Congratulations on your new bundle of joy! You are several steps ahead of many parents who will struggle for months or even years with sleep issues, believing they will resolve themselves…they don’t. Every day, babies develop more personality, brain function and awareness of their surroundings. With anything, it’s about establishing the proper foundation, which become habits to them over time. There are good habits and bad habits, both are habits, so what you want to establish are the ‘good’ habits and then you won’t ever need to worry about the ‘bad habits’ and having to break them.
You have already come to realize that babies do a lot of eating and a lot of sleeping and little else! Right now, much of that is in the middle of the night, so I am sure you feel like quite the zombie right now, (we have all been there — even as a sleep professional!) Follow these simple guides to build a strong sleeper in your family, right from the start!
1. The Crib: Research confirms that the crib is the safest & quietest place for babies to sleep. Many parents, especially first time parents use a bassinet in their room. While I understand the reason parents give of wanting to be close, babies are loud when they sleep, cooing and fussing all night long in their sleep. In turn, you and your partner are not sleeping at a time when any sleep is desperately needed for you in order to care for your new bundle of joy. I know for new parents it’s scary to leave them but if they are in your room & you are sleeping, not staring at them the whole night, every night, why not have them in the crib with the monitor on? The crib is also a safe, hard surface, where they can comfortably sleep, swaddled snug-as-a-bug. If a baby learns to only sleep in a bassinet and then quickly outgrows it, it becomes one more thing you must transition them from, which isn’t always easy. I suggest eliminating the things you can avoid needing to transition from so quickly and have them sleep in the crib. They also begin to build a nice relationship and comfort with the crib. After all- they will be spending the next several years there.
2. A Schedule: While a formal schedule is impossible for a newborn, understanding their cue’s, proper awake times, feedings and proper sleep patterns is a pillar in crafting a good sleeper both during the day and at night.
The best way to maximize feeds during the day is work on a 7 to 7 schedule. Up at 7am eating and down at 7 pm sleeping. That helps them also learn to decipher days and nights. Teaching them that bedtime is 7pm and they are in the crib in the dark, is best for them and gives you time to focus to yourself. It’s also good for their bodies, because the dark helps with the natural production of melatonin in the babies’ brains, to help them lull off to sleep. I do suggest a dream feeding at 10:00pm for the first few weeks. If your partner can do that 10:00pm feeding, I often advise new mothers to shower after the 7:00pm feeding, then go to bed around 8:00pm and sleep until their first wakeup after the 10:00pm feeding, which will be between 1:00am and 2:00am. This allows you to help keep the babies belly full, and gives you a stretch to get some sleep. This gets you a solid block of sleep you need as a new mom, which is also important to health the mom stay physically and mentally healthy.
3. A Routine: From the beginning, establish an evening routine with your baby. Wash their face with a wash cloth, a bath, a song, a book, a cuddle, a swaddle, whatever it is that you do and will do every night with your little bundle of joy. This helps them begin to recognize that sleep time is coming. It’s a unique thing that happens only at that time of the day. The routine should never last more than 30 minutes. This goes for 6 days old, 6 weeks old, 6 months old or 6 years old.
4. Naps: The baby should not sleep more than 2.5–3 hours without eating during the day (between 7am & 7pm), unless they were hungry and obviously wanted it sooner. Even if they are sleeping, I would wake them, feed them, then they could go back to sleep if they were still tired, as many newborns do. As you know, those first few weeks they sleep a lot! Newborns should only be awake 45–60 minutes before napping those first few weeks. In the evening, put the baby down at 7pm after the brief bedtime routine. The first few weeks they may fall asleep eating, just pay attention to it and try to pull out the bottle/breast, burp her, then they can pass out.
For a newborn, there are no ‘rigid schedules’ per-se’ as these little ones are still developing. However, the awake time is very important. Up until 8 weeks, babies sleep about 16–18 hours a day.
Around 8 weeks, drop the 10:00pm feed and let her wake on her own for that first feed. When she wakes, feed in a quiet dark room with limited stimulation and after burping, place them awake back in the crib & swaddled.
5. Darkness: Get room-darkening shades. The sun is so bright and those are a life saver. Don’t have them or the money? Go to the dollar store and buy a box of black trash bags and a roll of masking tape. That will do the trick! It also helps the body naturally release the melatonin, which helps your body sleep. (I don’t EVER recommend using melatonin supplements. It’s messes up the body’s natural production of it.) When it’s bedtime, the room gets dark, another trigger to the baby it’s time to go to sleep.
6. The Bedroom: Don’t put your baby down for the ‘night’ in the bright living room with the TV on. This is all stimulating for them, causing difficulty in settling. Do the complete bedtime routine in a dark room with calm white noise playing. No TV, no iPhone — just you, bonding for one last time with your little one.
7. Put Down Awake: When you know they are tired or it’s nap time, swaddle them and place them awake but drowsy in the crib. It doesn’t need to be every nap, but shoot for 2 naps a day in the crib. The rest can be spent snuggling and cuddling her as much as you want.
8. Avoid Props: Whatever it is, we all have ways that we soothe ourselves into sleep. If your baby depends on a “prop” to fall asleep — such as feeding or rocking, then they will find it difficult to get back to sleep without their “prop.” This habit develops over the first few months. It is important that we teach our children skills so they can fall asleep themselves and begin to sleep more peacefully. At this stage, one of the most common sleep props is feeding, so have in the back of your mind that you will try not to feed (breast or bottle) to sleep. Of course, this is next to impossible to achieve 100% of the time and putting your baby down in her crib already asleep from time to time will not be the end of the world.
The other major prop is rocking. While rocking and reading we will incorporate into her plan described later, it should not be used to get her to sleep, unless you plan to rock her for every nap for the next 5 years!
9. Eat Play Sleep: Encouraging full feeds during the day by creating an EAT-PLAY-SLEEP pattern. Somewhere around 20–30 minutes provides adequate feeding time for infants (the same is true for both breastfed and bottle-fed babies). For most babies, feeding times will be every two to three hours. At 3 hours is a perfect number and maximizing her daily feeds by starting at 7am will in turn maximize her milk intake during the day so she sleeps more at night. Essentially doing things in this order still allow the same # of feedings, but don’t have the sleep association. Also, babies eat better when they are rested from their nap.
10. Total Sleep Time: Babies that are a few weeks old sleep a lot, that’s ok, just something to pay attention to. Each week she should be sleeping less and less during the daytime hours, which in turn will maximize night time sleep. Also important to keep in mind the right balance, because ironically NOT ENOUGH daytime sleep also cause many night waking’s. Here is a quick and easy sample chart of sleep for the next few weeks:
0–8 weeks: 16–18 hours of total sleep, 7–9 total hours during the day.
8–12 weeks: 14–16 hours of total sleep, 4–6 total hours during the day.
12–16 weeks: 14–15 hours of total sleep, 3–4 total hours during the day.
These are a guide to help you begin to understand sleep in your child. As always, work with your pediatrician to understand what is going to work best for your family situation.
This is a solid foundation for building sleep skills and this foundation will last you a lifetime. Kick off this new year and life with your newborn on a fantastic note, enjoy the snuggles, share lots of love & kisses and lets get everyone the sleep they need and deserve.
About the Author: Courtney Zentz is a Certified Lactation Counselor and the owner of Tiny Transitions, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She has worked with families all over the world to help support and educate everyone on the importance of sleep, as well as how to obtain the proper sleep for children of all ages. She began her journey into the world of sleep after the birth of her 3 year old son Max and offers programs to help gently guide families back to sleep.
Originally published at medium.com