My muscles twitched involuntarily, starling me awake. I took in my surroundings, the crib, the baby in my arms, and the rocking chair. Was he asleep? I looked down, carefully—afraid to wake him if he was.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I took in his steady breathing. I needed to lay him down and get to bed. It’d been in here for hours.
Carefully I rose, inch by inch, and positioned my arms to lay him in his crib. Slowly, I lowered his sleeping form onto the mattress.
His back touched the mattress and he immediately started crying. Everything in me dropped as I scooped him back up and contemplated crying along with him.
Newborn and infant sleep can be exhausting and confusing for new moms. Whether it’s your first or second baby, day after day of interrupted sleep can take a toll on you.
Fortunately, there are ways of navigating infant sleep that can make it restful for both you and your baby.
Newborn Sleep Tips
Tip 1: Manage Safe Sleep
There are some safe sleep guidelines and pitfalls that you’ll need to navigate to create a safe sleep environment. These are important but can make sleep more difficult.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends these safe sleep practices:
- A firm mattress and flat surface
- Room sharing for the first 6 months
- Monitoring the room temperature
- Back sleeping
Following these guidelines to reduce the risk of SIDS, newborn babies should be placed in their own sleep space (a flat, firm surface) in your room for the first 6 months. Various infant sleep loungers have been removed from the market due to sudden infant death syndrome, leaving you with only the recommended option—a bassinet.
The problem is newborns like to be held and close to mom. You can try swaddling* or a wearable blanket/sleep sack, using a white noise machine, and creating a bedtime routine, but some babies just won’t sleep that way.
The best tip I can give you is to survive it, get help when possible, and keep trying to lay your baby down. Make sure you put your baby to sleep in the safest way possible. And never do something that doesn’t feel safe to you.
Here are a few other things that have been found to contribute to the risk of sudden infant death syndrome and should be avoided.
- Sleeping in a Car Seat
- Secondhand Smoke
- Crib Bumper Pads
- Loose Bedding
- Sleeping on Soft Surfaces
Read More on How to Achieve Safe Sleep
Tip 2: Order Your Days
Providing your baby with some daily structure will help him learn to sleep better. When babies know what to expect and when to expect it, bedtime isn’t a battle.
But babies’ schedules need to look different than an adult’s schedule. They don’t care about time. They care about eating and sleeping.
It’s important to arrange a schedule that meets your baby’s needs. Because when your baby is happy, you’ll be happy too (even if you have to adjust your day around naptimes).
To create the perfect schedule for your new baby, you’ll need to learn about wake windows and follow a feed-wake-sleep schedule.
A wake window is the time your baby can be awake before needing to sleep again. For example, adults have a wake window of approximately 16-18 hours (Sleep Republic, 2023). We also consolidate our sleep into one time per day (unless sleep-deprived).
Young children can’t stay awake that long. They need to sleep after a few hours of being awake (see the chart). If you ever notice your baby nodding off, they’ve passed their wake window.
Wake windows are the key to a well-rested baby. Putting your baby down before they’re overtired will help them fall asleep faster and get the rest they need.
Create your newborn sleep schedule around wake windows instead of the clock. You’ll need to pay attention to determine whether the wake window needs to be adjusted. Did he take a long time to fall asleep? Try 15 minutes earlier next time.
If this all sounds overwhelming, there’s an easy way. Download the Huckleberry app (see below), and subscribe to the Plus plan ($9.99 a month or $58.99 a year at publication). The app will tell you when to put your baby down for a nap and adjust the time based on the data you input. (It was a lifesaver for me when I had 2 under 2.)
The next piece to putting together your schedule is organizing by a feed-wake-sleep pattern. This is the method outlined in the infant sleep book On Becoming Babywise.
It is a way to help your baby organize their day and learn what to expect. This method is also proven to help your baby sleep through the night sooner (their claim is by 12 weeks, but I’d say between 4 and 5 months).
To follow this method, feed your baby after he wakes. Then he’s ready for diaper changes, playing, and spitting up before he goes back down for his nap. These consistent routines help you and your baby organize the day.
This is counterintuitive to the thought that you want your baby as full as possible to sleep longer.
You actually want your baby to space his sleep out throughout the day so he’s happy and rested throughout. When he gets enough sleep throughout the day (but not too much), he’ll sleep better at night. You don’t want extra long naps throughout the day and interrupted sleep at night.
Then at night, you will feed him right before bed and then through the night as needed (see the sample schedule).
Tip 3: Offer Full Feedings
If you breastfeed your baby, it’s important to make sure you only offer full feedings. When your baby is a newborn, this will mean feeding for 30-45 minutes each time.
This time should gradually begin to decrease after 1 month (or later if your baby was born prematurely). If it doesn’t, contact a lactation consultant. They can weigh your baby before and after a feeding and help figure out what’s going on.
Offering full feedings helps your baby learn to eat when they’re hungry and not when they need comfort. This helps cut down extra night feedings as time goes on.
Read More on Breastfeeding
Tip 4: Create a Bedtime Routine
Having a nighttime routine and creating positive sleep associations is essential to more restful nights.
A nighttime routine is a procedure you follow every day before bedtime. This helps sleep begin to align with the circadian rhythm, signals to your baby it’s time for sleep, and establishes healthy sleep habits. Start establishing this routine from the first few weeks and your baby will know what to expect each time you lay him down. As he continues to grow, he will sleep in longer stretches.
Read More on Creating a Bedtime Routine
Tip 5: Lower Your Anxiety
My eyelids suddenly felt heavy. I looked up at the clock, 10:13 PM. I should go to bed.
I looked down at my baby, sleeping peacefully. I fed him around 8, which means he’ll be ready to eat again soon. If I try to lay him down, he’ll probably wake up. I’ll just wait until he wakes up and then go to bed, I decided.
Well, at 11:30, after 30 minutes of feeding, he was inconsolable and I was exhausted. I watched my husband go to bed, feeling envious that he could just walk away.
It was 2 AM when my baby finally settled to sleep and I headed to bed for the night.
This ended up being a nightly occurrence from weeks 2 to 6 of my son’s life. From 11 to 2, he’d scream no matter what I did. And I always waited until 11 to go to bed.
What I should have done was gone to bed at 8:30. But my anxiety over what was to come and my baby’s sleep, in general, kept me awake.
It’s easy for me to tell you to lower your anxiety, but the fact infant sleep struggles can reduce you to a ball of anxiety. And in those early weeks, when you aren’t getting much sleep, it’s hard to make rational decisions.
Instead, I will say, it’s ok if you don’t do everything right. What’s right in motherhood is subjective. We all make mistakes. We all do things differently.
Around his first birthday, your baby will likely start sleeping through the night no matter what you do. Stressing about your baby’s sleep will only cause you to lose sleep.
So lower your anxiety and sleep when you can. Even if you think your baby will wake up any minute, sleep for a few precious minutes.
Read More on Lowering Your Anxiety
- Tips for Responding During the Night & Creating Good Sleepers
- What You Need to Know as a First-Time Mom
I hope these newborn sleep tips help you and your baby get better sleep. And you can spend your nights asleep in bed and not falling asleep in the nursery rocking chair.
Want More Support?
For more support, don’t forget to sign up for emails from Librarian Mom to receive valuable insights into your journey as a mom. Because no one should have to face motherhood alone.