Best Newborn Sleep Tips to Help Your Baby Sleep
The topic on every new parent’s mind seems to be, how do I get my baby to sleep?
It’s no secret that babies, especially newborns, are not the best sleepers out there. The first few weeks can be really tough, and I had no clue what we were in for. I thought that reading “What to Expect When You’re Expecting“ was all I really needed to prep for motherhood.
It turns out that that book is super helpful, but it didn’t even begin to cover all that I needed to know and all that I learned during those first few months, about how exactly to get my newborn to sleep better.
In a nutshell, these were the most important lessons I learned:
1. Newborns need to eat every 2-3 hours.
Because newborns actually lose weight in the first week or so of their life, it’s important to make sure they gain it back. A newborns’s stomach is also pretty tiny and can’t hold much food. All of this to say – newborn babies need to eat often.
So, even if your kiddo is a naturally good sleeper, you will need to wake them to eat. *Insert look of horror* I know. Hang in there.
2. Breastfeeding can be hard.
This breastfeeding tips post details everything that helped me successfully breastfeed both of my kids (and I needed a lot of help!).
3. Following a schedule for your baby can really help them sleep.
We’ll chat more about this in a bit, but the basic message is: a consistent routine helps.
When my son was born, I had absolutely no clue how I wanted to approach sleep, and my husband and I were 100% winging it.
We also had serious breastfeeding struggles, so my only goals were to try to get my son to eat, and then I let him sleep — four hours at time, five hours if he wanted.
Essentially, he slept when he wanted, and ate (or tried to) when he wanted.
This resulted in us being up all throughout the night, both because he was hungry and he was sleeping too much throughout the day.
I thought this was just normal. And – no judgment zone here – it totally can be! But for my family, this was just not sustainable. We were exhausted, and I was combatting some serious baby blues. (If this sounds like you, definitely keep reading.)
So how did we get our babies to sleep?
What changed everything was when a friend mentioned a book about baby sleep called “On Becoming Babywise.”
I immediately purchased it, devoured it, and then took the fundamentals of the book and applied them in a way that we were comfortable with and that worked for us.
This is so so important. Only do what you are comfortable with and what works for you. The book (and my experience!) is only a guide and not something you have to follow to the exact letter.
So when my son was about four months old, we made some major changes, and it transformed our days and our nights.
With our daughter, we followed the principles of the book from birth, and she has been an amazing sleeper from the beginning.
So how did we do it? Here’s a complete rundown of what we learned, and my best sleep advice for new parents.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using one of my links.
Related Reading: What Newborn Babies Need: A Guide for New Parents
Newborn Sleep Tips for the First Week (and Beyond)
1. Follow the Eat, Wake, Sleep (EWS) Cycle
Eat, wake, sleep (EWS) is the mantra we followed and is the basis of Babywise.
EWS is just as it sounds — baby should follow a cycle of eating, waketime – which is essentially playtime (or in the case of a newborn, really just a diaper change) – and then sleeping. The cycle continues throughout the day.
It is very hard to keep a newborn awake for any period of time, so go easy on yourself and your baby those first few weeks. However, there’s nothing to stop you from getting into the routine and mindset of EWS from the start.
So when baby wakes up, the first thing they should do is eat. The goal? To eliminate any association of needing food to fall asleep, and allow them to build the skills they need to fall asleep independently; e.g. not needing to be rocked, not needing to nurse to sleep, and not needing to sleep in your arms.
2. Appropriate Waketimes Are Key
Most reasonable people would think that the longer you keep your baby awake before bedtime, the more tired they’ll be, and thus the longer they will sleep. This is (unfortunately) false!
Keeping your baby awake for the appropriate amount of time between naps and before bed (mostly determined by age, but also a little trial and error) is so so important. An overtired or undertired baby usually will not sleep as well.
Below is a summary of waketimes our kids have generally followed, but there are a ton of different charts online, so it’s always helpful to look at different examples and find what works best for your baby.
One key thing to remember is that waketime includes feeding time, so with a newborn who is still learning to eat efficiently and taking, for example, 30 minutes to finish eating, it’s not uncommon for them to simply wake up, eat, have their diaper changed, blink for a few minutes, and then go back to sleep.
3. Make Sure Your Baby is Getting Full Feeds
One major goal to focus on in the beginning, is getting your baby to stay awake during feeding time and eating until they’re full.
Feeding is soothing and wonderful to them, so it’s no surprise that many fall asleep while eating. Do your best to keep them awake so that they eat until they’re full. Full feeds = longer sleep.
Some tips to accomplish this feat:
- Take off their clothes/jammies
- Tickle their feet
- Blow gently on their face
- If breastfeeding, change their diaper after they finish with the first side, so they start the other side wide awake
4. Use a Swaddle
Swaddles are an amazing tool to help your baby sleep.
They do two really important things: help your baby feel snug and as though they are still in the womb, and help keep your baby’s startle reflex from waking them.
This is so so key to helping your newborn sleep, so I definitely recommend investing in two or three swaddles (so if baby pees or poops through, you have backups).
Our favorite swaddles – and my babies’ favorites – are hands-down the Halo SleepSacks.
After desperately trying basically every brand out there, I cannot recommend Halo SleepSacks enough.
They grow with your baby/are customizable, come in tons of different fabrics to suit whichever climate you are in, and are very affordable. Also, most importantly – they work! My little Houdinis could not escape these swaddles, and they made a big difference in their sleep.
