Newborn Sleep 101
Congratulations on the birth of your baby, this is such an exciting time for your family and we're glad that you're here with us.
In this post, we'll share our best tips for setting yourself up for success with newborn sleep. Remember as you learn to be patient, give yourself grace. The infant phase is short and most challenges will pass with time. Try not to compare yourself to other moms or your baby to other babies. Each child is different and has unique needs and sleep patterns, and that is perfectly fine! You're already doing a great job as a new parent and we're proud of you for making it this far.
First of all, the reality is that newborn sleep is erratic. Your baby is adjusting to lightness and darkness, loud sounds and quiet sounds, and he does not yet have organized sleep cycles like his parents.
Newborns sleep a lot, but often that sleep is broken into small spells throughout the day and night. In the early weeks, baby will mostly wake just long enough to be fed and changed. It sounds cliché, but in order to stay well rested parents should absolutely try to sleep when baby sleeps.
In the beginning, baby may have his days and nights confused and this is very normal! Once his days and nights are sorted out, expect that baby will be waking every 2-3 hours to eat.
The most important thing for you to remember at this stage in the game is that helping baby get the rest they need is the goal. It may not be perfect, it may be difficult to achieve sometimes, and that's ok and normal. Baby will NOT suffer greatly from sleep deprivation in these early months.
"Sleep is a basic biological process that undergoes dramatic changes during development. Insufficient sleep in early human life predicts concurrent and future health consequences, such as mood disorders, cognitive problems, and obesity." Sleep and Early Cortical Development, 2015
Safe Sleep and Environment
One of the best ways to ensure baby has the best chance of snoozing through the night is taking a good look at their environment and making sure you're looking for a few key things.
- Is it dark enough?
It is important that there are no glowing lights in baby’s room, or outside light peeking through his windows or doors, if possible. The Blackout EZ shades are my favorite!
- Is the room the right temperature?
It is safest for an infant to sleep in a cooler room. Experts recommend somewhere between 65 and 72 Degrees F. This helps a baby (and an adult!) sleep better and also helps prevent against SIDS.
- Is baby's room quiet?
Pure white noise (static - not nature sounds or music) helps mask outside noises and prevent wake-ups during lighter sleep.
- Is baby lying flat?
It is safest for baby to sleep on a stationary, flat surface for both naps and nighttime sleep. Baby gets most restorative this way, too. Swings, strollers, car seats, bouncers, loungers, and rock and plays not safe for sleeping despite what the marketing may suggest.
A nap on the go, or an attended nap in the stroller every now and then is ok, but it is safest and most restorative to have most sleep take place in a stationary space.
- Is the crib area safe?
Baby's sleep area should free of any toys, bumpers, or loose blankets to prevent distraction and keep your little one safe. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly urges against anything other than and fitted sheet in the child’s sleep area during the first year of life to prevent against SIDS/SUIDS.
Sorting out Day & Night Confusion
Day and night confusion typically will resolve by the time baby reaches 6-8 weeks old. Social cues, exposure to light and dark, and general maturation of the sleep cycle will help with this.
Try to get your baby out into daylight at least once a day. Natural sunlight is best but certainly keeping lights bright throughout the day as baby naps is very helpful.
Limit the length of baby's daytime naps. Do not let your baby sleep more than 2 hours at each nap during the day as it will help your baby to understand the difference between daytime sleep and nighttime sleep. Babies may sleep until they wake for a feeding overnight once they have returned to birth weight and your pediatrician has approved letting them sleep longer durations. If you have questions about your baby's sleep habits, always consult your pediatrician for advice based on their growth and development.
Growth Spurts and Milestones
Growth spurts are typically more common in the early weeks and months. Babies will likely experience disrupted sleep during growth spurts in the first three months. After that time, most babies tend to sleep more throughout their growth spurts.
In healthy, full-term newborns, growth spurts that can present sleep challenges for you typically occur:
- Around 7-10 days
- Around 2-3 weeks
- Around 4-6 weeks
- 3 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 9 months
There are also a handful of major milestones that may affect your baby's sleep patterns that are completely normal and out of your control.
Physical and Motor Milestones
- Baby pushes up on arms while on tummy
- Baby lifts and holds head up while on tummy
- Baby brings hands to mouth
- Baby moves arms and legs up and down when excited
- Baby will be sensitive to noise in the beginning
- Within weeks after birth, expect baby to start responding to the sound of parent’s voices
- Baby will also begin to start turning their head in the direction of any noise that they may hear
- For the first few weeks after birth, baby will focus mostly on faces
- Around 4 weeks, baby will begin to enjoy bold colors and patterns
- Baby will start tracking moving objects around 2 months
- Around six weeks social smiles arrive. Giggles follow shortly after (the best!)
- Around 2 months, baby may start cooing and copying any vowel sounds she may hear
While these important milestones will help your little one grow and flourish, they may be the things causing your baby's surprise sleep challenges. While you can't avoid them happening, you can do everything on your end to create a sleep plan that feels right for you and make a commitment to stay consistent to it.
And when your baby is awake, engage them and interact as much as you can. This will help them not only with brain development but also with social and communication skills, vision, hearing, and physical development.
Ask for help if you need it
If you're struggling and want to work with an expert to get your baby on a solid schedule, head over to Sleep Shore to find the sleep consulting help and access to their parent-focused services and digital guides.
What's the biggest issue you've been facing with newborn sleep? Let us know in the comments below!
Molly Leighton is a wife, toddler mom and a certified pediatric sleep coach who solves sleep issues and deficiencies for children of all ages. She creates customized sleep plans based on your child's own set of unique developmental considerations and restore sleep to your entire family with a science-based approach. Visit her website, on facebook, and follow her on Instagram.