How to get more sleep with a newborn
When your baby sleeps better, you will notice a more patient, more tolerant, more engaging baby after a good nights rest or quality nap. Be encouraged. It’s never too late to foster excellent sleep habits in a baby, and ultimately help yourself get some much needed rest as well. Our babies are well on the way to being grown but the concept of sleep doesn’t really change all that much. There are lots of experts out there to tell you what you should do and we are not certainly not experts. But I have three children all of whom had chronic reflux. I made lots of mistakes with the first one but by the third we were quick to adopt good sleep practices and it paid off. So these are my tips on how to get more sleep with a newborn.
Know the tired signs
How do you know your newborn is tired? There are a few signs that can easily be missed if you don’t know what you are looking for. Picking up on the cues and getting baby to bed before they get overtired can make a huge difference.
The newborn signs to look for are…
- pulling at ears
- closing fists
- fluttering eyelids or difficulty focusing – your baby might even go cross-eyed or seem to be staring into space
- making jerky arm and leg movements, or arching backwards
- frowning or looking worried
- sucking on fingers – this could be a good sign and might mean that your baby is trying to find ways to settle to sleep.
From birth to about age four to five months, babies have a startle reflex, in which they feel as if they are falling. The sensation of falling causes jerking movements, and the baby can wake up as a result. Keeping a tight swaddle prevents babies from startling themselves awake, helping the newborn baby sleep both better and longer. There are lots of different swaddles and sleeping sacks that confine movement available but s simple muslin will suffice. When bubs gets a bit bigger and starts to fight having his arms restricted try swaddling with just one arm free. The Sleep Store has one of the biggest ranges in New Zealand.
To Dreamfeed or not to
The dreamfeed is the feeding given to the baby right before you go to bed. The theory is it helps prevent the baby from waking up just after we mums finally drift off to sleep. Isn’t this the pinnacle of sleep deprivation? You just fall asleep and the baby wakes up. The dreamfeed can really help your newborn baby sleep for longer while you sleep. Lots of mums use this technique. Personally I didn’t do this with my two younger children because I found if I left them they would sleep on until about 3am. I preferred to go to bed early in peace and endure one in the night feed rather than waking them in an attempt to get a 10pm to 6am stretch of sleep. So the upshot is try to dream feed if your goal is that 10pm to 6am stint and if you prefer a little time to yourself before you go to be bed let them sleep.
Limit naps during the day
I know it’s hard to wake a sleeping baby, but sleeping too long of a stretch during the day can rob them of the nourishment they need to last the night. If the baby sleeps past the three hour mark, I would go ahead and wake the baby up, feed him, keep him a wake for a bit, and then lay him down for another nap. If you feel the baby truly needs longer naps, feel free to increase the nap limit to 3-4 hours. We had a strict four hourly schedule but this can be too long for some little ones. Breaking up sleep during the day will help your newborn baby sleep better at night. There were, of course, times where our children were overtired and needed a little recovery nap. We would allow him to sleep for a little bit longer for just that one nap and then we started getting back on track with our daily routine.
Use white noise
No one wants to miss a party, so if your baby is listening to all the fun going on in the house it can be hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. I place a fan on medium in the baby’s room rather than directly next to the baby, so it does not blow directly on him or sit too close to his sensitive ears. Nowadays there are lots of products that create the white noise for you so you dont need a fan. Check out Sleeptot for their range of Lulu Dolls and Baby Shushers.
Follow the eat, wake, sleep cycle
The baby wakes from sleep and immediately eats. Then the baby is awake for a while to play. Then the baby goes back to sleep…. This cycle has several purposes. First, it encourages full feedings by allowing the baby to eat immediately after waking. The baby will have the most energy immediately after waking, making him more inclined to take a full feeding and go longer between feedings. Also, by feeding the baby after sleep rather than before sleep, the cycle prevents the baby from associating food with sleep or using food as a sleep prop. When using this cycle, a feeding before bedtime is typically only feeding before sleep.
