Written by Jasmin Kostov
“Each child and each family is different. Simple, holistic and family centred sleep solutions can provide positive and significant changes in the lives of families.”
Jasmin Kostov, Let’s Sleep
The newborn period is from birth right through to 3 months of age. Arguably, this is one of the biggest periods of adjustment for parents whether it’s your first child or not. You might be surprised to learn that there is plenty you can do in that newborn period to set up great healthy sleep habits.
Here are my top 10 tips to help your newborn sleep as well as possible in the first 12 weeks.
1. Awake windows
When a newborn is overtired they are much more challenging to settle off to sleep. Having a rough idea of how long your baby should be awake before having another sleep is so important. This single piece of knowledge can make for a much easier first 12 weeks. Sadly, most parents are not informed about awake windows. I wish all parents were provided with this knowledge immediately after having their baby. This knowledge can make the difference between your baby fighting sleep or going off to sleep quite easily. Look for your baby’s tired signs and and offer them sleep when you see these signs.
- Birth – 3 weeks: 40-60 minutes
- 4 – 7 weeks: 60-90 minutes
- 8 – 12 weeks: 75-105 minutes
From 3 weeks of age or earlier if you wish, I recommend offering your baby their day naps and night time sleep in a very dark room. Before 3 weeks of age babies are naturally quite sleepy and don’t seem to phased by darkness or light for sleep. After 3 weeks of age your baby will start to ‘awaken’. The production and secretion of melatonin (the sleepy hormone) is blocked by light and therefore, providing a dark sleep environment works with your baby’s natural hormones to help promote sleep.
A dark room will help your baby settle off to sleep and connect their sleep cycles much easier plus will prevent them waking up early in the morning when the sun comes up. When they’re napping on the go in the car, carrier or pram – don’t stress about a dark environment!
From birth right through to 4 months or when showing signs of rolling, I recommend swaddling your baby for all day sleep and night sleep. You can use a muslin/jersey wrap, love to dream, ergo bag or something similar. There are a few reasons for this recommendation.
Your baby has the Moro Reflex (otherwise know as the ‘startle reflex’) that is present until it starts to fade around 3 months and is generally gone by 5-6 months at the latest. Swaddling helps prevent your baby ‘startling’ themselves awake during sleep.
Your baby is used to a cozy, comfy space in your tummy and would have had limited space in their to move around at the end of pregnancy. Swaddling recreates this womb like environment.
Swaddling for every nap and night sleep is a positive sleep association and each time you swaddle them, they will start to associate this with sleep
4. Rough routine from 6-8 weeks of age
I regularly receive questions on what age is the right time to introduce a routine. Around 6- 8 weeks of age your baby will start to develop natural circadian rhythms and their biological clock becomes more established. Food, light and social interaction all entrain or set your baby’s biological clock. For these reasons, 6-8 weeks is a great time to start a loose routine to follow each day. This might include:
- the same wake up time each day of 7am
- aiming for 3-5 naps across the day and a bed time of between 6-7.30pm after a nice warm bath and massage.
- rough times for feeds (3-4 hourly) and fit these in around your babies nap times.
5. Offer your baby sleep in their bassinet from the beginning
You might have heard the saying, start as you intend to finish. If your goal is for your baby to be sleeping in their bassinet or cot for all sleep in a few months time – then it is never too early to get started. In those first 12 weeks you might find your baby sleeps really well in their bassinet or cot for naps and night sleep (yay for you!).
If your baby isn’t as content in their own bed, just start off with settling them for 1 day nap in their cot or bassinet per day. This will help them slowly get used to their sleep environment and before long, it will be totally normal for them. Don’t stress if your baby is enjoying sleeps in the pram, car, carrier, your chest and anywhere other than their bed. This is quite normal and you can work on encouraging them to sleep in their own bed as they get past 3-4 months of age.
6. Upright time and burping during and after feeds
Offering your baby upright time during and after feeds can help aid digestion and alleviate unsettledness due to wind pain. As the day progresses, trapped wind and gut discomfort can worsen simply due to an accumulation of wind. This can play in to that unsettledness in the late afternoon/early evening that is common for babies from birth to 12 weeks of age.
