Top Five Newborn Sleep Tips
Sleep Consultant Naomi Hilliard from Catching Little Dreams shares her top tips to set your newborn up for future sleep success.
When I had my first baby, I remember laying in the hospital bed next to her crib and thinking ‘I hope someone is going to tell me what I need to do.’ My husband had just been sent home and it was about 9.30pm. I was exhausted but equally full of adrenaline and even though I knew I should get some sleep I lay there wide awake, wondering if I would ever feel like I knew what I was doing.
Over the next few weeks, I had visits from various health professionals, but not one of them asked me about my little one’s sleep. Equally, they offered no advice on sleep or told me what to expect. This led to 3am googling during a night feed, with all sorts of conflicting information coming back at me.
Unfortunately, infant and child sleep is not taught and I feel very passionately that this needs to change. New parents at least need to know what to expect and should be offered strategies to help shape their little one’s sleep when they feel ready to do so. Managing a new mum’s expectations at this early stage can have a significant positive impact on their mental health.
One of the most important things to know about newborn sleep is that it will probably be all over the place to begin with. No two days will look the same and that is COMPLETELY NORMAL! Don’t worry about getting into a routine because that can come at a later stage. In fact, enjoy going with the flow and you will feel more relaxed about your child’s sleep. Otherwise you can constantly feel that you haven’t got it right and you are somehow not the mother everyone else is. (But trust me when I say we are all winging it!)
It’s also important to reassure parents that they cannot spoil a newborn baby or create bad habits at this early stage that can’t be resolved further down the line. If your little one likes to be rocked to sleep or falls asleep on you more easily, then let that happen. Remember they have spent months being rocked to sleep inside your body so it’s no wonder they prefer to fall asleep in your arms now they are out in the big wide world. Just ensure that your little one is being put down in a safe sleep environment, which means on their back in a clear sleep space. For more on this, The Lullaby Sleep Trust have a wealth of excellent information on safe sleeping.
So without further ado, here are my top tips to help all new parents to gently set up rhythms and cues that will help your baby learn good sleep habits, even during these early months. We just must remember to manage our expectations when it comes to how quickly tiny ones will perfect them. These techniques can be practiced daily and eventually your little one will start to develop the skills needed to sleep more independently.
Tip 1: Differentiate between day and night. This might sound obvious to some but I know of some families who will happily play and chat away to their little ones during the night. Instead, cultivate a calm, sleep-conducive environment. Keep the room as dark as possible to encourage melatonin production (the sleepy hormone) and ensure the room is a comfortable temperature. When I work with clients 1:1 I always tell them to have a daytime Mummy/Daddy and a nighttime Mummy/Daddy. The nighttime parents speak in hushed tones and don’t give lots of eye contact. Feeds are given and nappies are changed quietly in a dimly lit space and baby is returned to their sleep space once they have been winded. As soon as morning arrives all of the eye contact, cuddles and kisses resume in abundance. Even at a very young age you are giving your baby clear signals that day is about being awake and playing, and nighttime is the time for sleep.
Tip 2: Introduce self-settling. This one is all about practice – don’t expect this to improve straight away! Once a day practice putting your little one down in their sleep space drowsy but awake and see if you can get them to settle. This may take a few days or weeks to start working. Once you put them down they may be fine for a few minutes and then get upset, or they may get upset straight away. When they get upset pick them up and give them a cuddle and reassure them. Once they are calm try again and see how long they last before becoming unsettled. You may be surprised and they may just drift off to sleep. Don’t be frustrated if they don’t, it’s simply a case of offering them the chance to practice.
Tip 3: Shushing or patting your little one when you are getting them off to sleep can help. Eventually this can happen whilst trying to settle them in their sleep space. The introduction of white noise can also help to stop them getting disturbed by anything during the day when they are napping at home.
Tip 4: Use your child’s ‘wake window’ to help get them down for their next sleep before they become overtired. A wake window starts when your baby wakes from their nap or nighttime sleep. Use the clock to help get them back down for a sleep before they become overtired and fussy. For a newborn this is between 45 mins to 1.5hrs, but if they appear tired before that try moving them into their sleep space or rock them gently to assist them to sleep at the right time. Overtired little ones fight their sleep. A well-rested baby will sleep far better than an overtired baby.
Tip 5: Practice naps on the go. Again, some babies love the sense of the movement to rock them off to sleep, but some don’t. If your little one struggles to sleep in the pram keep practicing. Having a baby who sleeps in their pram can be such a god send when you do want to start to venture out and about. Let them get more used to the pram and they will get there eventually. Natural daylight is also good for your baby and can help to familiarise them with the rhythm of day and night.
Implementing these small changes can help you and your baby to establish good habits from the get go and give you the best chance of building healthy sleep patterns long term. If you have found the above helpful I post lots of free sleep tips on my Instagram page so please do give me a follow. Also feel free to message me if you have any further questions on the above, or you would like more in-depth advice on improving your little one’s sleep – I would be delighted to help. Official ‘sleep-training’ can take place from as early as 18 weeks so if you do find yourself struggling and want support make sure that you reach out to me.
Above all, congratulations on your new baby. Try to enjoy and embrace the highs and the lows and remember that the newborn days are long but the years are short, (and very special). Good luck!
Naomi’s babies, William and Grace that we photographed as newborns 💕