The secret to getting your newborn to sleep is the holy grail for new parents. We have all spent time desperately searching for the magical solution to our baby’s lack of sleep.
I will be honest with you.
Even if you do everything “right,” your baby may take some time before they will sleep through the night. The best thing you can do is to maintain structure for your baby. Don’t give up, and remind yourself that it won’t last forever.
The sooner you can start implementing these good sleep habits, the more likely it is that you are going to have a well-adjusted baby who sleeps through the night. It WILL happen at some point. I can almost promise that.
Our first daughter ended up sleeping through the night consistently by the time she was three weeks old. Our second took a little longer and started sleeping through the night at eight weeks.
Why did one child take longer than the other to establish a consistent sleep pattern?
I could attribute it to the fact that all children are different, and therefore will vary in their reactions to a situation. I do not dispute that all children are different; however, I don’t think we handled both children exactly the same.
The most significant difference was the consistency in their schedules. We were much more devoted to a stable schedule for our first child and had complete control over the noise and chaos of our home.
We had a two-year-old running around by the time my second daughter was born, which threw controlled silence out the window. We were not entirely consistent in our schedule, and we were not able to provide an optimized quiet time ritual–these are the key differences.
TIPS TO HELP GET YOUR NEWBORN SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT
I always felt that a swaddle looked more like a straight-jacket than a comfort item, but most babies love them. Swaddling helps your baby feel more secure, as it mimics the feeling of being in the womb. Not only will your baby feel more secure, but they will also have a decreased startle reflex.
If you have ever seen the startle reflex, you know how frustrating it can be. Your baby is floating peacefully in dreamland for twenty minutes, and suddenly the cat runs across the room and startles the baby to an awake state. Eventually, this startle reflex goes away, but until then it is helpful to have something that can keep this reaction to a minimum.
We all make associations with specific items or rituals in our life. Think of a smell that reminds you of your grandmother or a song that makes you think of a loved one. These are associations, and you can proactively create sleep associations for your baby.
A bedtime routine is the MOST critical thing you can do to help your baby develop good sleep associations. For my first, we did pajamas, stories, and lullabies. She is now almost three, and we still do this every night for her. You are welcome to try a variation of this, but just find something you can do consistently.
I do not recommend using television as a wind-down activity, as the blue light that emits from electronics can trigger the brain to stop creating melatonin; a chemical that promotes sleep.
DON’T LET YOUR BABY GET TOO TIRED
Don’t let your baby get overtired. Think of it this way–being fatigued is miserable. Your baby does not understand what exhaustion is; they just know that they are really uncomfortable.
Watch for signs that your baby is tired and quickly get them to sleep. I am serious about the quickly part. Some of the most common signs you will see include rubbing the eyes, yawning, difficulty focusing, and irritability.
Also, keep in mind that babies have a specific sleep/wake cycle they should follow. Wake, eat, play, and sleep. Eating right when they wake up will give them the energy to play. Once they get tired of playing, they will fall asleep.
Keep a mental checklist of where your baby is at during different parts of the day, and stick loosely to this schedule.
We learned to play close attention to the signs our daughter was giving us. When we didn’t she was a mess, and so were we.
CONSIDER USING SOMETHING DISTRACTING
A lot of moms swear by little nightlight soothers. These are little machines that play soothing music and light up. Personally, I thought they would be distracting and make it more difficult for my baby to sleep.
I was wrong.
Our second child was entranced with her projection soother and stared at the lights as it slowly lulled her to sleep. We ended up using it almost every night because she did so well with it.
PUT BABY DOWN SLEEPY, NOT ASLEEP
With babies, a glider can be a lifesaver. The motion of a rocking chair soothes most babies, and it can often lull them into a deep sleep.
Some babies can be rocked to sleep and sleep through the night. Other babies will need you to rock them to back to sleep every single time they wake up during the night.
It’s a risky maneuver to try rocking your baby to sleep if you don’t want to have to do this every time you want your baby to sleep. It is better to rock them until they are drowsy, and lay them down while they are still awake.
Trust me, I know it’s not always that simple–but it will create better sleep habits for the future–so give it a shot.
FINISH NIGHT-TIME FEEDINGS A HALF HOUR BEFORE BEDTIME
Babies eat. Often. They also have an immature digestive system which is why it is crucial to finish feeding them a half hour before putting them to bed. Digesting milk is kind of distracting for your little one, so it is good to get it out of the way before bedtime.
Don’t put baby in their crib with a bottle. Not only is it inadvisable to have anything in the crib with your baby, but it is also creating a sleep association that may be difficult to break later on. Babies who have a bottle in their crib are also more prone to having issues with their teeth–so it’s really kind of a bad thing all around.
Sometimes your littles may not fall asleep without a bottle. Don’t see this as a hard fast rule–but more of a loose guideline.
MASSAGE OR BATHTIME
Consider giving your child a massage or a bath before bed if they seem to be struggling with winding down.
It’s almost magical to see our second daughter fast asleep twenty minutes after drying her off. Who am I kidding? It IS magical! This is a great sleep “hack” that we whip out on nights that she’s having an especially hard time getting to sleep.
The warm water can help your child relax, and can be beneficial even if your baby does not like baths. Our second baby did not like baths and would scream while she was having one, but it still wore her out and she slept soundly.
There are a lot of different baby massages you can try, and it’s a great way to bond with your baby. Honestly, I was very skeptical and didn’t believe that something as simple as a massage would help our baby fall asleep. I was wrong.
We have found that gently massaging the back or the feet seem to promote relaxation in our kiddos. Sometimes, a back massage was the ONLY way we got our oldest to sleep.
Skip the middle of the night diaper changes. I know that it may seem a bit cruel, but I promise it’s fine. Buy diapers one size up from what your baby wears, and use these for nightwear. Don’t bother buying the special night time diapers–it’s not necessary!
If you can do a diaper change without waking your baby up fully, then be my guest. Just be aware that if you wake them fully, you may have to go through the entire bedtime routine again.
The exception to this is if you know your baby has defecated. Poop can irritate your baby’s skin immensely, and you may have a severe diaper rash on your hands if you wait.
WHITE NOISE MACHINE
A white noise machine was not critical with my first daughter, as we were more in control of the noises in our home.
I realize looking back that we were a slave to her sleep schedule, as we spent our time tiptoeing around the house while she was sleeping (or napping ourselves.) It seems like most people would rather be productive during nap time.
An essential part of getting your baby on a good sleep schedule is to teach their body the difference between night and day. Babies don’t understand what the difference between night and day is–we have to teach them. Dim the lights once quiet time starts.
If baby wakes in the middle of the night, use a nightlight to navigate your way to comfort your baby. Eventually, darkness will become another sleep association for your baby.
LIMIT DAYTIME NAPS
If you want your baby to sleep well at night, make sure that you don’t allow your baby to sleep all day. Now, newborns sleep a lot–approximately 17 hours a day.
If your baby sleeps 10 hours (roughly) at night, that means that your baby should be napping around seven hours of the day. Your baby will likely need a nap every few hours, but you want to be sure you aren’t letting them sleep for longer than 2 (ish) hours at a time.
USE A BABY MONITOR
As a new mom, it is tempting to go and check on your baby every time they flinch.
Unfortunately, by opening that door and creeping over to the bed, you risk waking your sleeping baby–and it’s a nightmare to try and get them back to peaceful sleep. Using a video baby monitor can help you check on your baby without disrupting them.
CONSIDER A SLEEP CONSULTANT
Once you are at the point that you feel like you have tried everything, or if you just want a little direction–it may be time to reach out to a sleep consultant.