(1) SLEEP BEGETS SLEEP: Newborn babies sleep A LOT! The typical newborn will sleep an average of 14-18 hours in a 24 hour period. They need this sleep for their growing brains and bodies. Many newborns will wake only to feed and will drift right back to sleep with a nice, full tummy. If a baby is kept awake for too long, then their little bodies go into stress mode and begin to release cortisol and adrenaline, which makes sleeping more challenging. The key in the early days is to ensure that your newborn is not awake for longer than 45-60 minutes. Tune into your baby’s sleepy cues (yawning, turning head away from stimuli, fussing, rubbing eyes, etc) and help to get baby to sleep. Know that your newborn will likely be an active, noisy sleeper (she will rarely appear “deeply asleep”). It is common for newborns to even fuss a little while sleeping. Don’t make the mistake of immediately picking up or tending to baby, especially at night; pause for at least a minute or two before tending to baby (oftentimes baby is actually asleep and will stay asleep if left uninterrupted!).
(2) ESTABLISH DAYS & NIGHTS: Because your baby does not yet have a circadian rhythm established (this appears around 3-4 months), each day and night will feel pretty different. This unpredictability and variability can feel very challenging. Just when you think you’ve settled into a rhythm, it changes! Some sleep periods may be 20 minutes while others may be 3 hours. Short naps are very common (even at night!) as baby goes through growth spurts and wants to cluster feed. One way to help differentiate the days and nights for baby is to expose baby to direct sunlight and fresh air during the day and to keep nighttime hours very dark and quiet. This will help to set your baby’s biological clock and will teach them the difference between the day and the night. It’s also important to make sure baby is getting full feedings during the day so as to reduce nighttime wakings due to hunger (do this by feeding baby for a minimum of 10-15 minutes/breast every 2-3 hours throughout the day if breastfeeding).
(3) NO BAD HABITS: Newborns do not have the ability to self-soothe and often require help falling asleep and staying asleep. Most babies will sleep best being held either in arms or a carrier- this is totally fine (and actually best for baby) during the early weeks. It’s also fine to rock, feed, bounce, shush, etc. your baby to sleep during the early weeks (many babies respond well to multi-sensory cues, like Dr. Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s). Newborns lack the cognitive ability to form habits at this stage so anything goes! At about 8 weeks old we can start to establish some more independence with sleep- for now, the priority is to maximize everyone’s sleep by whatever means necessary!