Newborns and sleep: The Roadmap


Let’s talk newborns and sleep! Congratulations on your precious newborn. Babies are little miracles and bring bundles of joy. But along with all the love and joy this newborn journey brings, also comes many, many questions.

Am I right?

Lovely mama, do any of these questions sound familiar?

How can I tell if my baby has had enough milk/ isn’t hungry?

My baby will only fall asleep on me. Is this normal?

I’ve been told to never wake a sleeping baby. Is this true?

Why is my baby wide awake all night and sleepy all day?

Why are some days so easy and other days really hard? Why does my baby hate the swaddle?

When will my baby start sleeping through the night?

And the list of questions goes on and on...

In my experience the newborn phase is simply a time to think about setting up healthy sleep habits rather than having expectations that our little newborns will be sleeping through the night at seven weeks! It is unrealistic to expect our babies to be napping and sleeping like angels in the first 12 weeks, but there are definitely some handy things to know when it comes to newborns and sleep that I’d love to share with you.

So let’s begin the newborn journey…..

Weeks 1-3: These very early weeks are all about getting to know your baby. The biggest focus will be on establishing breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Feeling comfortable with feeding, and ensuring that your baby is feeding well, are a priority at this stage. Breastfeeding is indeed an art and a science, and it comes easily for some and not so easily for others (that includes our babies too).

Don’t be put off if it doesn’t ‘click’ for you or your baby right away. There is help out there and I’d encourage you to see an expert at this time if feeding is a struggle. At this stage your baby will have their nights and days mixed up. Whilst they have no circadian rhythm developed yet, they are full of maternal melatonin (the sleepy hormone) that came to them via you when they were still inside. This really sleepy state generally lasts about three weeks.

After that babies really begin to wake up! One simple and easy way to help them to distinguish between day and night is to sleep them out in the light during the day. The contrast between natural daylight during daytime hours and then the darkness overnight will assist them to learn the difference between night and day (but only sleep your baby in the light during the day in weeks 1-3). Don’t keep them awake for too long.Their awake time will be 40-60 minutes, no longer.

Newborns become over stimulated if kept awake any longer, and then can become very hard to settle. Watch the clock and make sure they are given an opportunity for their next nap within 60 minutes. Early newborns often just want to sleep on you and this is entirely normal at this stage. Which is awesome news for parents, because is there anything better than cuddling a sleepy newborn? What about feed timing? Wake your baby up every three hours during the day for feeding (sometimes sooner).

Over a 24 hour period your baby will naturally begin to take a longer sleep somewhere (sometimes 4-5 hours). You want to encourage the longer stretches of sleep to occur overnight. So, by deliberately feeding three hourly during the day, you can encourage the longer stretches of sleep to start occurring overnight.

Overnight you can just feed your baby when they wake up themselves. Sound easier? Start using a good arms down swaddle right away and definitely use white noise. And finally, observe that your baby is gaining weight appropriately and seek help if you're concerned.

Weeks 4-6:

Continue to monitor breast or bottle feeding and seek help if you need it. Your baby’s awake time is slightly longer now……..around 60-90 minutes. Keep an eye on bub’s tired signs and get them into bed quickly. Now is a great time to start the ‘feed, play, sleep’ routine.

The natural maternal melatonin is running out and your baby hasn’t yet started producing it themselves. This means they can be wide awake for really long periods of time! To help with their own melatonin production it’s now important to start to nap your baby in a dark space. Now, here’s the thing…..crying peaks at 6 weeks. I know, tough! But, I always say ‘hang in there, it will get better! Continue swaddling and use white noise. And the best bit? If they haven’t started already, babies usually start socially smiling at 6 weeks. Oh my goodness, is there anything more gorgeous?

Totally worth the wait!

Weeks 7-12:

Your newborn is getting older and their own melatonin production is now happening. Clear sleep cycles are becoming established. Continue napping your bub in the dark. This gives them the deepest most restorative sleep…. Average awake time is now 90 mins +/- 15 minutes.

Around the 8 week mark I encourage you to help support your baby’s circadian rhythm by having a set start time to the day (7.00am is ideal). Why? Because starting the day at a certain time means you can end the day at a certain time! It’s nice to have predictable evenings… Now if your baby has been colicky and had lots of crying episodes in their newborn stage, I’ve got some good news for you! It’s nearly coming to and end… will be subsiding or completely gone by 12 weeks. Phew! During this stage, continue to swaddle and use white noise.

Your baby still loves these things and they are now very positive sleep associations. Somewhere between 9-12 weeks is a good time to begin settling your baby in your arms a little less and instead practise settling them in their bassinet or cot. And 12 weeks it is a good time to think about establishing a gentle and flexible routine for your little one.

Congratulations. You and your baby have come a long way in 12 weeks! Your baby has grown rapidly and will continue to develop at an exciting rate! Are you confused or struggling when it comes to your newborns sleep?

If you would like some hand-holding through this precious time, book a FREE CONSULTwith me. 


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