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5 Ways To Create A Solid Sleep Foundation For Your Newborn

A mother looking at her sleeping baby in a bassinet

One situation that is a concern for so many parents is sleep. I ask people in my infant care classes what they are most worried about when they bring their new little human home and an overwhelming majority say the lack of sleep. And I get it. I crave sleep myself, a lot! And in the beginning while baby is adjusting to being earth side and you are adjusting to life with a new baby, sleep can feel elusive. In fact for the first 3-4 weeks sleep will be scattered and sporadic. But eventually you will be able to see a rhythm of life happening where you can begin to lay down the foundations of good sleep habits that will lead to baby sleeping independently.

Topics in this article:

  • Ways to help you and your newborn get more sleep

  • How feeding baby and daily schedules can help get everyone more sleep

  • Positive sleep associations you won't need to break later on

Let's examine 5 practical tips for creating a solid sleep foundation for your newborn.

When baby is born they have several systems that need to fall into place. Those systems are eating & digestion, respiration, movement and of course sleep. And sleep is the last system to find its groove. Plus, if any of these systems are struggling, sleep will definitely take a hit. And often, in the beginning, if you are breastfeeding, eating and digestion can be the struggle that disrupts sleep. It's important to understand that in the first 3-4 weeks after baby's birth you will be focused on your own rest and recovery, plus feeding baby and ensuring they are gaining weight. This is normal. Once you start to see a light at the end of the tunnel you can begin to create some predicable practices that will be the foundation for independent sleep in the future.

Tank up during the day. Much of baby's sleep is dependent on their calorie intake. Also, there is a belief that baby needs a particular amount of food each day. Feeding baby every three hours during the day can, potentially, give baby the majority of the food they will need to consume and require less waking in the middle of the night. Keep in mind though, baby's under the age of 6 months will still need to feed at least once or twice over night, after which, if you wish, you can begin night weaning.

Plus, consider feeding baby after a sleep as opposed to before a sleep, which can help to wean baby off the sleep habit of feeding to sleep.

Eat, Play, Sleep. Having a predicable rhythm to your day can make it helpful for baby to predict what's happening and also for you to understand baby's various needs. Baby's can't necessarily form habits at this point, that comes several months later, but predictability is possible.

When baby wakes, feed them, then "play" with them. That can be with some tummy time, stories, singing, you can find many options for play (which may only be 10-15 minutes per eat, play, sleep cycle, in the first 4-6 weeks) in this YouTube Video This will begin your efforts to shift away from feeding on demand, which is possible once breastfeeding and supply is established. This will also make it easier to plan your day and possibly get you less demand feeding at night.

A smiling baby stretched out on their bed

Nap Flat. It's not uncommon in those early weeks that baby will nap in your arms, in a swing, bouncy chair or even in the car. And it make sense at that point, as baby is trying to adjust to life on the outside and being in your arms is where they feel safest. Plus, it's pretty great snuggling a baby. Periodically and increasingly, you will want to get baby used to sleeping in their bassinet or crib. This will be especially helpful for later on when baby will need to sleep on a safe, flat, sleeping surface over night.

That isn't to say baby can't have a contact nap in your arms or a wrap, or sleep in the stroller if you are out and about. What we are trying to do is get baby used to sleeping flat instead of only being able to sleep in your arms which can lead to frustration when we try to put them down.

For the first week of my son's life, he was in an incubator in the NICU. The mattress in the incubator was at a slight angle. When we got home, he struggled a lot to sleep in his cradle and I had to add a slight angle to the mattress or he would have never slept.

Positive Sleep Associations. When I teach the Happiest Baby On The Block method of calming baby, including shhhh-ing or white noise machines, people will often get the idea that it will become a negative sleep association and will always have to have it. But is that negative? So many people now-a-days have asmr they listen to to fall asleep. Heck I have sleep stories I listen to plus a fan. Not all associations with sleep need to be seen as negative.

Sleep associations such as swaddling, white noise machines or even pacifiers in these early weeks are just fine to use and can help you and baby get more sleep. Not seeing the negative at all. Baby will eventually not want to be swaddled and pacifiers can be phased out or used only for sleep.

With two of my children, I was worried they would be going to college with a pacifier. For my son, the dog ate it and my son loved the dog so much he didn't mind. And that was the end of pacifiers. With my daughter, we negotiated with her that she could only have it for naps or bed time, not if we left the house. Eventually she just stopped using it.

Finally, Cut Yourself Some Slack. The first three months of life with your baby is really everyone just trying to find their footing. Perfection won't come easy, or at all. We all have bad days and bad nights of sleep. Your baby will too. It's just they will need you a little more when these times happen. And that isn't a bad thing. Especially if you have a particularly busy day, being out and about, or doctor visits, vaccines, family get togethers, vacations, teething, and more. These will all require you to be a little more hands on for settling and getting baby to sleep. This is perfectly normal and baby will be back to where they were in no time.

These five suggestions will not necessarily create an amazing sleeper right away, but they are a foundation to build on, like a house, to make sleep later on less of a struggle and eventually help with independent sleep for your toddler and older child.

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