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The first month of newborn sleep is somewhat of a puzzle. Sorry to break it to you, mama. But it’s the truth. Baby does not yet have an internal biological clock with a circadian rhythm that helps her know when to sleep. With that said, I do have some great news for you! Though each sweet little darling is as unique as the mama who birthed her, there are some things we can count on from our babes in the first month (as long as there are not medical issues or complications) when it comes to their sleep.
Week 1 with a newborn
To begin, all new little bundles will only have 1-1.5 hours of wakefulness at any given point of the day. This, right here, is the best tip I can give you to avoid having an overtired baby. And if you can avoid an overtired baby in these first few months, you will have great success! This is because a big transition in baby’s sleep world will occur around 3-4 months. At this time, baby will go from having scattered and disorganized sleep patterns to definitely being able to follow a schedule. However, with the correct preparation during these first weeks, you may easily find that baby can follow a schedule much earlier.
If you want to learn so much more about daytime naps, be sure to check out my ebook, Every Mom’s Guide To Nap Time – The Ultimate Handbook For Getting GREAT Naps Everyday.
So, to help baby’s sleep become as predictable as possible, it is already time to teach baby to self soothe. She has just come out a very comfy, warm and dark place where she was connected to you in the ultimate way. Of course, all babies prefer this and so they must be taught to self soothe.
Consider this the first of many skills you will teach your child! To help baby learn to self soothe, you must lay her down drowsy but awake. I know this can be one of the hardest points in dealing with a newborn.
Drowsy but awake
The only way to teach baby to self soothe is to provide the opportunity for her to fall asleep unassisted. If you begin this pattern from the earliest days, it will become baby’s second nature. She will expect to be put down when she is ready to sleep and will drift off to sleep happily in her own space. This is true for 80% of babies who do not have temperamental personalities and who have not become chronically overtired.
To be able to lay baby down drowsy but awake, you must:
- watch the clock to ensure you aren’t keeping baby up too long.
- pay attention to sleep cues! At this age, that includes becoming more fidgety and fussing. Get baby heading to bed right away when you see this happening.
- differentiate between baby being hungry and tired.
- never let baby get overtired. If baby is more than drowsy, she will not be able to be laid down on her own and may need excessive assistance of motion, sound and sucking to fall asleep.
- mimic the fourth trimester. To help accomplish this, read this article about where to sleep baby and this article about how to help calm baby with white noise.
The last point there is super helpful! I promise! It makes what seems like an impossible task so much easier. I have done both the things I mention in the linked articles and have always had great success with them!
One last note here about laying baby down drowsy but awake: the goal here is not to be militant in any way about this at this age. The main priority is avoiding an overtired babe while letting her learn this important sleep skill.
Developing a bedtime routine right away is a great way to help baby transition to day time wakefulness and night time sleep. As baby’s circadian rhythm starts to kick in around 3 months of age, baby will more easily fall asleep earlier in the evening. However, in these early weeks, it is common for babies to head to bed for the night quite late in the evening (think 10pm).
During daytime hours, baby will likely sleep for 2-4 hour intervals, be awake for 1-2 hours and then start the cycle all over again. This can continue throughout the night as far as time between feedings being 2-4 hours, but wake times should generally be much shorter as you work to get back right back to sleep after a quick change and feeding.
However, as baby gets even a week or two older, night time sleep will start to include longer stretches. For now, you’ll be a bit sleep deprived. But sometimes just having realistic expectations can make it much more bearable! Also, knowing there is an end in sight. There is light at the end of a relatively short tunnel, so take heart!
A calming bedtime routine can include:
- a bath
- a relaxing massage
- a feeding
- reading nursery rhyme
- singing lullabies
- having white noise
- laying baby down in a warm and cozy bed
6 weeks of newborn fussiness
Something else to note here is that babies have a general fussiness that builds up and then peaks at 6 weeks. This is calculated from gestational due date, not birth date. Do not fear that something is wrong.
In all likelihood, your little dream boat will become more and more agitated in the evening hours until she hits 6 weeks. After that, the great news is that she will get calmer during this time and eventually be ready for a nice, easy early evening bedtime.
You can read more about this season of normal fussiness here. Take a moment to read it and then go on to this article about colic. It will put your heart and mind at ease knowing this is normal behavior for the newest person you have just fallen head over heals for.
