During the first few weeks after baby is born, you can expect your little one to sleep a total of sixteen to seventeen hours in a 24-hour period. Newborns are biologically immature; by this I mean the biological clock that helps our bodies with sleep is not yet developed. Newborn sleep is usually divvied up in four to five hour chunks throughout the day and night (this looks slightly different for every child).
Our primary focus the first 6 to 8 weeks after birth is bonding with your little one, recovery for mom, and establishing breastfeeding if you’ve chosen to do so. Be patient and do not force sleep at this stage. I promise it will come in time!
That being said, it does not mean you cannot start fostering healthy sleep habits early on. Here are some tips to help begin establishing a healthy sleep foundation from day 1:
Keep awake windows (time your baby spends awake) at 45-60 minutes
Swaddle for every sleep period
Keep baby awake and in well lit areas during feedings throughout the day to ensure full feedings
Use dim light for feedings and other interactions (diaper changes) at night (I always used the red light on the Hatch)
Use a pacifier to help soothe and settle
It’s okay to rock, bounce, and hold your newborn to sleep (They need a little extra help settling the first few months of life)
Be patient with yourself and your baby
After 8 weeks (or even earlier), as your little one continues to develop through the first 4 months, here are some additional steps you can take to encourage sleep for your new babe without forcing it:
1. Awake windows should be 45-60 minutes.
Newborn sleep remains relatively unorganized until about 15-17 weeks, when the brain has fully developed circadian rhythms, meaning they will not have a set schedule for day sleep. Your newborn is only able to handle about 45 to 60 minutes of awake time before they are ready for sleep again. For example, if your baby wakes at 7:00am, the next sleep period will fall between 7:45 - 8:00am. Yes, this wake window is small and it does include feeding time, diaper changing, and your nap routine (if you have one). The good news is, your newborns sleep periods do not need to be an hour or more every time - every sleep period is restorative for newborns, so even if they only sleep for 30 minutes, it was still a restorative sleep! Maintaining consistent awake windows throughout the day will prevent your newborn from becoming overtired by the evening. This schedule will not be perfect every single day, but keep at it. I promise it is worth it as your child learns these sleep fundamentals.
2. Decide on a consistent sleeping place.
Now is a great time to get your little used to the crib (still room sharing, of course!) and less dependent on props, like swings, or bouncy seats, or even you in order to fall asleep. This also will not look perfect every time, so give yourself some grace. Choose at least one sleep period during the day to occur in the crib or bassinet. This will help your little one get used to their sleep space and begin developing self-settling skills! Keep in mind, newborns often need help to sleep, so it is okay to rock or bounce your little one to sleep before placing them in their sleep space.
3. Start a bedtime routine to relax your little one before sleep.
Fun Fact: At 8 weeks old your newborn is now able to recognize consistent and predictable routines, like a bedtime routine! Routines are used to cue your baby that sleep is coming. Think - relaxing bath, lotion/massage, read a book or sing a song, rock until sleepy, and place in bed. Your goal is to relax them into a drowsy state and place them in their crib just before they're fully asleep. Newborns need a little extra help to settle into sleep, so things like bouncing, rocking, or even a pacifier are useful in helping your little one settle into restful sleep.
4. Get outside!
The sun naturally drives our biological clocks; exposure to sunlight is one of the best ways to get those clocks on track as your little one continues to grow & develop these biological systems. As soon as your baby wakes in the morning, turn on lights and open blinds for natural light. If you’re feeling up to it, walks in the morning and evening are great natural way to help as well!
Unfortunately, our tiny humans don’t come with an instruction manual and each one is different. We cannot control when exactly our babies will sleep and how quickly their biological systems will develop. However, we CAN build a foundation that will foster a healthy sleep attitude and set your baby on the path of independent, restorative sleep.
Progress will take time. Some days will feel repetitive and discouraging while other days you will like Supermom! As a sleep consultant and Mom, my best advice for the newborn stage is to focus on one day at a time. Following these guidelines will help you do just that! You've got this Mama!