Now with baby #2 on the way, people are asking, “Aren’t you SO excited?!”
I smile, nod and reply, “Yes but now that we’ve been through the whole newborn-nonexistent-sleep-schedule-experience and survived, it feels a little like preparing for the apocalypse.”
Taking a newborn home while healing from labor and delivery, exhausted and overwhelmed was seriously one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to deal with. What saved our livelihood and sanity was reading Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Weissbluth. I studied the crap out of that book.
I highly recommend picking it up and if you’re like many other mommas out there and ‘ain’t got time for that’, I’ve summarized exactly what you need to know to survive the entire newborn stage and beyond.
RELATED: Make sure to check out the companion article to this one: 10 Baby Sleep Secrets You Must Know, The ULTIMATE Overnight Sleep Guide. In that post, I walk you through the best soothing and sleep training techniques.
The Ultimate Newborn Sleep Schedule, Must-Know Week By Week Tips
Feel free to jump ahead if you’d like to read about sleep guidance targeted for a specific age:
(For the purposes of this post, I am referencing the typical newborn age: 0 – 2 months.)
Before we start, here’s the very best newborn care information out there:
If you are a first-time mom, I strongly suggest you consider taking a prenatal class. I highly recommend Hilary Erickson’s AH-mazing prenatal class. She has 16 years of experience as a labor and delivery RN and has taught these classes for many years. Her class will not only teach you what to expect with labor, delivery and the hospital stay but she walks you through bringing baby home for the first time and how to care for your newborn.
After her class, you will know what you should and shouldn’t do once you get home and essential baby care information. I LOVE her class, her emails are personal and awesome plus you get to join a private Facebook group to answer your questions so you’ll never feel alone. Also, unlike in-hospital courses, you can work through Hilary’s online course at your own schedule and pace. Make sure to check out her class here.
While recovering from labor and delivery and perhaps the aftereffects of anesthesia, you may begin to experience new feelings of uncertainty, inadequacy, or anxiety. After all, Parenting 101 probably was not one of your high school or college courses. – Dr. Weissbluth
In the hospital, nurses change shifts, people visit, and procedures are taken to measure your baby’s vital signs but usually, none of this is helpful for your newborn’s sleep. Going home is a good step! This helps set the environment according to your baby’s needs.
Arriving home, for the first time, after all that craziness can also be very scary! You no longer have a team of nurses and doctors waiting on the other end of a big red call button. Plus, you now have a new living breathing tiny human being in your home.
Isn’t it strange that in life we go home with manuals for things like our TV but not for our newborn?
- What I WISH I’d Known BEFORE Going Into Labor!
- Preparing For Baby: What You NEED To Stockpile Before Baby Arrives!
- 10 Unbelievable Postpartum Recovery Tips For Healing After A Vaginal Birth
Here are some things to remember this first week:
- Your newborn has no circadian rhythms or internal biological clock yet so it is literally impossible to sleep train them to any kind of clock time.
- As soon as you get home, mentally throw your clock out the window. Besides a timer between feedings, night, day and meal times no longer revolve around a schedule. You found that out briefly at the hospital but that might have all been a blur before now.
- Feed your baby whenever she seems hungry, change her when she wets and let her sleep when she needs to sleep. Your nurses will tell you how often your little one should nurse or take a bottle. Our lactation nurse had us feed our little one 10-12 times a day around the clock (with a minimum of 8 feedings).
- You can never nurse too much (during the first week) but you can nurse too little. Make sure you are comfortable. I love the Brest Friend (instead of the boppy) during those first few weeks because you could clip it high up and it would hold the baby (hands-free) since newborns are so small. I also LOVED how it had pockets. I could store the essential Lansinoh Lanolin Nipple Cream, snacks and my phone to keep track of the feeding times.
- What also really helped was changing our newborn BEFORE I nursed her. That way, we woke her up to nurse and she could fall back asleep while or after she nursed. Changing before every feeding also helps establish a memorable and habitual routine for diaper changes. We used Pampers Swaddlers with the little strip that turns blue when it’s soiled. They were the same ones used at the hospital. After the first week (and counting those pee and poop diapers to make sure her intake was where it should be) we switched to cloth diapers.
RELATED: Newborn Cloth Diapers 101, For Beginners
- You may also notice that your newborn eats very little (especially the first few days!) and loses some weight. This is totally normal. At our one month appointment, the pediatrician was happy our newborn was almost back to her birth weight. “That’s the goal at four weeks!” our pediatrician told me.
- If you are learning how to nurse your baby, know that their little tummies may barely take in a teaspoon per feeding! Our newborn’s birth weight was on the low end (5 lbs. 13 ozs.) so twice a day those first few days, I would self-express into a tablespoon. Next, I would suction it up into a syringe and put on a plastic glove, placing one finger in our newborn’s mouth to start her sucking motion. Then I would squeeze the tablespoon or so of breast milk into her mouth slowly. I only did this if she would not nurse and I knew she was low on her feedings. This way, I knew she was getting her 10-12 feedings.