Offer your baby upright time a couple of times during the feed and some back patting/gentle motion side to side and forward and back. Repeat this at the end of the feed and have an upright cuddle for 5-10 minutes after each feed to allow the milk to settle in their tummy before being laid down horizontal. Don’t stress about getting a set number of burps! Just offer them the upright time, some pats on the back and motion.
7. Combination feed option
You may have heard of the ‘witching hour’ or ‘cluster feeding’ in the late afternoon and early evening that is common for newborns. Babies will often feed on and off during this time of day and naturally this can be quite tiring for Mum. An option here for breastfed babies is to introduce ‘combination feeding’. There is a big push currently to ‘exclusively breastfeed’ and whilst I understand the benefits of breastfeeding, I believe parental wellbeing is equally as important. If you’re finding you’re exhausted by the end of the day and your baby is unsettled, there is a possibility this is due to hunger. Breast milk supply naturally is lower in the later part of the day and therefore baby can become a little frustrated and continue feeding on and off as a result.
An option here is to offer a small bottle top up in the evening to ensure your baby has a nice full tummy and therefore will likely settle for sleep a little easier. You can consider offering a small bottle top up from early on (2 weeks onwards). IF your baby has been breastfeeding well, weight gain is not an issue and you’re connected with a lactation consultant or maternal and child health nurse who has been supporting you with breastfeeding. Offering 1 bottle each day from an early age helps your baby get used to taking a bottle, allows flexibility if you need a little break or aren’t able to be with your baby for some reason and my favourite part – partners can give this bottle to baby and be involved in the feeding process. Win-Win.
This bottle could be expressed breast milk or formula depending on what you are comfortable with. If you are going to offer a bottle to your baby, ALWAYS express with a hand or electric pump whilst your baby has the bottle to signal to your body that it needs to create some additional milk. This protects your milk supply and is crucial for combination feeding to be effective.
8. Use a consistent nap time and bed time wind down routine
From birth you can start using a consistent nap wind down routine thats 2-5 minutes long and a bedtime wind down routine thats 10-20 minutes long before you put them down in their bassinet or cot for sleep. This consistent wind down routine will help signal to your baby that sleep is coming.
- Nap wind down example: When you see tired signs, head into your baby’s room, change nappy, darken room, hum or sing a quiet song, into swaddle and settle for sleep in their bassinet/cot.
- Bedtime wind down example: 10-20 minutes before bedtime, head into your baby’s room, change their nappy, offer a feed, read a quiet story or sing a quiet song, darken room, into swaddle and settle for sleep in their bassinet/cot.
9. Massage and skin to skin
Massage and skin to skin are both amazing for bonding and relaxation in the first 12 weeks and beyond. Massage can be a great addition to your baby’s bedtime routine. Here’s a great resource for how to get started with baby massage! You can use a natural oil such as olive, avocado, macadamia or coconut oil. Skin to skin helps to stabilise body temperature, regulate blood sugar, establish breastfeeding, reduce crying and pain, boost parent child bonding and basically just gives you all the warm fuzzies!
10. Parental self care
I know it may seem like a total stretch to think you’d prioritise yourself in those first 12 weeks, however i’m here to tell you that it’s so important! Be kind to yourself, seek support, speak with health care providers (MCHN, LC’s, GP’s, breastfeeding help lines), keep open communication with your partner, family, friends. Laughing, crying, waves of emotion, frustration, sadness and feelings of elation are all SO normal when adjusting to have a little person in your life. The challenging times will come and go and the good times will come again. It’s a marathon, not a sprint and therefore prioritising self care from early on will help prevent you from feeling burnt out.
Start small in those early days. Even a 5-10 minute shower all to yourself whilst your partner watches over the baby (you could be a real dare devil and put on a face mask too!). Within a couple of weeks you might feel okay to get out for a walk on your own for 20-30 minutes or go meet a friend for a coffee for an hour. Those pockets of self care over the weeks and months evolve into being the time that you have to fit in what fuels you and makes you feel good (exercise, hobbies, socialising – whatever it is). That’s not to say that being with your baby doesn’t make you feel good – it’s just so key to have a little time out just for you as well.
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