As a children’s sleep specialist newborn baby sleep is something I am asked about many times and though I help parents sleep train their children (up to 6 year olds), I don’t advise sleep training a newborn. The first three months really are the fourth trimester and I advise do whatever you can do to get as much sleep as you can!
Having said that, there is quite a bit we can be doing to encourage wonderful sleep habits. I’m going to outline for you my favorite sleep tips for newborns, these will give you confidence that you are doing all you can to get as much sleep as you all can whilst also setting up some great sleep associations for your infant.
Okay, let’s get started.
You need to help your newborn baby sleep well. Set up a great sleep environment Keeping the sleeping environment between 65 and 70 degrees is enough for your infant. We don’t want them becoming too hot or too cold. A great way to see if your infant is too hot or cold is to feel their chest. Often their little hands and their head can feel very cool, so check their chest to get a real idea of if they’re hot or cold.
Swaddle your infant. Infants are born with a startle reflex, as they go through different stages of the sleep cycle they can startle and wake themselves up! They are less likely to wake themselves if they are swaddled. Swaddling can also be very calming and relaxing for your infant. They have spent 9 months snuggled up in utero, suddenly having arms and arm which can freely move (remember your infant won’t have any control over their limbs) can be scary, uncomfortable and bother them. Swaddling is also a great way to calm a crying baby.
If you are trying to get your infant into its own sleep space, either a bassinet or crib but you find that they would rather be held this could be a bit of a problem. I do suggest holding them as much as you can, but sometimes you need to get yourself something to eat or you need to jump in the shower. Try wearing the crib sheet! Pop the sheet under your shirt for an hour or two or even place it under the covers of your bed. When you try to put your child down in the bassinet or crib it will smell of you. Having that secure smell will make them more comfortable staying away from you. You can also try wearing your infant in a carrier (don’t do this if you’re going in the shower!); you can still get things done whilst holding your baby.
Don’t worry too much about nursing/feeding your infant to sleep; they’re so young it’s fine to do. Don’t think that it is the only way you can get them to sleep. Every day try putting them down to sleep drowsy but awake. You never know they may be able to get themselves to sleep. Don’t worry if they can’t do it themselves, pick them up and maybe rock them to sleep (did you know rocking side to side is more relaxing than back to front?), when they have gone to sleep pop them back into the crib. Keep your hands on them for a little while just in case you need to pat them or give a little reassuring rub.
It takes 20 minutes for an infant to fall into a deep sleep, if you rush off as soon as you’ve popped your infant into the crib and you keep having to go back to help them get back to sleep (this becomes very frustrating) just wait in their room until they are in a deep sleep. They’ll fall into a deep sleep quicker if you are there to help them sooner and it is less frustrating for you.
Don’t worry about setting up ‘bad’ sleep habits and associations with your infant. You really must do whatever you need to do to get you all as much sleep as you can get.