As postpartum doulas and newborn care specialists, we get asked all the time about newborn sleep and what to expect. Let’s talk about some newborn sleep basics to get you started on the right track!
Newborns need to eat around the clock in the early weeks and months to keep up with their body’s growth demands. It will likely be weeks into months before your little one will be sleeping through the night. While we can’t sleep train newborns, we can work on healthy sleep habits from day one. Understanding newborn sleep and what we can do to start laying a healthy sleep foundation allows us to maximize their sleep while respecting their biological and emotional needs.
Let’s first start with the basics of safe sleep:
AAP recommendations on creating a safe sleep environment include:
- *Place the baby on his or her back on a firm sleep surface such as a crib or bassinet with a tight-fitting sheet.
- Avoid use of soft bedding, including crib bumpers, blankets, pillows and soft toys. The crib should be bare.
- Share a bedroom with parents/caregiver, but not the same sleeping surface, preferably until the baby turns one, but at least for the first six months. Room-sharing decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent.
- Avoid baby’s exposure to smoke, alcohol and illicit drugs.
*a firm mattress, not gaps on the sides and a tight fitted sheet in a crib or bassinet is approved. Sleep devices such as a DockaTot, loungers, swings, bouncy seats, car seats are NOT approved safe sleep devices and should not be used without constant adult supervision and for short periods of time.
Let’s talk newborn sleep basics…
Newborn Sleep Basics #1: Rule of thumb is up 1 hour and back down for 2 hours.
- The first few weeks are very much baby led. This is not the time to worry about establishing a routine. Instead focus on getting to know your baby. There will be lots of cluster feedings and holding these first weeks. Don’t worry about “spoiling” baby. That is not going to happen. Your focus is better spent making sure baby is fed, diapered, sleeping as much as they need, and giving LOTS of cuddles!
- Try to lay baby in their crib, swaddled arms in, at least once a day for a nap. Generally, the first nap of the day works best. Don’t stress if they won’t stay. Just keeping trying! This is a way to get them familiar with their crib for future naps and nighttime.
- Newborns awake times are only 60 minutes maximum. The 60 minutes starts the moment baby wakes up whether it’s to feed or play. After the feed, a diaper change and a few minutes of playtime, it won’t be for very long before they are back to sleep again!
- Fun Fact: The medical definition of “sleeping through the night” is 5 hours of consecutive sleep. Yes, you read that correctly…it’s 5 hours, not 12 like many believe!
Newborn Sleep Basics #2: Newborns do not have a developed circadian rhythm (that comes closer to 16 weeks) and easily can mix days/nights up
- Make sure baby is eating at least every 3 hours around the clock until pediatrician says it’s ok to let them go longer at nights. You will continue to wake every 3 hours at night and feed every three hours by day.
- After pediatrician approval for longer stretch at night, always make sure you do not go longer than 3 hours for feeds during the day to help ensure they get a majority of their calories during the day and can have those longer stretch at night between feeds. This is where babies start to flip nights and days. They will sleep longer during the day and feeds get too spread out. They then will wake up frequently through the night to make up for the calories missed during the day. You can avoid this by not allowing more than 3 hours to pass between daytime feedings. Of course, you can feed earlier if baby is asking!
- Cluster Feeding is the norm at this age. Cluster feeding is when baby wants to nurse/bottle feed more frequently. Instead of getting your normal 2-3 hr window between feeds, baby will want to eat every 30-90 mins. This generally happens from early evening into the late night hours. This is baby’s way of upping your milk supply and hopefully start tanking up for longer stretches of sleep. When nursing, this signals your body to produce more milk. If bottle feeding you will add another ounce of formula to bottle so enough formula is available. Cluster feeding is normal and will pass!
Newborn Sleep Basics #3: Newborns are noisy sleepers!
Babies are very noisy sleepers! They grunt. They cry out. They stretch. They whine. They are everything, but quiet. Babies spend a lot of time in light sleep. Light sleep allows for lots of movement. Babies also make all kinds of sounds as they transition through their sleep cycles (which are an average of 40 minutes). Don’t rush to pick them up. Give baby time to settle. Lay a hand on their chest and gently shush if more restless. Many times they are just transitioning in their sleep cycle. Waiting to pick them up helps them try to soothe into the next sleep cycle.
Newborn Sleep Basics #4: Tummy Time
Newborns do need some exercise to help with sleep. Tummy time is a great activity you can do in short increments throughout the day! Yes, tummy time starts from day one. Tummy time is so important for building strong neck/back muscles as well as giving baby some exercise. This also helps to prevent flat head. Tummy time for a newborn can be laying on a blanket on the floor, on tummy across the lap or on top of a caregiver that is laying flat (and awake of course!)
Fun Fact: Baby wearing is considered part of tummy time! Get your favorite carrier and put baby in. Not only are you doing tummy time, but hands free to multitask! Rotate how you do tummy time throughout the day.
What other newborn sleep basics should I know about when trying to set up a healthy sleep environment?
Ideal Sleep Environment
- Crib or bassinet with a firm mattress, fitted crib sheet and no loose blankets, pillows or stuffed animals.
- Blackout shades- a completely dark room is ideal for nap & night sleep. Shades should make the room as dark as it would be at 3 am even if it’s noon!
- *Velcro swaddle such as the Halo, Swaddle Me, Ollie or Miracle Blanket. Muslin blankets tend to loosen and baby’s hands get out. This wakes them easily. Weighted swaddles as not recommended per the AAP.
- Sound machine such as the Rohm (travel sized), Hatch, Lectrofan or Hushh (travel sized). Keep as loud as a shower and about 6-7ft away from baby’s head.
- Red Nightlight- It’s important at night to keep lights low during feedings & diaper changes to keep the sleep environment. Red light is recommended. Red light does not Interfere with melatonin production.
- Keep the room temperature between 68°-72° and dress baby in as much or as little as you would wear. No hats.
Looking for more newborn sleep support? That’s our speciality! We offer newborn sleep consultations, overnight newborn care and sleep consulting (for infants 4 months and older). We are happy to chat to see how we can help!
*Swaddle arms in for naps and nighttime sleep only. Swaddled with arms in is a great sleep cue for babies and helps to keep them calm and sleeping. Having arms out for feedings and awake/activity times helps baby stay awake, enjoy playing, allows them to exercise their arms and discover their hands.
This article is not medical advice. Please ask your provider if you have any questions.