Of course, there were times where I definitely fed my babies before sleep. They needed a little TLC for a certain nap or were unwell, and I was totally fine offering it when they needed it. But for the most part, I tried to avoid feeding them right before sleep. Newborns require frequent feedings and rest to ensure healthy growth a development in the early months. Always feed your baby as frequently as your baby needs to ensure healthy weight gain.
Use a pre-nap and bedtime routines
It is well known that babies thrive on routine, structure, and predictability. Creating consistent routines for your baby will help bring order to a very chaotic world. Choose a pre-nap routine that works for you. A pre-nap routine may include taking the baby to his room, place the baby in his sleep sack or wearable blanket, turn on the white noise, give a few cuddles, and say your sleepy words “I love you. I hope you have a good sleep.” I always left the blinds open during the day to differentiate between naps and nighttime sleep.
A nighttime bedtime routine would typically be a little longer and may include a bath, a massage, some quiet time together, maybe offering a feeding, placing the baby in a wearable blanket or swaddle, turning on the white noise, a few cuddles, and saying your sleepy words. Following the same exact routine as consistently as possible cues the baby for sleep, and over time the baby will learn that sleep immediately follows the nap and bedtime routines.
Change your baby’s nappy strategically
Changing the nappy before a middle of the night feeding prevents the baby from waking up too much after a feeding is finished. When the baby wakes up change the nappy and re-swaddle to prepare him for sleep immediately following a night feeding. If you change the nappy after the night feeding, the baby may become too awake, making it more challenging for him to fall asleep. As they get older and have less bowel movements I personally didn’t always change the nappy if it wasn’t too full and just a bit wet.
Understand how a baby sleeps
The more your baby sleeps, the more they will sleep. Keeping a baby awake in hopes of tiring him out will actually result in over-stimulation, and he will experience both difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. It is very likely an over-tired baby will sleep shorter, not longer. We learnt this lesson the hard way. Our son got excitable rather than drowsy when he was tired. The trick was to get him to bed at the first sign of tiredness which in his case was jerky movements and a few grizzles. My mother in law bless her heart would jig him about and talk to him to get him to stop which only hyped him up not down.
Don’t rush in
We may inadvertently encourage the start of a bad sleep habit by rushing in when a baby cries or rustles during the night. Often times, babies wake up babble and go back to sleep. The baby may even cry briefly or babble and still be asleep. Give the baby some time and see if he will resettle himself. Avoid rushing in and disturbing this process in order to help your newborn baby sleep better. I know letting them cry can be hard and every sleep consultant these days says you shouldnt let them cry. But if they are not screaming, just babbling or grizzling a little give them a bit longer. I always let me mine cry a little where as my best friend couldn’t do it. She still has her youngest in bed with them at four. We had a our children with similar age gaps and by my calculations I have had at least four more years of unbroken sleep than her because I was a little bit firmer.
Lay the baby down awake, but drowsy
The most important way to encourage your baby to sleep well in the long run is to teach him to fall asleep independently, which is essentially the beginnings of teaching independent sleep. Babies, like adults, will naturally wake up during the night. Without knowing how to get back to sleep, a baby will cry out after waking regardless of actual need, resulting in night waking droning on for much longer than is actually necessary. Once a baby gets older, falling asleep independently enables a baby to drift back to sleep after waking in the night, ultimately helping your baby sleep better in the long run.
Don’t be hard on yourself
Sometimes things just don’t go to plan. Sometimes you do everything as you should and bubs just doesn’t go to sleep. My babies all had reflux and sometimes they were just too uncomfortable to sleep or they were woken with it. I spent so many hours mentally beating myself up because I thought I had done it wrong and ruined the good work of the previous days. So please don’t do that. Don’t be hard on yourself. Things are hard enough as mum so you need to be kind to yourself. If things don’t go well just try again tomorrow. I assure you that they all will eventually sleep without assistance.