I’ll never forget what it was like to bring my newborn baby home for the first time. I was totally in love, completely in awe that I was the mother to this beautiful bundle of joy…and totally and completely clueless about how sleep deprived I was going to be in just two short months.
What I discovered during my sleep-deprived research was that are many resources available at your fingertips when it comes to pregnancy, labour, breastfeeding and bottle feeding – but finding information about newborn sleep was not as easy.
So, if you’re the parent of a newborn or are about to be, this is what you need to know.
Newborn Sleep: Weeks 1-8: Just Enjoy the Ride
From one to eight weeks old, your baby hasn’t yet matured with regards to sleep. There is no pattern when it comes to newborn sleep and there can be day and night confusion. At this stage you need to go with the flow.
Encourage your baby to get the sleep she needs which is approximately 14 to 18 hours a day. Simply do whatever it takes, as long as your baby is in a safe sleep environment. At this point, your baby’s biological sleep rhythms don’t exist so you can’t create a routine (yet) and don’t have to worry about creating bad habits.
Also, remember you need your sleep as well. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Week 8: Night Sleep and Social Smiles
The first sleep milestone comes around six to eight weeks of age when night sleep begins to become a bit more organized. You should expect longer stretches of sleep, around four to six hours, at night.
At this stage, your baby will likely start with their first social smiles. Your baby sees you and smiles and you know that he’s acknowledging presence. This is a good way to determine that you’re in the next newborn stage. Now is when you can begin to work on and encourage healthy sleep habits.
While it’s still early to enforce a consistent day-to-day routine, there are little things you can do to encourage healthy sleep and prepare them to be rock star sleepers in the future.
At this stage you may notice your baby doesn’t sleep as well in louder environments like he did as a newborn. If you aren’t planning on co-sleeping or continuing to co-sleep, it’s a great time to start placing your child to sleep in his crib and in a dark and quiet setting as much as possible. If you have other children in the house, you may wish to invest in a white noise machine to help drown out the other loud noises in the house.
It’s important to get your child familiar with their crib surroundings and the only way he’ll get used to his crib is to be in it consistently.
Having said that, we all have those days where the sleep deprivation has gotten the best of us or we simply need a break, so feel free to use a swing or car seat to get the job done. One day isn’t going to make or break your baby’s healthy sleeping habits. It’s all about taking care of you as well.
Watch Baby’s Sleep Cues
At this age, babies shouldn’t have more than an hour or two of wake time during the day. At around 45 minutes to an hour, you need to watch for your baby’s drowsy cues, which could include:
- Zoning out
- Wide eyed stare
- Rubbing his eyes
- Pulling his ears
- Turning his head from side to side
Every baby is different but you’ll soon begin to recognize your own baby’s signs that he is sleepy. When you do, this is your opportunity to start teaching your child to self-soothe, a skill that you’ll want to encourage as early as possible. If they can’t put themselves to sleep, it’s okay. Self-soothing skills often don’t mature until approximately 12 weeks of age.
Remember, at this stage there really aren’t any strict rules and the only goal is to have baby be as consistently well rested as possible throughout the day. You can start having them practice putting themselves to sleep, but if you have to take over, it’s okay.
Your own soothing methods can include rocking, singing, feeding, or a combination of these. This process is a component of sleep training and shows that you are starting to respect your child’s need to sleep by anticipating when he needs to go to sleep. Learning to recognize the drowsy signs and developing a rough sleep routine at this point will avoid your baby from becoming overtired.
Lastly, don’t get discouraged. Sleep at this point is still unorganized with no pattern and naps that vary in duration. Just keep figuring out those cues and practicing what works best for both of you.
Alanna McGinn is Founder and Certified Sleep Consultant of Good Night Sleep Site, a global sleep consulting practice. She serves on the faculty of The Family Sleep Institute and is host of the ‘This Girl Loves Sleep’ Podcast. She and her husband, Mike, live in Toronto, Canada with their 3 children (1+twins!) You can follow her expert advice in national publications like Macleans, Prevention Magazine, Today’s Parent, and Huffington Post. Alanna strives in helping families (baby to adults) and corporations overcome their sleep challenges and have happy well-rested smiles in the morning. You can find out more about Alanna McGinn and how to work with a Good Night Sleep Consultant at goodnightsleepsite.com and follow Alanna and all her sleep tips on Instagram.