Sleep with a newborn can quite often seem elusive. The good news is that this is temporary, and you'll both sleep through the night as your baby gets older and more able to soothe themselves. So while it can seem like the weeks drag on — and you're only hanging on from one latte to the next — give yourself and your family some grace while you try to get through one of the most challenging times of parenting.
Nights especially can seem long, frustrating, and emotional. To help with sleep survival, we have compiled a quick check of ages and stages, tips and strategies to help you get some much-needed shut-eye.
The first thing to acknowledge is that you will be up several times a night, especially in the first few months, and a full night's sleep is not achievable in your immediate future. However, starting to implement sleep techniques right from the start will help baby settle into a routine sooner and hopefully sleep more extended periods at night.
Sleep routine for a newborn
During the first 6 weeks, baby will be adjusting to life on the outside. Day and night are often confused and frequent feeding can feel relentless. The awake window of this age period is 45-60mins, which can be a little tight to get in feeding, burping, nappy change, and a little awake time before resettling for a nap for 2-3 hours. Being over-tired is the most common reason for a restless sleeper, so as you get to know your little one, you will start to recognise their tired cues.
While cuddles with a sleeping newborn is just delicious, it is important for the long term that they can sleep on their own. With this in mind, most of their naps should be in their bassinet, and self-settling is also part of this. Make sure to put baby down for their bassinet/crib before they are fully asleep, gently stoking their back/head or face if needed till they drift off; this will help baby to associate going into the crib with going to sleep. When lowering baby into bed, gently pop their bottom down first and pause, placing your hand on their tummy for reassurance that you are still there, then lower the rest of their body down, keeping a hand on their tummy for a moment or two once they are complete in their crib. Slow and steady wins this race so take your time withdrawing your hand (a few extra moments here may just save your bubs waking and a longer settling process). Should they grizzle or cry, try soothing without picking up for a few minutes to see if they will settle.
You might be tempted to keep things quiet and darker for your newborn to nap well, it might prolong the day/night confusion that almost all newborns will have. Day/Night confusion can last up to 6 weeks. So, keep days bright and upbeat and the nights dark and boring.
A hush or white noise machine can be an effective tool in a baby's sleep routine. A hush machine is a small portable device that creates a continuous soothing sound to create a comforting, consistent sound environment for sleep. Benefits include:
- Associating the noise with sleep time.
- Masking disruptive noises to promote longer more restful sleep cycles.
- Creating comfort and familiarity when sleeping in new environments, such as when travelling or in unfamiliar sleep environments.
Some babies fall asleep faster when they are swaddled. Swaddling a baby means wrapping them in a blanket or a swaddling sleep sack. It can also protect your baby from their natural startle reflex, which can wake them (and you) up.
Sleep routine for a six-fourteen week old
Around this time, a sleep pattern may emerge, with bubs starting to recognise day from night. While still sleeping between 14-17 hours a day, their awake window will begin to length to 1-2 hours. Feeding, burping, nappy change and longer wake times. Around this time, bubs should also start to have longer sleep periods at night. Woohoo!
Now is a great time to introduce the bath/feed/burp/book/bed routine to encourage and create familiarity for longer night sleep periods. Don't worry too much if bedtime isn't the same time every night, it is more important to put baby to bed at a time they are ready to go to sleep. Then they won't associate the cot with being awake a crying. Put them to sleep when they are dozy but not fully asleep, allowing them to settle themselves to sleep. A light pat, stroke or rock to aid, but avoid overhelping, so if they wake during the light phase of their sleep cycle, they are much more likely to be able to resettle without your help. During the night don't jump straight away when she wakes, give them a few minutes to see if they are waking for a feed or just in the light phase and will resettle.
A pacifier can be a great tool for self-settling, not only can they help them fall asleep quicker and sleep longer.
A hush or white noise machine is an ongoing tool effective in promoting longer sleep periods.
Around 2-3 months, it is advised to stop swaddling due to the baby's ability to roll, making swaddling past this point unsafe.
Sleep routine for a three – six month old
Babies daily sleep needs start to drop to around 12- 15 hours per day, with wake times extending to 2-3.5 hours. More interaction and interest in the world around their wake time makes it even more important to ready baby's cues for when they starts to get tired. Some days' wake times may be shorter than others depending on energy and activity levels.
During this time consistent routine is key to helping your baby start to learn to sleep through the night. There is no one-size-fits-all bedtime routine that works for every baby. Try to be flexible and find what suits both you / your baby and your family. Following your chosen bedtime routine bridges the transition from a busy day to a tranquil night. These moments may become the coziest and calmest you spend daily with your child.
Sleep routine for a six - twelve month old
From 6 months onward, babies do the bulk of their sleeping at night. It's not uncommon for babies to revert to an erratic sleep schedule once in a while. These sleep regressions are normal (and often temporary) part of healthy infancy and can happen due to teething, illness, growth spurts, changing naptimes, or when they are learning new skills like rolling over and sitting up unaided.
Parents may opt to use more specific sleep training strategies such as Babywise vs Ferber methods or a sleep consultant for more support if bubs aren't sleeping through the night at this stage.
To recap our top tips for working towards a great night's sleep
It is important to note medical and parental experts advise having the baby sleep in the same room as you for at least the first six months but in their own space, such as a bassinet or Moses basket. Co-sleeping is discouraged as it is not the safest sleeping option for baby. After the first six months, the baby can move into their room and cot. The cot should have a firm mattress with no loose bed linen to lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Follow a calming bedtime routine. Familiarity with a bedtime routine creates security for your bubs, it helps if everyone follows the same routine.
Put down when sleepy but awake
Put your baby to bed drowsy, this helps the baby to learn to self-settle and links their bassinet or moses basket with the process of falling asleep.
A few parting words
Say some comforting, like "Goodnight, I love you," with a stroke on the cheek and a kiss on the head.
Give your baby time to settle down
Your baby might fuss or cry for a few minutes before falling asleep. Allow a few moments before intervening.
Keeping it in perspective
Getting your baby to sleep through the night is a skill. It is one both caregivers and baby are learning, and it takes time. Every baby is different, so do not compare yourself to others . You will get there.
Reach out for help
Our most important tip in those first few months, if someone offers help, TAKE IT. If you can, reach out to friends or family to watch the baby for an hour or two while you take a nap. We suggest feeding the baby and having your support person take the baby out for a walk in the fresh air, that way you can rest knowing baby is fed and happy. Loved ones want to help but often don't want to overstep so the may be waiting for you to request help.
Remember, you've got this, mama! And if you need extra encouragement, here are a few of our favourite quotes.
"Successful mothers are not the ones who have never struggled. They are the ones who never give up, despite the struggles."
"Motherhood: Being proud, tired, happy, and grateful all at once." -anonymous
"I am doing my best. That is all I can expect of myself." -unknown