Did you know that newborn babies get somewhere between 16 and 18 hours of sleep every day? With the countless feedings and diaper changes, it sure doesn’t feel like that much! Before six weeks of age, newborns barely stay awake longer than two hours at time, and wake up every two to four hours to feed. Newborn sleep patterns like these can really mess with our adult rhythms, and I don’t know of a single parent who wasn’t looking forward to having their baby sleep through the night. Here are a few little tricks that you can try to help your newborn fall asleep and stay asleep.
One of the most effective techniques that parents have been using for generations to soothe their babies is by swaddling them. Swaddling, when done correctly, mimics the familiar confines of a mother’s womb. Babies are born with a strong startle reflex, during which they will flail their arms. When this reflex occurs during sleep, a newborn will often wake themself up as a result. Swaddling keeps those arms tucked in tight, thus increasing chances that baby will stay asleep. Be sure to place swaddled babies on their backs, and to stop swaddling once your baby is able to roll over.
Another practice to help newborns sleep is to play low volume background noise. When in the womb, babies are subjected to a constant drone of noise, similar to that of a running vacuum cleaner or hair dryer. White noise machines or fans can be used to simulate the types of noises newborns are used to. Additionally, a running white noise machine will mask background noises, helping baby sleep through ovens beeping or dogs barking. Some caregivers will play soft, calming music for the same reason. While it might help put them to sleep, avoid running a vacuum cleaner directly beside your newborn baby the night long; continuous noise shouldn’t be louder than that of a soft shower.
As babies are born without fully developed circadian rhythms, they don’t yet understand that nighttime is for sleeping. To promote longer periods of sleep at night, establish different behaviors with your newborn during the day and at night. During daylight hours, keep the room well lit, and engage in stimulating play with your baby. Make sure to wake them up for feedings as you don’t want them to grow used to oversleeping during the day. At night, keep the room dimly lit and keep noise levels low. Avoid playing with or talking to your baby, as any excitement will discourage him from falling back asleep.
While it may seem too early to start sleep training your newborn baby, it’s never too early to start establishing the bedtime routine that you would like to adopt as they grow older. A consistent bedtime ritual can help calm your baby prior to thrm being put down for the night. A warm bath followed by a warm bottle will signal to baby that bedtime is fast approaching. While some parents swear by rocking their babies to sleep- my husband and I among them- keep in mind that your baby will grow used to your routine, and may resist any changes when they get older. Experts recommend that by six to eight weeks of age, babies should start learning to fall asleep on their own. In addition, babies should be put down to sleep when they're sleepy but awake.
Lastly, make sure to share the bedtime routine with your partner. For one, this means that baby won’t grow dependent on a specific caregiver for all things bedtime and refuse to fall asleep with anyone else. Secondly, it means that mom can sneak in that extra little bit of shut-eye. Babies and adults alike grow fussy and irritable if they don’t get enough sleep, so Momma needs to make sure that both she and baby get all the sleep that they need.