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Healthy Sleep Habits for Newborns

by Tara Mitchell - The Gentle Sleep Consultant



There are few things in life that will transform your world as much as having a newborn baby. They bring so much joy, but also some challenges along the way. Trying to manage your little one’s sleep can definitely be one of those challenges! Right from day one, trying to work it out can feel overwhelming.

The benefits of getting quality sleep are undeniable (for parents and baby alike!), so it’s a great idea to try to get in hand from early on. From their busy brain to their tiny tummy, there are incredible amounts of growth and development that occur when your babe gets good quality sleep.

Rest assured, there are a number of ways that you can be proactive in guiding your little one to pick up healthy sleep habits right from the start. Here are my top sleep tips especially for newborns:

Set the mood
Darken the room: Create a dark sleep environment to supports deep, uninterrupted sleep. This helps your bub to regulate their body clock as the serotonin that your little one produces when exposed to light during their awake periods will be converted to melatonin when they enter a dark room. Melatonin is important as it assists our bodies to feel physiologically tired.
Minimise startling noise: Putting white noise on in the room assists infants to link together sleep cycles and also block out household/environmental noises that may otherwise wake them from slumber.
Not too hot, not too cold…just right: Where possible, try to regulate the temperature of your baby’s room so that it’s comfortable and safe according to SIDS guidelines. Also, be sure to dress baby appropriately for both for their safety and comfort. Being too hot or cold can interfere with your babe’s sleep.

Give plenty of opportunities for sleep
Did you know that a newborn can often only tolerate around 45mins of awake time between sleep? And this time includes their feed! But here’s the thing, if your little one is really sleepy on feeds they may count that as their nap. Many clients come to me worried that their baby hasn’t slept at all during the day but what is important to understand is that if your little one is sleepy on their feeds, then wake when they finish feeding in your mind they are now due for sleep but they may feel they have just had their “nap” causing them to fight day naps. So preserve their sleep when they do fall asleep on the feed and as they get a little older work on keeping your babe more aware on their feed so they have a good feed, then an appetite for the nap ahead.Make sure you give your baby regular opportunities to nap. Once a baby goes too long without sleep, or is over-stimulated due to constant noise, light, or activity from visiting friends and family, they quickly become overtired, at which point it is difficult to get them to rest. Keep an eye on the clock and on your babe – indications that it’s time for timeout include jerky movement, making fists, or periods of fussing. Once overtired, newborns will come across hyper, yawning, or crying. You’ll want to try to get them down before they reach this point!

Consistency is key
Believe it or not, even from an early age, our little ones thrive off consistency and routine! Consistency allows them to become familiar and secure within their new world. Creating a little predictability and consistency around sleep goes a long way. It will take a few weeks for your newborns to be able to distinguish day from night, but to help them along, start a little routine that will help them establish their circadian rhythm. This isn’t to say that you need to feed at a certain time or become non-negotiable with bedtime, but just little things such as exposing your newborn to light during their awake period, and dark during sleeps can be really helpful.

Eventually create a structured feed, play, sleep pattern this might be easier around the 3 – 4 month mark.
As time goes by, your baby will become a little more alert during their awake periods. At this point, you can introduce a ‘FEED – PLAY – SLEEP’ pattern. This means that each part of their day will have a distinct purpose.

This is a really important one! While your bub feeds, ensure that they are fully awake and engaged. Firstly, this will help to avoid ‘snack feeding’, which is when your little one doesn’t get enough milk and will constantly be wanting multiple feeds. When this happens, snack feeds are followed by ‘snack sleeps’ (i.e. only sleeping for short periods of time before waking to eat again). Keeping bub fully engaged during a feed will also mean they don’t rest during this period. If they rest during a feed, this can remove your little one’s appetite for sleep when you put them down.

Keeping bub active and engaged during their period of play can help prepare them for sleep by ensuring they have had enough energy expenditure.

Pop your little one down when it’s time, remembering not to wait too long in order to avoid overtiredness. Decide which role you wish to play in your baby’s sleep. There are lots of ways you can assist your newborn baby to settle – patting, feeding, rocking, a dummy or independent settling. Whichever you decide works for both of you, just be mindful that after the newborn period, the role that you have chosen to play at sleep time will become what they associate with getting to sleep. In other words, you are conditioning them from the early weeks to associate something with going to sleep. Be aware that your baby may wake more frequently looking for that same ‘association’ to help them drift back off to sleep whenever they rouse or come out of a sleep cycle into another. If that works for you both, fantastic, keep going. If it’s not something you see as being sustainable over time however, perhaps your settling style might be something you could reassess.

Be flexible and enjoy the journey!
No matter what you do, despite our best efforts, some days just don’t go to plan. Newborns can also be unpredictable, so at the best of times this means that sometimes you just have to be flexible and go with the flow. The more relaxed and positive you can be when it comes to your newborn’s bedtime, the greater the chance of an enjoyable parenting experience and well-adjusted bub.

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