babies show signs of tiredness (sleep cues) and some only show them once they’re way past tired. So, to make life simpler, once that wake window is up, put Baby to bed.
Newborns, on the other hand, are more likely to show sleep cues and with their already short wake windows, following their sleep cues can be helpful and won’t interfere with their getting good sleep.
In those very early days it’ll seem nearly impossible to keep your baby awake, and that’s ok! But, they “wake up” fairly quickly within the first week or two and that’s when the wake windows can save your sanity (because when in doubt if that was a “tired” yawn or a “I just needed more oxygen” yawn, the clock will be your guide on what type of yawn that was).
Wake windows for newborns start the moment their eyes open and include their feeding.
For roughly the first 6 weeks your baby will be ready for sleep at the 30-45 minute mark (so not much time for playing).
From roughly 6 weeks to 12 weeks your baby will be ready for sleep at the 45-60 minute mark and from roughly 12 weeks to 16 weeks they’ll be ready at the 60-75 minute mark.
Since there is a slight fluctuation in timing, this is where knowing the typical sleep cues is helpful. If your baby isn’t showing these signs, that’s ok! You can follow the clock and start the first nap of the day at the lower end of the wake window range and increase each subsequent wake window, doing your best to never exceed the maximum.
Not all sleep cues are created equal. Some signal that babies are tired, approaching over-tiredness, and over-tired - green, yellow, and red. It's ideal to start Baby's nap or bedtime routine while they're showing "green" cues. If they're in the "yellow", expedite the routine. If they're in the "red", expedite the routine and expect them to need a little more help getting to sleep.
2. Establish Routines
As mentioned in this blog post, newborns aren’t born knowing night from day (and often like to party all night and sleep all day). Even once their circadian rhythms are well established, they won’t be able to tell time until around 5 years old.
Babies and young children may not be able to read the clock, but they can interpret consistency through routines well.
And for anything to be considered consistent, it must be done the same way over time.
Routines don’t need to have a lot of steps, but just a few steps that are repeated over and over.
So, as your baby is cuing you in that they're ready to sleep by their actions or by the time on the clock, you can cue them in that you’re bringing it to them through your routine.
An example of a nap time routine is:
Diaper change ➡️ swaddle ➡️ book ➡️ prayers/song ➡️ bed (help them get to sleep)
An example of a bedtime routine is:
Bath ➡️ fresh diaper ➡️ feed (skin-to-skin, if possible) ➡️ massage with lotion ➡️ swaddle ➡️ book ➡️ prayers/song ➡️ bed (help them get to sleep)
As you can see, the routines are similar, the bedtime routine is just a bit more elaborate.
Find what works best for your family, something you can stay consistent with, and your baby will start showing their sleep cues by the end if they weren’t at the beginning.
3. Soothe them almost to sleep (sometimes it will be all the way to sleep).
Let me start this by saying that I don’t like the phrase “drowsy, but awake”.
It’s pretty vague… What does it even mean? When does that actually happen? What does that look like exactly?
I’m sure part of my dislike for that phrase has to do with my personality. Just tell me exactly what to do; speak clearly.
But, the world isn’t always so clear and neither are our children.
My point being, there is no consistently exact moment of “drowsy, but awake” for every newborn or for every sleep time for your own newborn.
So, take a breath and know that there is no exact science to the “drowsy, but awake”.
Instead of getting caught up in that wording, focus more on laying your newborn down before they’re fully asleep.
Think of their falling asleep on a scale from 1-10. One being fully awake and alert, ten being so asleep that you could lie them down and they not even flinch.
In the early days, they get to a 10 pretty quickly, so the majority of the time you’ll be lying them down when they’re at a 10 (if you want to lie them down - snuggles are definitely encouraged!).
As they start to become more alert, their time from being awake to being asleep will lengthen a bit and you can start laying them down when they’re at a 9. Then eventually an 8, then 7. The day will come where you can put them to bed when they’re at a 1, fully awake, and they’ll even get themselves drowsy. But, no need to rush it. And no need to overthink the scale, either.
And no need to do this at every sleep if you don’t want to!
But, how do you soothe your newborn?
Dr. Harvey Karp, though he did not create the following techniques, recognized that they are helpful in soothing a newborn. He calls them the 5 S’s. (You can read his perspective on them in his article linked here.) They are:
Side-lying or Stomach position (only while being held!)
Dr. Harvey Karp believes that human babies are born three months early and in those three months they still need the comforts and sensations of the womb. So the 5 techniques are to best mimic the environment of the womb.
The newborn days go quickly and Mama has lots of healing to do and things to mentally process, so if this is too much, it’s ok to just do what works for today and you can try again tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next.
For a more thorough look at helping your newborn sleep well, my brand new newborn guide will be ready for purchase this Friday, February 19th!!
It includes how to prepare your baby’s room, routines and rhythms to encourage sleep and establish their circadian rhythms, safe sleep guidelines, how to encourage your baby to sleep in the bassinet or crib, and so much more!
The guide will be available for purchase alone or, if you want a hand to hold throughout the newborn days, my newborn packages were created just for you! Each package includes a personalized newborn guide along with varying amounts of support until your baby is 16 weeks old plus a discount code for a baby sleep package, should you need or want one!
Click here to add your email to the list to be the first to know when the newborn guide is available!
Sweet dreams, Mama!