It’s been a little while since I wrote an article for the blog as we recently welcomed our second child into the family! We have been busy getting to know each other and settling into life as a family of four.
This time around the newborn experience has been SO different and it all revolves around sleep! At the 6 week point in her life, I would bet that our daughter has spent more time in her bassinet happily sleeping than her brother did in the first 3 months of his life!
Sure, we could put this down to prior experience and also having to divide our time between a toddler as well as a newborn. But hands down, the most influential factor behind the ‘chalk and cheese’ experiences is having so much more knowledge and experience with newborn sleep since becoming a Certified Sleep Consultant. We have been able to confidently promote healthy sleep habits using 3 simple tips.
Before sharing the tips, I would like to clearly state that they are not about getting your newborn to sleep through the night. Sleeping through is not a realistic goal for such a young baby as they require feeding and changing round the clock. These tips are aimed at helping your little one settle easily and promote lifelong healthy sleep habits.
Tip #1: Watch the awake time
Newborns need a LOT of sleep, but do you know how much awake time your newborn can actually handle? You may be surprised to learn that it is as little as 45 minutes. This means that 45 minutes after waking, your precious little bundle will be looking to return to sleep.
When you think about what you need to do in this 45minute period: nappy change (or changes!), feed, play/cuddles, this doesn’t give you a lot of time. Try to follow a feed, play, sleep routine if you can. This would mean once you have fed and changed your baby, you have time for a quick cuddle or play, then it’s time to get your little one back down for another sleep.
You cannot ‘spoil a newborn’ so I’m not suggesting this sleep must happen in the bassinet or cot. I’m all for sleep happening in your arms, the carrier, pram, swing, or bassinet/cot. Just remember wherever you plan for the sleep to happen, you will have much more success getting your baby down if you try for sleep 45 minutes after waking.
Putting it into practice
Actually look at the clock and time the 45 minutes because this time absolutely flies, especially when you’re looking into those gorgeous little eyes, or seeing an amazing smile! Keeping a close eye on the time AND baby will make sure you don’t get drawn into those eyes for hours pushing into overtiredness. This will help make it easier to get baby to sleep.
Another positive about keeping a good eye on the clock is that you will pick up on your little one’s tired signs very early on because you know when to expect them. I don’t want to promote clock watching long term. Once you’re comfortable to be guided by baby’s cues give up the clock!
Tip #2: Put baby down awake
Yes, I said baby can sleep wherever you want them to BUT I also encourage you to try and put your little one down awake at least once a day. This will allow baby to start to drift off to sleep without your help for either a nap or bedtime.
I’m not suggesting every time you do this that your newborn will happily drift off to sleep on their own, I’m also definitely not suggesting parents leave newborns in a room to cry for any length of time, or at all! But it’s a great opportunity to develop strategies for independent sleep.
Putting it into practice
Set the scene and the timer! When baby wakes, offer a good feed followed by a good burp, complete a nappy change, then have a little play and/or cuddle. After 45minutes of awake time, prepare your little one for sleep (swaddle, sleep sack, etc) and tuck them into bed.
You can either stay in baby’s room to see if they’re able to drift off to sleep or leave the room. Either way if baby drifts of to sleep celebrate! If your little one starts to cry pick them up and comfort them. Once calm, try putting baby back into bed. It is up to you how many times you lay them back down to try again before intervening and helping your little one get to sleep however you can eg. rocking, patting, bouncing, shooshing, etc.
Tip #3: 12 hours of day and 12 of night
Newborns are born with an immature circadian rhythm (the internal body clock that encourages wakefulness and sleep). The circadian rhythm develops over the first 2 – 4 months of life. As a result, newborn sleep is erratic and unpredictable. You may experience long periods of wakefulness during the night and longer periods of sleep during the day in your little one. This is why many parents comment their baby has no concept of night and day.
Set up an obvious 12-hour day and a 12-hour night to encourage the development of your little one’s circadian rhythm. This will enable baby to consolidate sleep during the night, start to take longer naps during the day, and avoid the 3AM party!
Putting it into practice
During the day expose your little one to as much natural light as possible. Weather permitting try getting outside for a feed or a walk in the carrier or pram. Please use your discretion and avoid exposing your little one to the elements; stick to the shade to avoid our hot Australian sun and cover your little one up in the cooler months.
If unable to get outside, let as much natural light into your home as possible. You can try feeding whilst sitting next to a well-lit window or setting up the play mat/swing in a well-lit room. Again, use your discretion, we do not want newborns staring into glare or direct sunlight coming in through the window.
During the night we want the complete opposite. Keep feeds and nappy changes unstimulating with low lighting, no screens, and little talking. It’s also a good idea to keep your newborn in the room they sleep in as much as possible (either your room or their nursery).
Separate day and night
I know I said 3 tips but this ties in with the third tip. You want to introduce 2 activities that will alert baby of the end of the day and start of the night, and vice versa. These activities need to occur when baby is awake to help cue their brain and body and kick start the Circadian rhythm.
I think the easiest activities, because they naturally occur at these times anyway, are getting dressed in the morning and having a bath in the evening.
You can dress your baby in onesies or suits during the day, they do not need to be in pants, tops, etc if you find suits easier. It’s just a really good cue for baby if you change them out of their night clothes and into day clothes.
The bath can also be the beginning of a bedtime routine that you can build on and develop as your little one grows.
You got this!
The newborn stage can be an absolute whirl! You are busy getting to know your newest family member, establishing breast or bottle feeding, managing many visitors, continuing to keep the house running, possibly caring for other children, all whilst dealing with sleep deprivation.
Be sure to reach out for support if you need it. Be it family, friends, or a health professional, you do not need to go it alone. There is lots of support available to you.
I’m happy to answer any questions you may have so contact me via my Facebook page, email, or phone. I also offer free group workshops to parent groups (this can be your local parent group or just a group of friends). The kids do not need to be the same age for these workshops. Contact me for more information if interested 0406 663 902.