How to Cultivate Good Sleep Habits with Your Newborn

I have four children. Four, beautiful, wonderful children ages 8, 5, 4, and 22 months. They truly are the reason I get up in the morning. People think I’m crazy when I tell them I LOVE the newborn stage (and even crazier when I tell them we hope to adopt a couple of wildly adorable African children soon).

“What’s wrong with you?!” people say. “How do you function during the day when you have gotten so little sleep at night?!” This tends to consistently lead us into a casual conversation about what “nights with a newborn” look{ed like vs. what they have the potential of looking like. Frequently, I respond with something like, “Well, first, remember I have 4 children. I have walked through the shock your body goes through as you transition to learning how to get broken sleep several times. Yet, each time another baby joins our family, I feel like I am more easily able to embrace sleepless nights and savor the one-on-one time I have while my older kids are sound asleep (I know this sounds crazy if you do not have more than one child, but taking care of a newborn seems like a breeze compared to parenting that emotional toddler for some of us). Also, if I am diligent with my baby?s daytime routine, my baby (pending my milk has come in and no additional issues are taking place) will generally wake up at most, 2 times a night.?

If you knew your baby was only going to wake up a couple of times a night, and in the not so distant future your baby would only wake up once a night, doesn?t that feel totally doable to digest each morning when you wake up and make sure that coffee is extra strong? I consistently remind myself of this once that 10:00pm time hits and I?m still up nursing a baby when I all want to be doing is sleeping. Honestly, doing this helps me more fully embrace this season of getting less sleep with a happy, joyful heart. It?s just a season.

So what’s the magic? What can you do NOW to cultivate good sleep habits in your newborn to help sustain a season where you are able to more fully embrace the transition into motherhood with a newborn? 

1) WELL fed during the day is always best!

Many of you know the term “Fed is best.” Meaning, breast or formula, let’s just make sure our babies are eating well and not feel guilty with how we feed them. Yes and amen to that for sure!

In order for babies to sleep well at night though, it is imperative they receive an adequate amount of calories during daytime hours. There are a several ways to help foster this; here are just a few suggestions of where you can start:

  1. Meet with a lactation consultant if you are breastfeeding. Doing this has several benefits. First, she will be able to help evaluate and guide you (if needed) in how your baby is latching (thus, preventing future issues). Secondly, she will be able to do a weighted feed. To me, this tends to be an important aspect of making sure your baby is eating well during the day, because it helps you identify what a ?full feeding? would look like for your baby. For the average mother, a normal, ?full feeding? generally looks like 20-30 minutes (10-15 minutes on each side). That said, there is a significant difference from mother to mother and it doesn?t look like that for everyone. For one mother, a full feeding may mean 35 minutes and during that time the baby took in 3 ounces. While for another mother it took the baby 7 minutes to take that same amount in. A weighted feed will give you confidence in how well your baby is eating. Lastly, a lactation consultant can evaluate additional factors that could have a positive or negative effect in your breastfeeding relationship. Catching any issues early will help you/your lactation consultant formulate a plan in how to respond and/or make appropriate adjustments when and where needed. Prior to being a sleep consultant, I was a birth doula and postpartum doula. I worked alongside lactation consultants (directly and indirectly) on a regular basis as well as taught breastfeeding classes to pregnant and new mothers. Over the years, I learned the common areas addressed and looked at, as well as some common measures to take for different struggles happening. A few examples of things lactation consultants look at would be: overactive letdown, oversupply, under supply, diet, latch, tongue/lip tie. Having someone who is trained and can evaluate these things will not only set your breastfeeding relationship up for success, but will also give you confidence as you are feeding your baby to make sure s/he is getting enough. 
  2. Make sure your newborn is getting at least seven full feedings in during daytime hours. In order to make that possible, you cannot allow your baby to go more than three hours during the day without eating. Honestly, my preference when babies are first born, is to stick to feeding them closer to every two and a half hours (from the beginning of a feeding to the beginning of the next). It?s perfectly fine if some feedings are a little closer together while some are little further apart. But in my experience, if you go more than three hours (or even three hours consistently during the day) you typically will only end up getting six feedings in. Remember, you want to maximize calories during daytime hours so that when your baby does go to bed at night, he is not playing ?catch up? on calories. Think of it this way: if you only get in 6 good feedings during the day, and your baby needs 9 in a 24 hour period, then your baby will probably wake to eat at least three times in the night. But if you get in 7 GOOD feedings, then you have a better chance at your baby only waking 2 times in the night. The key in doing this, is making sure they eat very well!
  3. Follow eat/play/sleep: Newborns fall asleep while eating. It?s very common and so you should expect that to happen. Responding the proper way when they do is what will help you create a better sleeper. You have a much better chance of your baby eating well, if you begin feeding your baby directly after nap time is over. Your baby should be hungry and ready to eat, which will naturally help with being more efficient. Stimulate your baby as he eats (things like talking, rubbing, tickling feet) as needed to keep your baby sucking and swallowing. As your baby slows down, if you are unable to keep him awake, go ahead and pull your baby off the breast or bottle and begin to burp. After burping, you can then wake your baby back up if needed (changing a diaper is an easy go to) and finish feeding.

