How can I help my newborn sleep well at night?
Newborn babies have unpredictable sleeping patterns. As the weeks pass, you can help them sleep soundly for longer.
Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest challenges of being a new parent. Newborns have unpredictable sleep patterns, waking up at all hours demanding attention.
Your baby’s circadian rhythm is not yet developed, and usually won’t mature until around 4 months of age. During the first few months, newborns average 16 plus hours of sleep in a 24-hour period with short bouts of wakefulness lasting only 45-90 minutes.
Hang in there! Around the time that your baby begins smiling at you – from about 7 weeks – her bedtime will start to drift earlier, and she should start sleeping for a solid 2-3 hours at the start of the night. By around 12 weeks, she should be sleeping for longer stretches (typically 4-6 hours).
Until then, though, you need to be patient and ride out her unpredictable sleeping patterns as best you can. While her biological clock is still developing, there are things you can do to help her (and you) sleep.
Use light and dark cues to help develop the circadian rhythm
Keep your baby’s sleeping environment dark when you want her to sleep. Conversely, expose your baby to daytime natural light during her awake playtime.
Ensure your baby gets enough daytime sleep
Overtiredness can hinder your baby’s ability to self soothe and regulate her little body throughout the night. Don’t keep her awake for longer than she is comfortable during the day, in the hope that she will sleep longer at night.
Create an optimal sleep environment
Give your baby every advantage to sleep well at night by providing a cool, dark and quiet sleeping space. Make sure it is safe, too – place your baby on her back on a firm mattress (such as in a bassinet or bedside co-sleeper) free of any loose bedding or clothing.
Follow your baby’s lead
Watch your baby closely during weeks 7-12 to see new sleep patterns emerge. When she starts sleeping more in the first third of the night, avoid waking her to feed. Instead, let her body’s natural pattern emerge (unless instructed otherwise by your pediatrician).
Let your baby practice falling asleep
Encourage your baby to learn how to fall asleep independently. Observe what time she nods off each night, and start laying her down just before this time so she can practice falling asleep on her own. She may need lots of support at first with shushing, tummy rubbing or a soothing cuddle.
Feed her well during the day
If your baby is sleeping longer stretches during the day without waking to eat, but sleeping shorter periods at night with the need for lots of calories, you may need to encourage more daytime feeding sessions.