Tips to Newborn Sleep
Why is it that newborn babies often sleep like little angels all day, and then turn into cranky devils by night? Well, let’s think about the environment they just left, the womb. There, they were always warm, not restricted by any clothing, never hungry nor gassy, and surrounded by noise and movement all day. For them, nights were never quiet. Your heartbeat an ever-present comforting rhythm. They would hear your digestive tract moving along, Your breathing, your voice, and for some of us, our snoring (Gasp! Never!) are audible to baby. Naturally, night time is when babies like to move and groove, since the movement has stopped.
When baby the is born, they have to regulate their own temperature. They have now have to deal with light. The noises are different, no longer the muffled comforting sounds they are used to. And of course, their own digestion and gassiness begin, and their world of movement stops unless held or rocked. During the day we tend to care and cuddle baby much of the day. Those familiar noises and movements often lull baby to sleep.
When night falls and the lights go out, that movement stops and there is silence. This is unfamiliar to the baby. Baby is no longer lulled and awakens. These awakenings tend to “remind” baby that they are hungry and they seem to feed more frequently.
Newborns have no sense of time. Their circadian rhythm has not yet developed. The circadian rhythm helps set our biological clocks for the 24 hour period. It controls physical and mental behaviors. Our circadian rhythm helps us sleep at night and awaken for day. In turn this effects when we eat, are most alert and most tired. Infants don’t fully develop their circadian rhyme until around 16 weeks (4 months). This is a big reason sleep training is not advised before this time.
So, does this mean you are doomed to a life of no sleep until then? Not necessarily. There are things you can do to help “encourage” sleep and set things in place to help your baby’s sleep patterns as they establish.
There are a few things we recommend to parents in regards to sleep and helping their baby get their nights and days set.
The first thing we want to stress about newborn sleep is ALWAYS put baby on their back to sleep, free of any loose blankets or bedding. If you choose to bed-share, please click here for safe bed-sharing recommendations.
Create an environment: When morning comes, open the blinds and let the light shine in. Day-time sleep should be done out in the open. Keeping curtains open and letting the everyday household chores get done around baby. No need to darken the room or be quiet. Remember we want to encourage a lighter sleep and keep daytime activities predictable.
Night-time sleep should be in a dark room, lights off (maybe a dim nightlight), TV off, whispers and calm throughout the house. Minimal interaction with the baby in-between feedings and avoid to much talk. Remember, we are encouraging sleep and calm.
Feedings: Whether breast or formula feedings, we tell our parents that baby’s tummies are like a tank that needs so much during a 24 hour period. Whatever they don’t get in the day, they will make up for at night. Once the pediatrician has given you the green light to let baby sleep as long as they want (because weight gain is not an issue), we recommend that you feed baby every 2-3 hours during the day. That may mean you will have to wake them to feed at times. At night, let baby go as long as they want in-between feedings. What happens if you let them sleep for long chunks of time during the day, is they will wake frequently during the night to fill their tanks. We much rather them eat frequently during the day than night!
Diaper Changes: You will quickly realize that feeding equals a bowel movement during said feeding in the early weeks. When baby awakens for the night time feeding we recommend that you feed baby half of a feeding whether bottle or breast. Once halfway through, burp baby, change the diaper at that time and swaddle (more on that later) before finishing the feeding. That way, once the second half of the feeding is done and they are hopefully sleeping, you do not awaken them with a diaper change.
Swaddling: Swaddling is a wonderful tool for sleep. We recommend parents swaddle infants to help them stay warm and secure. Newborns have a strong Moro Reflex that will cause them to frequently throw their arms out which can awaken them. While babies seem to resist swaddling to begin with, once calmed with rocking, sucking, and shh-ing (click here for additional information on Dr. Harvey Karp MD’s technique), they relax and sleep much better. The tightness of the swaddle is familiar and prevents them from startling awake.
The ideal sleep temperature of the room for babies is 65 to 70F. If you will be swaddling, make sure not to over layer your baby.
Sound Machine/White Noise: Newborns are not used to silence. In fact, silence is a little scary. They are accustomed to the swish of their mothers blood and the rhythmic pumping of the heart. A sound machine with white noise provides that rhythmic, familiar sound that helps to settle baby down. White noise is incredibly soothing to the newborn.
At Nurtured Foundation Doula Services our night doulas put these tips into action. Our night doulas strive to put your newborns on the right path to healthy sleep habits. We are consistent in our approach, ensuring that no matter which night doula you use, your newborn is receiving consistent care.