You’ve welcomed your newborn into the world, brought her home and are now navigating the ins and outs of new parenthood. You begin to ponder the ‘wisdom’ from well-meaning friends and family; they’ll tell you that sleep is a thing of the past now that you have a newborn, and that the words newborn and sleep are not, in any way, connected. You find yourself wondering if sleep deprivation really is a right of passage into parenthood.
I’m not here to tell you that you won’t have sleepless nights, but I can tell you that it’s never too early to begin laying the foundation for healthy sleep habits with your newborn. Understanding newborn sleep patterns, and ways you can work with your new baby to help her sleep for longer stretches of time, is the first step toward a lifetime of healthy sleep for both your child and yourself.
Establishing a simple bedtime routine early can yield a big payoff in the months to come: sleep! Helping your newborn develop sleep skills, and learn to sleep for longer periods of time, is the key to establishing healthy practices. I’m going to tell you a little secret: the first step towards establishing newborn sleep habits is to put your little one down awake. Yes, awake.
You can begin by putting your baby into her crib in a drowsy state, but the goal is to work towards putting your newborn to bed in an increasingly wakeful state. Keep working on this for a few weeks, each time putting her down more wakeful than the previous night. Once you are able to put your baby to bed wide-awake, she is in a position to get herself to sleep on her own, paving the way towards longer stretches of nighttime sleep.
What about night feeds, you ask? If your baby has slept for a 4-5 hour period without eating, she’s proven that she is capable of sleeping longer without a feed. Once your baby is able to go to sleep on her own and sleep for a longer stretch of time, hold her to that standard; you know she can do it, so give her the opportunity to put those sleep skills to use!
If you find your baby waking an hour and a half in, but she’s proven that she can sleep for four to five hours in the past, don’t rush in. Is she really hungry, or is she simply transitioning between sleep cycles? Your first instinct will be to rush into your newborn’s room at the first sounds of fussing, but make yourself pause; wait five minutes to see if she can get herself back to sleep.
This pause is crucial to the development of your baby’s sleep habits – if you don’t allow her to practice the skills you’ve been working on, she won’t have the opportunity to execute the techniques she’s learned.
You’ll know that your hard work is paying off when the initial nighttime stretch of sleep is longer than others throughout the course of the night. It’s typical for the first period of nighttime sleep to last between four and five hours, with shorter stretches for the remainder of the night. You’ll find that the first block of nighttime sleep lengthens over time, with shorter stretches towards the early morning hours. Don’t be alarmed, this is a great sign! This sleep pattern is the consolidation of nighttime sleep process. The initial, longer stretch of sleep is what you are working on developing and making longer.
Questions? Please don’t hesitate to call or email me with questions about newborn sleep habits.