You're home from the hospital ... now what?
When I was preparing for the birth of my first child, the only sleep “advice” I received was “Sleep when the baby sleeps!” That makes me think of the oh-so-true meme I’ve seen floating around Instagram that you might have seen too — “and do laundry when the baby does laundry.”
And, of course, I also received this same comment over and over: “You’re never going to sleep again.” Insert eyeroll here. Does any of this sound familiar to you?!
And while I could take a weekly labor & delivery course offered by our hospital, attend an in-person breastfeeding class with a lactation consultant, and read a bunch of parenting books, I found, in the thick of it, that there was no mention of newborn sleep education ANYWHERE in my new-parent prep work. What was I supposed to do with this little one once we left the safety and security of the hospital??
I’m here today to share five tips on how to implement healthy and developmentally appropriate strategies you can start with your newborn FROM DAY 1 — even while you are still at the hospital or birthing center. Let’s get to it!
First, the Science Behind Newborn and Infant Sleep
When they first arrive here earthside, newborn babies only have two sleep cycles. As adults, we have four. Besides the difference in the number of cycles, newborn sleep cycles are also shorter than ours (hence more wakings in the middle of the night along with their need to eat around the clock). REM sleep for newborns is active sleep-- you'll likely observe a lot of movement and lots of noise-making during this stage. Babies then have a deep sleep cycle, where you might find it difficult to wake them if you tried. Around four months of age, all babies go through a developmental progression with sleep (also known as the 4-month sleep regression) where they are biologically shifting from two cycles to the same four cycles we have as adults. Now, the cycles are all the same as ours; theirs are just shorter.
Newborns also have very chaotic and disorganized sleep the first 6-8 weeks of life. They may even have their days and nights mixed up until this point! Things seem to calm down between 8-12 weeks when their circadian rhythm starts to kick in a bit more. To help this organize a bit faster, parents can make sure that their baby is exposed to natural sunlight during the day. Dim the lights in your house during the evening hours, and make sure any nighttime feedings are also occurring in very dim lighting.
1. SAFE SLEEP AND PACIFIER USE
I always follow the guidelines and recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and make those same recommendations for my clients. By providing these recommendations, based on science and research, parents can make safe and appropriate decisions that are best for their family and for their child.
The AAP has a fun little way to remember the “big things” about safe sleep — the ABCs of safe sleep! Babies should be placed ALONE, on their BACK, in a CRIB.
A for Alone means just that — your baby, all by him — or herself is placed into the crib. The crib should have a tightly fitted sheet and your baby can be wearing a swaddle or sleep sack. No pillows. No blankets. No stuffed animals. Nothing besides your baby and what they’re wearing on a tightly fitted sheet.
B for Back: The AAP’s Back to Sleep campaign was implemented in 1994, based on research that showed that back sleeping was safer than belly sleeping for infants. From the AAP, "Between 1993 and 2010 the percent of infants placed to sleep on their backs increased from 17% to 73%. Following the initiation of the campaign, the number of infants dying from SIDS has decreased to 2,063 per year as of 2010.” (aap.org).
C for Crib: A crib or other safe sleep surface would be marketed as a crib, bassinet, or playard — basically anything that is flat, firm, and breathable.
A pacifier can be a useful tool with helping calm a fussy baby and with sleep, especially the first few months of life. Per the AAP, pacifier use reduces the risk of SIDS. The risk of SIDS also significantly decreases after your baby surpasses 4-months of age.
2. PAY ATTENTION TO “AWAKE WINDOWS”
If there was anything about newborn and infant sleep that I wish I would have known prior to bringing our first baby home from the hospital, it would have been knowledge about awake windows! Once I learned what they were (basically, the time awake between one sleep and the next) and how to implement them, I was able to help my baby sleep so much better. To get a free copy of “Your Complete Guide to Awake Windows” click here to subscribe to my email list. Knowledge about awake windows and the appropriate amount of wake times between naps is A GAME CHANGER.
3. FOLLOW A ROUTINE
All children thrive when they know what to expect, and that is exactly what a routine provides! We take comfort in knowing what’s coming next and being able to plan. It’s the same for our newborns! Being able to provide a consistent routine will help your little one adjust to the world outside of the womb and feel safe and comforted. I recommend implementing an EAT/AWAKE/SLEEP routine throughout your baby’s day. When your baby wakes, change their diaper and offer a feeding. Then, it’s time to play! Playing at this stage is often just a few minutes of tummy time or staring into mommy’s eyes. Then it’s time to sleep again. Start this whole routine again when they wake up.
Make sure you also have a bedtime and nap time routine. This can be as simple as a diaper change, reading a book, putting your baby into a sleep sack, and laying them down in the crib with some white noise playing in the background. These routines help cue your baby’s body that sleep is coming!
4. 12 HOURS OF DAY/12 HOURS OF NIGHT
Another great strategy for newborns is making sure that a day is about 12 hours and a night is about 12 hours. Follow the above EAT/AWAKE/SLEEP routine for the 12 hours of daytime, and any wakings that occur between the 12 hours of night should be treated as night wakings. So, if your baby woke up for the day around 8:00 a.m., bedtime should be around 8:00 p.m. Newborns will have a later bedtime to start that should gradually be brought forward as they mature.
5. THE 5 S’s FOR SOOTHING FROM DR. HARVEY KARP
Part of ensuring quality sleep for your infant is helping them calm down so they can drift off easily. These 5 strategies from Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, are tried-and-true tricks for helping a baby settle before bed or nap time.
The first 8 weeks of life, swaddling can be incredibly soothing for a newborn, mimicking the feeling of being in the womb. I recommend transitioning out of the swaddle between 8-12 weeks, and before your baby is rolling. If already rolling, it’s time!
I recommend swinging as a great awake time activity. Due to the incline, swings shouldn’t be used for sleep. To help soothe a baby, gently swaying back and forth can help!
- Side/Stomach hold
Try both and see what your baby prefers!
The womb was a very loud place ... shushing loudly near your baby’s ear can help calm them, the same idea with white noise.
Offering a pacifier or your pinky finger can help calm your baby fairly quickly if they like to suck.
There you have it! Five tips for creating a great sleep foundation for your new baby. For more information about newborns check out my blog, “Can You Sleep Train a Newborn?”
Erin Meinel is the founder and owner of Lake Country Sleep, located in Wisconsin’s beautiful Lake Country area. It is her pleasure to help parents help their baby get the sleep he or she needs to thrive. It is her belief that a holistic and gentle approach, coupled with support, guidance, and accountability, is the best way to approach teaching the skill of sleep to your little one. Erin’s background in early childhood development and education, along with her pediatric sleep certification, allows her to successfully guide families all across the country with teaching their children the skill of sleep.