5. Use White Noise
White noise is another must-have for a new baby.
The reason white noise works so well is actually similar to the reason swaddles are so effective: it mimics the womb!
Between things like the sound of your blood moving around and your heartbeat, newborns are used to a lot of (comforting) noise, so sleeping in a quiet nursery can be a shock.
A white noise machine or app can help imitate that noise, and naturally soothe and comfort your baby when they wake up during naps or at night. It’s also a great way to block out really loud noises from your house – like an unexpected doorbell or the TV.
Our favorite sound machine is the Hatch. Besides having a great selection of sound options and nightlight colors, it also grows with your baby and has a bunch of really cool features that can be used when they’re a toddler.
We have one for both of our kids and they absolutely love them, so I can’t recommend the Hatch enough.
A cheaper/free option is to use an app – if you have an extra device that you can put in baby’s room. The White Noise Lite app is a great option, and is what we normally use when we’re traveling.
Related Reading: The Best New Mom Apps You’ll Want to Have
6. Create a Bedtime Routine
Bedtime routines are a really helpful newborn baby sleep hack that can help your baby fall asleep on their own at night. This is also something you can start from day one!
A bedtime routine can be anything you want. The idea is to create a consistent routine, and eventually your baby will learn that the steps in their routine lead to going to sleep for the night.
We do a bath, put on pjs, a feeding, read a book, turn out the lights, and sing a song. Try to keep that last feeding at at least 15-30 minutes before bedtime so you avoid any food/sleep dependence.
7. Make Baby’s Room Dark with Blackout Shades or Curtains
Having a dark room is key for helping a baby sleep. We’ve been lucky in that our homes have always came with blackout curtains installed, and it really makes a difference.
The darkness actually helps release melatonin, so it’s no surprise that dark rooms are better than a brightly lit one.
If you don’t have the budget for custom curtains, or are just renting a place, we’ve used these pleated stick-on shades, and they are a good, effective alternative to heavy (expensive) curtains.
Related Reading: How to Get Your Baby to Sleep: 2-4 Months Old
Sample Newborn Sleep Schedule
Ok, so now that we have the newborn sleep basics down, let’s talk about a sample daily newborn schedule you can implement to help your baby sleep better during the day and at night. A few notes:
Newborn Schedule Tip #1: Try to Stick to the Waketimes & Naps
You’ll want to aim for 45 minutes to 1 hour max of waketime, and roughly 2 hour naps. Follow your baby’s cues and try to learn their signals that show they’re tired. Some common signs: rubbing eyes, yawning, sucking their thumb, or just flat out crying.
If they wake up early from their nap, they may have been overtired. If they take a long time to fall asleep, they may need a longer waketime.
A note on naps: I normally did not let my babies nap longer than 2-2.5 hours. I learned the hard way that if a baby gets too much sleep during the day, this can really impact nighttime sleep.
So though it’s tempting to just let your baby nap for as long as they want (because we all need and want that break!), try to resist it and wake them up if you need to.
Newborn Schedule Tip #2: Prep Early for Nap
I start prepping my daughter for her nap (changing diaper, getting into swaddle, etc.) about 15 minutes before her max waketime. Ideally, you want them in their crib right before they start showing the signs that they’re tired, so prepping early can help.
Related Reading: Baby Sleep Schedule and Tips for 6-12 Month Olds
Newborn Schedule Tip #3: Try to Put Your Baby Down Drowsy, But Awake
Ok, this is a hard one. When you have a newborn, I wouldn’t worry about this too much. They are tiny, and you have plenty of time to get baby used to going to sleep without your help.
However, it’s never too early to build good habits, so you can at least try (maybe once per nap and at bedtime – don’t drive yourself crazy) to put your baby down while they are still awake.
Why is this so important? A few reasons:
- It helps them figure out a way to self-soothe and put them self to sleep. If you put them down already asleep, they can become accustomed to this and then have no idea what to do when you one day decide to put them in their crib or bassinet awake.
- Waking up in a different environment than they fell asleep in can be startling and unsettling. Meaning, if baby falls asleep in your arms, and wakes up an hour later on their back in a crib in a different room, it can be upsetting. If they fall asleep in their crib, on their own, while sucking their fingers, and then wake up randomly, it may not be as unsettling, and they can know to try the same self-soothing technique to fall back asleep.
Newborn Schedule Tip #4: Be Flexible
All this being said, give yourself and your baby a lot of grace in the beginning!
Try to put them down awake, but don’t stress if you need to hold them or rock to sleep those first few weeks. That is completely normal, and they have plenty of time to learn independent sleep skills, so enjoy the snuggles!
The main goal this early on is to get into a routine of eat, wake, sleep.
A Few Other Notes on This Schedule:
- By 8 weeks, my daughter was shortening Nap 4, and skipping Nap 5 altogether, so I gradually moved her bedtime up to 7pm, sometimes 6:45pm, to make sure she wasn’t awake for too long and overtired. Don’t be afraid to put your baby to sleep early!
- After the 8pm bedtime, you will still need to wake your newborn up to eat every 2-3 hours until they are at least back to birth weight. Talk to your pediatrician about this and any questions you have. They are the experts and will make sure you’re doing what you need to keep baby healthy and growing. Once we did not have to wake our daughter at night to eat, she would sleep for about 4-5 hours at a time.
That covers everything! I know that’s a lot of information, but keep at it, stay flexible, and know that it’s never too late to start implementing these sleep methods.
What helped you most during those first few newborn weeks?