- After about 3 or 4 DAYS, then your breast milk will start to build up! This is what our lactation nurse taught us and we successfully got her birth weight up and breastfed for a year.
- The first few days (while that breast milk is building up), a newborn will sleep A LOT: 15 – 18 hours a day and usually for short amounts of time. About two to four hours. Again, these sleep times do not follow any sort of cycle, so get in rest during those times when you can!
- Newborns usually fall asleep when you feed them. Do not wake them up unless advised otherwise by your pediatrician. We were told to wake our newborn up every 2-3 hours and feed her but do as your pediatrition or lactation nurse advises. In essence, this will be your main sleep strategy for the first two weeks!
- At night, I was told to wake Mae up after four hours of sleep to make sure she got in her 8-10 feedings a day. Most of the time, I could allow her one 4 hour sleep period and then had to wake her up after 3 hours the rest of the night. In our case, the pediatrician was pretty adamant about this because she was a smaller full-term baby.
- Note that forced awakenings do interrupt your baby’s natural sleep needs. This can easily make them overtired and fussy. Eventually (about 4 weeks in our case) our newborn gained the weight she needed and we switched to a strategy called sleep priority, not having to interrupt her body’s natural sleep needs. This was an awesome change! Then you can start sleep training and really begin understanding your infant’s sleep and hunger cues.
- Note that this sleep strategy (keeping them awake) does not work if you have a colicky baby or if you allow your baby to become overtired when they need sleep.
- The first seven days of your newborn’s life has been called the “honeymoon” phase. Your newborn will “sleep like a baby!”
- It will become increasingly difficult to soothe and put your baby to sleep in the evening at six weeks of age (from the day of birth).
- 80% of babies will settle down at night a few weeks after six weeks of age.
- 20% of babies will become increasingly difficult to soothe and sleep (all the time) starting a few days after birth. Dr. Weissbluth says that these babies will settle down at night at three to four months of age.
Studies have shown that newborns, at this age may, only sleep three to four hours and can do so day or night. This is commonly called day/night confusion. Extremely fussy and colicky babies may not even have a single sleep period this long and premature babies may sleep even longer.
During the two to four week age, different sleep solutions still do not apply.
Try not to think of doing things to your baby but with your baby. Do things that you both will enjoy together like holding, cuddling, talking, bathing, taking walks etc. This love is perfect for now because you don’t have to worry about having the right stimulus or the right toys etc.
However, you should prepare for the change coming in those first few weeks.
Your baby will be about to fall asleep (or about to wake up) and suddenly have a massive twitch (jerk). This is normal for the sleep/wake transition. He will also be more alert because his brain is developing. Because of this, you may notice a lot of sudden movement, distress, fussiness or agitation for no reason. This is also normal. Basically, you may suddenly not have the dreamy baby that was so perfect! This time can be particularly hard for new mommies and daddies. It was for me!
Here are some things that helped:
- Take naps during the day when your baby is sleeping, even if you aren’t a “nap person” (I wasn’t!). Try to take at least one fifteen minute nap. This will help so much!
- Use this Graco’s Swing. It’s a lifesaver!!! Seriously. We tried all other types of rocking/vibrating/gliding toys and this one was the best. Hands down. I spent WAY too long on Google (and asking everybody I knew with a little one) figuring out the very best glider, swing, rocker (or whatever) solution. The 4Moms brand is “the thing” to get but babies outgrow it super duper fast plus they don’t have much motion. Other brands have the same problems. Graco’s Swing has a fantastic range of motion with different speeds (like you are rocking your baby) it can vibrate, play music and if you have any problems with the motor, Graco replaces it. I also like how the top part can easily be removed (even while the baby is in it) for portability and then presto, it becomes a bouncer. It’s a neutral color AND it doesn’t take up much space at all. Alright, nuff said!
- Watch as many Netflix episodes as you want. Do it. Right now your baby is not yet very aware of his environment. That means screen time is not screen time yet. Take advantage.
- Soothe your baby however seems natural to you because right now you don’t have to worry about spoiling him!
- Take some time for yourself because you are AMAZING and need a mental/physical break. This is for your own sanity and health. Arrange for someone to take care of your little one for a good chunk of time that seems comfortable. Try at least an hour and do three if you can. Heck, go to Target, get a loaded Frappuccino and walk around. Buy a cute shirt. You deserve it.
- Go out (without your beautiful little newborn) with your partner. Have someone babysit. Go for a walk, a coffee or a movie.