2) Set an alarm!

I know. You are probably thinking I am crazy for even considering mentioning this. You?re probably thinking, does this lady know I have a newborn?? Don?t worry; you do not have to do this as soon as you get home from the hospital. Or even within the first several weeks. Take time to getting adjusted to life with a newborn. The first several weeks you should really focus on making sure you baby is eating well (whether that means establishing your breastfeeding relationship or bottle feeding). After you feel like you are getting into a groove there, your mind will naturally start wandering and thinking about when you will be able to sleep again. This is when you should start setting that alarm (preferably by 6 weeks)! You see, your newborn is going to want to stay up late.  If you would like your baby

to get to bed before midnight, you will want to start the day sooner so that you are able to end the day sooner. Additionally, this will help your baby get in plenty of good feedings throughout the day. Many mothers who do this really enjoy having some sort of normalcy in knowing when their day will start and end (in general) and it helps to begin creating rhythms for your baby as well. Overtime, your baby will begin naturally waking in the morning on their own.

3) Forget about putting down drowsy, but awake.

I?m sure you have heard mixed information about this. For instance, if you do not focus on putting your baby down drowsy but awake your baby will not learn how to be a good, independent sleeper. Putting your baby down drowsy yet awake can definitely have some positive outcomes for your baby so you can certainly do this if you?d like. But I guarantee, this will not solve all your sleep issues with your baby at this age. What you probably can count on is it being more work for you and also has the potential of adding some additional stress to your days. My goal when working with families who have newborns (and also for my own newborns, which by the way, I rock them all!), is finding what the ?non-negotiables? are and where you can ?flex.? I would place putting your baby down drowsy but awake in the flex category. I personally enjoy the benefits of it being in the flex category (as I know others mothers do as well) simply because I take delight in rocking my own babies to sleep, and know I can enjoy doing that and also reap the benefits of still having a good sleeper. It?s important to note that being an independent sleeper is a skill; it takes time to learn, just like riding a bike or playing the guitar. Your baby must be able to practice over and over to get better. The problem with practicing this particular skill during the first few months is that a baby does not have the ability to actually learn this skill in it?s fullness (I?m not saying it?s impossible for you to have some wins, but it may be a continual struggle for a while). So really, I?m trying to take a little stress off during the first few months. Rock your baby to sleep, put them in their bed, and go enjoy a nice hot shower or a little nap yourself. In my experience, this is easier, less stressful, and you can still create the same positive results you are trying to achieve during the early months.

As I said at the beginning, I love newborns. There is something incredibly rich and sweet about parenting during that season. Enjoy it. Hopefully, the tips above will get your started and help foster even more enjoyment. Newborn sleep can be complex and it does take time to find the right combination of things that work well for your newborn to cultivate good eating and sleeping habits. Take one day at time, and if a day is crazy, call it wash and drink stronger coffee.

You can do this.

Bethany Allen is a professional child sleep consultant and owner of Dream On, Babies where she works with moms of newborns-preschool age and based in Austin TX. She works with families based on their needs and unique family dynamics to create a sleep plan that can be easily implemented. Her unique specialty is teaching and guiding parents of newborns all the important skills and techniques to implement in the early months, along with how to accurately monitor a baby’s natural rhythms, which in turn sets them up to take long restful naps and to begin making longer stretches at night during the early months. She passionately believes that parents are able to embrace and more fully enjoy the season they are in of parenting when the whole house is able to get the rest they each need and deserve. Prior to becoming a sleep consultant, Bethany received her BA from Texas State in social work, and later pursued becoming a birth and postpartum doula. She has four children, ages 8, 5, 4, and almost 2. She loves Africa, musical theatre, and homeschooling her children.

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