5 Newborn Sleep Tips To Support a Better Schedule Early On
Putting your newborn on a sleep schedule isn’t as rigid as it sounds. I’m Kim, an expert on gentle, evidence-based infant sleep. It is possible to create small habits early on in your baby’s life to support their sleep — now and as they age developmentally.
You don’t have to leave your baby to cry in a room alone. No one understands that more than me. It’s how my entire Baby-Led Sleep and Coaching programs were born.
Parents wanted an alternative, softer way to promote their baby’s sleep, and now you have one.
Today, I’m going over 5 tips from my new book on newborn sleep to dispel common misconceptions. Once you understand some important aspects of sleep — and what you can start doing today — you’ll be able to help the whole family rest well.
1. Have Realistic Expectations For Your Newborn’s Sleep To Ease Your Mind
Maybe this one seems obvious to you, or maybe it doesn’t. Have you been told you can create awful sleeping habits just weeks after your baby arrives? I can confidently say that’s not true. You can’t spoil a newborn. But you need realistic expectations about sleep with a newborn.
The first months at home with your baby are filled with sleep-deprived days, mostly because your baby doesn’t have a circadian rhythm yet. At a certain age, our bodies release natural hormones to signal when it’s time to wake up and sleep. This internal clock doesn’t start to develop until around 3-4 months. So they sleep a lot, but it’s very irregular. (Doesn’t it just feel like they need to eat all night long? I address this in #3!)
Newborns typically sleep between 14 to 17 hours a day, but it comes in small increments. It’s these short spurts that’ll be the hardest the first couple of months but to be expected. It’s reality and doesn’t last forever, remember that.
2. Importance of Tummy Time In Supporting Your Newborn’s Sleep Schedule
Believe it or not, this important task plays a vital role in helping your baby sleep. As you know, your baby needs extra support for everything.
Tummy time helps build your baby’s core muscles and the ability to lift their head. (Funny to think about a squishy newborn building core muscles, isn’t it?) This directly impacts sleep because as your baby gets stronger, they’re able to move more and soothe themselves.
During your baby’s first month of life, my sleep team and I recommend 1-5 minute sessions of tummy time 2-3 times per day. You might find your baby doesn’t like tummy time because their head’s so heavy. This is normal! Committing to a small amount of time every day really makes a difference in supporting your baby’s sleep.
Tummy time guides your baby to achieve one of the first big milestones: rolling over. Interestingly, back in the old days when babies were regularly put on their stomachs to sleep, they rolled over sooner. (Because of those core muscles we talked about.) Now we know placing a baby on their back reduces SIDS. Read more from us on safe sleep here.
get the interactive
for better nights
and happier days
3. Feed Your Baby Enough During The Day And Don’t Let Them Sleep Too Long
Whether breast or bottle feeding, there can be lots of challenges when it comes to making sure your baby’s full. They have preferences from the moment they’re born, and it takes time to figure out what works.
From different breastfeeding positions to different nipple types, you may drive yourself crazy finding what works but you will get there. Give yourself grace figuring things out. You just met this tiny person too!
I can tell you that feeding newborns often during the day really helps them sleep at night. When babies sleep most of the day and miss those frequent feedings, they can be up all night because they’re hungry.
Since babies don’t have a natural circadian rhythm, they will sleep all day if you let them. I usually don’t recommend letting a newborn sleep thru a feeding or longer than 3 hours during the daytime to promote better nighttime sleep. Since babies feed frequently the first few months, 3 hours is the max for daytime sleep. While this may seem harsh, it’s tiny changes like this that eventually help them sleep through the night — the ultimate goal.
4. How to Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment For Your Newborn At Home
This advice is gaining good attention because it works! In the womb, not only was it dark — your baby constantly heard your heartbeat, you talking, and other muffled noises in the outside world. When they come out, to be expected to sleep in a light room and in complete silence simply doesn’t work for them.
White noise works in two ways. First, it mimics shushing or the sound of your heartbeat, which babies love. It also prevents startling your baby awake from other noises. Pediatrician Dr. Karp states babies don’t become dependent on white noise, and you don’t have to wean them until 3 or 4 years old.1 I don’t consider this a sleep crutch; it’s a great, easy way to promote a positive sleep environment for your newborn.
Room-darkening shades or curtains block out bright sunshine and natural light — creating a calmer environment for sleep. Since newborns don’t have a fully developed circadian rhythm quite yet, making the space dark provides a powerful cue to your baby that it’s time for sleep. I recommend using darkening shades for both naps and nighttime sleep if light’s getting in.
Safe sleep’s a top priority with a newborn. You should be following all current recommendations on safe sleep from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Be sure to discuss it with your child’s pediatrician as well.
But, we know through an independent study that as many as 60% of new parents co-sleep or share a bed with their baby in the first year of life.
If you’re going to do it, read our blog on safe sleep.
5. Overstimulation’s A Real Thing For A Baby — and You Can Help
Do you notice at the end of the day your newborn’s simply had enough and cries more? Like, a lot more? After supporting babies’ sleep for over 25 years — I’ve found that lots of babies become overstimulated by the evening.
This has been referred to by many as “the witching hour”.” When a baby just cries inconsolably, it’s hard on the entire family. Some even describe it as traumatizing. It can feel like it takes away from the joys of being a new parent. But don’t worry; I found a way to help. I call it my 3 pm rule!
After 3 pm, I highly recommend trying these tips, which have helped thousands of newborns sleep on a better schedule:
- Have a gentle coming-home routine for other family members
- Limit how much your baby’s passed around to other people
- Turn off the tv and electronics
- Dim the lights
- Take baby into separate, calming environment if possible
- Soothe baby by rocking them or singing to them
Every baby’s different, so you’ll find soothing techniques that work with time. Then you can use these tools to help soothe your baby faster in the evening and promote a good sleep schedule.
Get Your Newborn On A Great Sleeping Schedule — The Gentle Way — With My New Book!
You won’t need to spend hours searching on Google for how to get your newborn to sleep with my book in your hands. Get expert resources and tools to promote good sleep habits for your baby, so you all can start resting better.
My team understands each family has unique needs and goals for sleep. We’re here to support those needs in the gentlest way possible. Don’t dread having to listen to your baby cry. There is another, better way.
get the interactive
for better nights
and happier days
- Harvey Karp, The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep: Simple Solutions for Kids from Birth to 5 Years (New York: William Morrow, 2012), 180