- Your baby is the MOST MOBILE right now. That means you can be out, a dump truck (that couldn’t get any louder!) will be next to you and your little one will sleep soundly right through it. Your baby will probably sleep well anywhere so go wherever you’d like. Visit friends, go shopping – whatever. You will be far more limited in the future when sleep training begins.
You may be thinking at this point: ‘when will my baby sleep longer at night?!’
Between 6 weeks and 4 months, your baby will go to sleep naturally around 9 – 11 pm and will sleep for several hours without waking or needing to be fed. At 4 months of age, babies usually go to sleep earlier, around 6 – 8 pm and may need to be fed once or twice at night. After 9 months, night feedings are not needed. More than 2 night feedings (after nine months of age) will begin to create a night waking habit.
At around six weeks of age, your little newborn will begin to return your smile! It’s the most adorable, beautiful thing. As amazing as this new stage is, it also brings on some brand new challenges! These social smiles are a queue to increased social awareness and now your baby may fight sleep in order to enjoy being in your company. This is normal!
This is a pivotal time. Now, you can begin to start a sleep schedule based on your newborn’s drowsy cues. Beginning your newborn’s sleep training is an exciting and frustrating time. You are laying the foundation for lifelong healthy sleep. Starting sleep training is not only vital to your baby’s development, it also gives YOU back the vital rest you need. Finally!
It is very important to take a look at 10 Baby Sleep Secrets You Must Know, The ULTIMATE Overnight Sleep Guide. Here, I walk you through the details of beginner sleep training. Note: Point #4 The one to two-hour window, Point #5 Learn to recognize drowsy cues. Read through the sleep solutions and choose which method or combination of methods are best for you and your baby (Points #7, #8 & #9).
During this time it’s important to remember: start soothing your baby to sleep right when you see drowsy cues (or when you have noted them consistently at certain times before in your sleep log) after no more than two hours of wakefulness.
When your baby starts to become a little fidgety, ask yourself two questions:
- When was the last time she was fed?
- How long has she been awake?
Sometimes she just needs to be fed and not slept. This is key!
These social smiles also set the stage for more organized sleep. The longest, single sleep period will start to regulate in the evening hours (around 9 – 11 pm). While this is awesome, it can also be one of the most frustrating times because your baby may be excited and interested in anything and everything.
I remember thinking, “what happened to our perfect, dreamy, quiet little baby!” But I knew that in Dr. Weissbluth’s book (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child ), he specifically says that fussiness will peak at 6 weeks of age and get better from there.
I counted down the days and almost to the day (just like other moms in the book had said) she started sleeping better on her own, for longer periods of time! It was like she was getting used to all the stimulus her little brain was suddenly picking up.
During the five to six week time period, you may be exhausted, irritated and ready to give up altogether. Your little one may give up napping, may be fussy all the time and nothing you do seems to console her. You may be at your wits’ end. This is normal! Being annoyed at your baby does not mean you are a bad parent! Just remember that your new little baby’s brain lacks the ability to regulate at this time.
Know that she will settle down at six weeks of age.
- Try to start keeping a sleep log around this time, so that you can really understand your baby’s rhythm and start implementing the sleep she needs. Now, you will start to set the stage for getting her the sleep she needs that will help her for her whole life!
- Remember to start soothing your baby to sleep right when you see drowsy cues (or when you have noted them consistently at certain times before in your sleep log) after no more than two hours of wakefulness.
- She may not sleep by herself easily. If she cries for 5, 10 or 15 minutes, it will do her no harm (if you know she’s been fed recently and changed) and she may drift into sleep. In fact, some babies cry (in a mild fashion) before they sleep. If she doesn’t go to sleep. Try to soothe her and then try again later.
- Be sensitive for your baby’s need to sleep. Noises, lights, vibration and other similar things will disrupt her more and more so try to have her in her bassinet or crib when she needs to sleep. If you have her in a swing (like the Graco’s Swing that’s super awesome), stop the swing once she’s asleep. Make this transition slowly and be flexible.
- Begin to develop a bedtime routine. Most babies, at this time, will get tired and are ready for bed between 9 and 11 pm. This routine may be something like a bedtime bath, low lighting, reading, soothing etc. Do not try to force a bedtime, rather, watch for signs of drowsiness (as they biologically should be between 9 and 11 pm).
At 6 weeks old, if your baby has “normal fussiness” you can start to implement Sleep Solution #2 (see: 10 Baby Sleep Secrets You Must Know, The ULTIMATE Overnight Sleep Guide) and you may have success. At 8 weeks old, you have a better chance of success. I STRONGLY suggest reading these sleep solutions, choosing a routine that is best for your baby and being consistent in order to give your baby the healthiest sleep she can get. Remember that if your child does not develop a healthy sleep habit, she may be affected for life.
