Newborn Sleep Guide: From Common Problems To Tips For Quality Sleep

by | May 23, 2023

Newborn babies sleep a lot! They’re asleep more than they’re awake in the first few weeks of life. While they can sleep for most of the day, it can be in short bursts. Newborns need to wake up often to feed because they have tiny tummies that need to be filled regularly to support their growth. 

Navigating your baby’s sleep schedule, wake windows, and feedings can be challenging. When can you start introducing sleep training to your baby? How can you support good sleeping habits? How can you, as a parent, deal with sleep deprivation? Should you ever wake a feeding baby to feed? Get the answers to these questions and more!

How To Establish Healthy Sleep Habits In Your Newborn

The sleeping habits of newborns can be rather erratic. During the newborn phase, babies can sleep for up to 17 hours a day for around three-hour bursts. 

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t introduce some healthy sleep habits during this stage of your baby’s life. One way is to support the development of your little one’s circadian rhythm. 

Circadian rhythm is the natural, internal process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle over a 24-hour period. Newborns have an underdeveloped rhythm which makes their sleeping patterns irregular. Over the weeks, your baby’s circadian rhythm will develop, including producing melatonin, the sleep hormone.

“Breast milk produced at night has melatonin in it, and can help make babies sleepier, which is why breastfed babies can start developing circadian rhythms a little earlier than other babies, especially if they don’t drink expressed milk from bottles at night,” tells Ovia Health

Another way to support the development of your baby’s circadian rhythm is to expose your baby to natural light during the day. This can be via a walk outside during a wake window, or placing them near a sunny window. 

Before your baby develops a regular sleeping pattern, you may suffer from sleep deprivation yourself. 

Strategies For Parents Dealing With Sleep Deprivation

Your sleep is important too, mama! Here are a few things you can do to support your own well-being during the newborn phase:

Nap When Your Baby Naps

Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of a power nap! Even a 20-minute power nap can boost your mood and improve physical performance according to The Sleep Doctor

Ask For Help

If you’re struggling during this newborn phase, ask for help. Whether it be asking a friend or family member to come over to watch your baby while you sleep, or getting help from a baby sleep consultant

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Make sure that your routine supports quality sleep. Blackout curtains, not looking at your phone an hour before bed, a warm bath, and reading can all be beneficial. 

Pump If You’re Breastfeeding

If you’re breastfeeding your baby, pump and store your breast milk so that other people can feed your baby. This will help free up your time to rest. Download the Baby Settler pumping guide here.

Common Sleep Problems in Newborns

There are several challenges that parents may encounter with newborns, including:

Baby Doesn’t Want To Sleep On Their Back

Sometimes babies want to sleep on their bellies. But, it’s important to encourage them to sleep on their backs as the belly sleeping position is linked to a much higher incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). To help them feel more secure and comfortable on their back, swaddle them – it mimics the womb environment. 

Baby Resists Sleeping On Their Own

Due to an underdeveloped sleeping pattern, some newborns may struggle to self-regulate. This manifests in babies waking up as soon as you put them in their crib to sleep, and only sleeping while being held. Again, swaddling your baby or putting them in a sleep sack can help with this. Also, begin putting your baby in their crib drowsy, but not yet asleep. This approach encourages babies to learn how to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own, without relying on external stimuli such as rocking, feeding, or being held. 

Remember, mama, all babies are different. One of the best things you can do is notice your newborn’s sleep cues – yawning, rubbing eyes, clenched fists – so that you can prepare them for sleep before they become fussy. 

Take the Newborns Made Simple course to learn how to manage inconsistent nighttime wakings, what to include in a newborn’s routine, and more.

How To Introduce Sleep Training To Your Newborn

Generally, babies start sleeping through the night after the newborn phase at around three months old. 

To start introducing the concept of sleeping through the night to your newborn, you can treat daytime and nighttime feeds differently. 

For daytime feeds, you’ll: 

  • Have the lights on
  • Turn the sound machine off
  • Change their diaper afterward
  • Keep them unswaddled 
  • Have a wake window after

For nighttime feeds, you’ll

  • Keep the light low (preferably a night light)
  • Leave the white noise machine on
  • Change their diaper before feeding
  • Keep them swaddled
  • Put them back in their crib after

Differentiating the way you feed your baby is a way of communicating what’s “next” for them.

Top Tip: Avoid scrolling your phone or turning on the TV during nighttime feeds. Even if the light isn’t directly in your baby’s face, it’s still stimulating their brain.

Should You Wake A Sleeping Baby?

Feeding requires a ton of work for newborn babies in the first two weeks of life. They have to suck vigorously to get the thick colostrum and then they have to figure out how to control the flow of mama’s milk as it starts coming in. It’s a learning curve!

Waking up your baby to eat every two hours around the clock generally isn’t the solution when your baby is losing weight or having trouble gaining weight.

If you continue to interrupt their rest, they won’t have the energy to exert toward getting a full feed. Waking a baby who is in a deep sleep to feed will most likely lead to a small, sleepy feed! 

However, most newborns are going to naturally eat eight to 10 times per 24 hours in the first four weeks of life. So, if your baby’s sleep is reaching the four-hour mark, you probably need to wake them up to feed to support their weight gain and boost your milk supply. You can slowly unswaddle them and change their diaper to wake them up gently before feeding. 

If your baby is struggling to gain weight, visit your healthcare provider.

Newborn babies have unique sleeping patterns that can be super challenging to navigate for parents. Understanding your newborn baby’s sleep needs, learning their sleepy cues, and establishing healthy sleep habits from the beginning can all support quality sleep for your baby and help them to establish healthy sleeping patterns. 

Remember, every baby is different! There may be some trial and error in finding what works best for your little one.

Meet Hillary

Hi! I’m Hillary, the Mama behind Baby Settler. These days you can find me with my four children and husband… probably outside, and helping Mama’s and families. I also have a lot of letters behind my name which translate, I’m also a Labor & Delivery nurse and Lactation Consultant.

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