Other articles you may enjoy:
What sleep training in week 1 means
Sleep training during the first week means:
- laying the foundation by allowing baby to lay down drowsy but awake
- allowing for many naps with 1-2 hour wake intervals
- developing a bedtime routine to help baby differentiate between day and night sleep
Weeks 2-4 with a newborn
It could be that you are enjoying this season where baby can be taken anywhere, anytime and still get some good sleep. You could be using a baby carrier or car seat for baby’s sleep while on the go. Enjoy this because it will come to an end.
It is during these first few weeks that you can get away with taking baby out and about while maintaining her sleep. Of course you are recovering from giving birth, but inasmuch as you are able and enjoy it, this is a good time to cart baby around. In the next several weeks, baby will need to nap in her own bed, in a quiet and dark room, with some white noise going.
Stick with good habits
During the first week, you are focusing on never letting baby get overtired. You do this by keeping wake intervals short as you give baby the opportunity to lay down drowsy but awake. Keep up all the good habits you have been working so hard at during the first week!
After a couple weeks, you will have had time to get to know baby’s habits and cues more and more. This is a good time to make sure that you do not attend to baby when she is making normal infant vocalizations. During both naps and night time, baby will rouse and this is completely normal. You do this during your sleep when you transition between sleep cycles also.
When baby does this, we need to give her an opportunity to do as we do…roll over and go back to sleep. Obviously this doesn’t look the same for your sweet little nugget. But, you get the point. Baby will grunt and whimper and wiggle.
She may also have involuntary restlessness as her brain is still developing control of her body. As can be read in Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, this could include twisting, turning, shaking, jerking and shuddering. Baby is just moving from one sleep cycle to the next’s and doing it in her adorable newborn fashion. So, try to allowing her the space to do this.
According to Dr. Weissbluth, if you hear baby’s normal rousing and attend to her unnecessarily, this will create a situation called signaling. Signaling is basically attending to baby every time she makes a sound or seems slightly distressed. If you don’t give baby the space to transition from one sleep cycle to the next on her own, she will not learn to do it. I talk much more about how to do this in my ebook, Every Mom’s Guide To Nap Time that I mentioned above.
Instead, she will develop the habit of crying during these transitions and needing to be soothed by you to get back to sleep. This takes away from her sleep and yours. It fragments both your and baby’s sleep as she comes to rely on you in order to get back to sleep.
All of this is particularly important to pay attention to when it comes to night time sleep. During the day it can be easier to attend to baby and help her get a good nap in. At night, you must not allow signaling to develop as that is what leads to a very tired mama. Of course it isn’t good for baby either as it will both fragment her sleep as well as stop her from taking good day time naps. And because day time naps affect night time sleep….it’s all a vicious cycle.
You want to ensure baby isn’t getting overtired during the day and you only want to go to baby at night when she needs to feed, you’ll want to consider ways to comfort baby in order to meet your goals. Again, mimicking the womb is vital. This includes swaddling baby, using white noise, allowing baby something to suck on and laying baby down in a cozy space.
When it comes to sucking, you’ll have to decide what you want to do about using a pacifier, allowing thumb sucking or using the breast as a pacifier. If you are co-sleeping, using your breast for this comfort may be very convenient for your both. If you are not co-sleeping, this could be difficult. In this case, find something in place of the breast so that you can get the sleep you need.
What sleep training in weeks 2-4 means
Continue to keep day time wake intervals short so baby does not get overtired.
Avoid responding to baby unnecessarily during the night, which can cause signaling. As you learn what baby needs, you’ll know when she is just trying to get back to sleep and when she is hungry. You’ll only attend to her when she is in need of a feeding and offer anything she needs for comfort when she can’t transition from one sleep cycle to the next.
A note about night time wakings: when you change and feed baby during the night, you must keep the lighting as low as possible (another reason this sound machine with light you can control from your phone is so incredibly awesome!). You also need to avoid interacting with baby in the same way you do during her day time wakings. Even though it’s tempting to tell her how much you love her and try to get her to make eye contact, you must avoid both these things at night. This ensures minimal arousal from sleep.
Alright, mama, that’s it!
You have made it through what is needed for the first month with your newborn. I promise, if you use these tips you will be way ahead of the game! As soon as baby is ready to get some regularity to her schedule, you will have laid the perfect foundation. She’ll not be an overtired little grump, which means she’ll be able to more easily embrace a natural schedule. You’ll also be on your way to a baby who sleeps through the night within the first couple months. Your other new mama friends will probably be a bit jealous about this, so you’ll definitely need to pass on all your new found tips.
Baby sleep seems like an impossible task, but it is totally do-able. You can enjoy your new little one so much more when you both get the sleep you need. I hope to help you with this! I know what a special time it is and don’t want that to be lost in a haze of sleep deprivation.