- Between 6/8 weeks – 4 months, babies might be hungry and need to be fed at night only once or twice and after nine months, not at all. Respond to your child if you think she is hungry but not at other times. If you are breastfeeding, it may be particularly hard because breastfed babies seem to be hungry more often, you don’t know exactly how much they have consumed and you don’t know how your supply is. To determine your baby is hungry, try having your partner give a bottle of expressed milk or formula.
- Remember, going to your child at night every time she cries (starting at about 6 – 8 weeks) now may begin to stimulate them and keep them awake rather than the soothing and reassuring that you think you may be doing.
The biggest change now is that your baby will start to go to sleep earlier in the evening and will have longer periods of sleep. As with the advice in the 5 – 6 week stage, do not try to force an earlier bedtime but be sensitive to your baby’s need for a bedtime when they first show signs of drowsiness.
Our newborn was an easy baby. She had started sleeping for 4-6 hours early on, but then around 6 – 8 weeks, it was like she “forgot” what she had learned about sleep! It was a hard few weeks for us, because suddenly our “easy” baby that had slept so well, was up sometimes every 45 minutes. I wanted to tear my hair out!
During this time she also got her first cold and we traveled for the first time with her and out of state too! I learned that I needed to start regulating her nap times and her bedtime by really paying attention to her drowsy cues! Dr. Weissbluth says that this is normal for babies this age and irregularities in the sleep schedule, nap deprivation, and too-late bedtimes are the chief culprits.
- After 6 weeks of age, the best strategy still is to work with your baby’s own rhythms. That means paying attention to drowsy cues.
- Remove any external disruptions like lights, vibrations, noises etc.
- Have your baby back in her bassinet/crib after no more than two hours of wakefulness but be aware of their drowsy cues. Your baby may need to go back to sleep even after an hour of being awake. This time period usually happens in the mornings, right when she wakes up.
- Make corrections. If your little one wakes for the day and you go out and get back after the two-hour mark, take note and make sure you work to correct this. Pay attention to the clock and your baby’s cues for comfortably being awake.
- If your baby is overtired, be ready for crying protests because she much prefers your company compared to a quiet, dark room! Learn to note her protesting cry and a sad cry. Leave your baby alone to let her learn how to soothe herself. You are not abandoning her, you are letting her learn very important skills for lifelong healthy sleep.
- How long should you let your baby cry?
- Know your baby’s cues. Is she hungry, drowsy or has she crossed into “overtired?” Note why you think your baby is crying and act accordingly. If your baby is crying and she has been fed, changed and has been awake for almost two hours, then more than likely she is overtired! Note the time (keep a sleep log) and try one of the sleep solutions (#1 or #2)
- “No cry” method: use soothing techniques described in sleep solution #1 and take note of sleep solution #2 – “no cry” method. This is where you are super watchful of your baby’s cues, soothe them properly and they do not cry during sleep transitions!
- “Gradual extinction” – in sleep solution #2, try the 5, 10, 15 minute etc. intervals in a consecutive and deliberate manner.
- When you have decided your baby is showing drowsy cues and needs to be slept, put him down to sleep even if he doesn’t want to. Sometimes he will sleep and sometimes he will not. If he cries, try waiting 5 minutes. NOTE: if your baby cries hard for 3 minutes, quietly for 3 minutes and then sleeps for an hour, he would have lost that amazing hour long nap he needs if you had not left him alone for 6 minutes.
- Remember that your used-to-be good little sleeper is now simply wanting your company! When you are giving in to his wants instead of his needs during those times, your playing is robbing him of his vital developmental sleep.
- This is a great time to start transitioning your baby (if you want to) to her crib during naps instead of her bassinet so that she will get used to the environment when you decide to make the switch over the longest period of time at night.
- Approaching three months, you may want to start considering when you want your little one to make the crib switch at night. If you are going back to work and want your baby to sleep through the night, you may want to consider (if your baby is a normal-fussy baby with good naps) sleep training her at night using the “let cry” extinction method. This is thoroughly discussed in Dr. Weissbluth’s book. On page 216, he describes a story that shows you how to do this. We did this and it was ah-mazing!!! Our little one has slept soundly through the night soundly (except for the occasional sickness and a couple nights of teething pain) since she was three months old. True story.
During that newborn stage, you may feel superhuman. Sleep seems like a distant memory. Remember that’s normal.
Your new little squishy is breathing her first breaths and learning how to exist outside the womb. Sleep is something she will learn and like breastfeeding, crawling, eating and her first steps. You can teach her how it’s done. With the most patience you may ever need and these steps, you will lay the foundation for effective and lifelong healthy sleep habits.
Thank ALL THAT IS GOOD IN THE WORLD. Haha. Because girlfriend, if you follow thee tips, you’re going to get some good sleep VERY soon! There truly is light at the end of this sleepless tunnel. I promise.