Are you tired of spending all night holding your baby while they sleep?
Although those late-night cuddles can feel pretty amazing, when it’s all night, every night, it’s completely exhausting. And not practical for you day-after-day.
Getting your baby to sleep in their own bed can feel like an impossible task for new parents.
You spend hours rocking, soothing and feeding them until they finally nod off, then you tiptoe out of the room, wincing as you tread on that one creaky floorboard, and the whole process begins all over again.
That unwillingness to be apart from you is completely normal, and it even has a name. The fourth trimester.
As babies experience the fourth trimester in the early months after they are born, they will fuss and cry the second you even think about putting them down.
You can read lots more about the fourth trimester over here. But the key thing to know about it is, it does not last forever.
And there are lots of things you can do from day one to help your newborn form healthy sleeping habits.
This post will show you how to:
- Encourage baby to settle in their own bed.
- Help baby get back to sleep if they wake in the night.
- Set the tone for healthy sleeping habits from day one with your newborn.
Although we are using the words sleep training here, I do not want you to think this means you are leaving your baby to cry or discouraged from cuddling your baby. No way!
This is all about healthy sleeping habits for your newborn baby, but not at the expense of nighttime feeds, which your baby needs plenty of, or comfort.
This post is not about severing any of that connection or denying your baby any comfort. It’s also not about giving you a regimented schedule to follow every day. Strict routines are pretty impossible in the early weeks with a baby anyway.
But what it is about is getting you, the exhausted parent, some better sleep. When we are rested and refreshed, we are far better parents.
There are no miracle cures promised in this post. Newborn babies will, for the majority of parents, not sleep through the night. It’s very rare you find one that does.
But what this will hopefully do is give you a chance to rest when your baby rests, to make bedtimes easier and encourage your baby to get a healthy amount of sleep, so that they are happier in the daytime.
And even though it may not work overnight, if you try being consistent for a few weeks, you will find something suddenly clicks and the baby is easier to settle and waking less at night.
While you may try to follow the tips in this post, some days it will feel like nothing is quite slotting into place. That doesn’t mean you’re doing things wrong.
Just keep on trying and remember that tomorrow is another day. If you can remain consistent with what you’re trying to do, then eventually your baby will follow.
We’re going to break it down into what to do to help your newborn baby sleep in the day and at night, with tips for what to do with them right from when they wake up.
If you’re trying to survive life with a newborn you may also like to read our post featuring 18 tips for coping with the first eight weeks and this one about how exhausted parents can cope with sleep deprivation.
What to do when baby wakes up
First thing in the morning when your baby wakes up there are lots of things you can do to show your newborn that it is daytime.
Teaching your newborn the difference between day and night is key in helping them learn how to fall asleep on their own, and set their internal body clock.
Babies are born without any awareness of the fact they should be sleeping for longer stretches at night. You need to show them that!
So try to take gentle control of their daytime routine with the following tips:
Open the curtains
Let the sunshine into the house. Use the light to show your baby that daytime is when everyone is up, active and ready to play.
This is just one of several cues you can use to teach baby the difference between day and night.
By keeping their room dark when it’s time to sleep, you will be sending them a signal that they need to start trying to fall asleep.
Talk to your baby
Try to have a lively and chatty voice during the day. At night you can keep your voice quiet and speak in hushed, soothing tones.
Be playful and describe what you’re up to during the day. Keep the noise levels lively (you don’t have to shout, just be energetic).
If you’re struggling with inspiration for what to do with your baby all day, try these simple activities you can do with your baby at home.
Encourage baby to feed well
Feed your baby as soon as they wake up. This will hopefully help you to separate feeding from sleeping.
Also your baby is more likely to take a full feed when they are rested. If your baby is drowsy, then try stripping off a layer of their clothing so that they are cooler.
Allow your baby to feed as much as they want to in the daylight hours. If your baby is sleeping for long stretches of more than three hours in the day, then wake them to feed.
You want to try and get to a stage where your baby is taking the vast majority of their calories during the day.
Newborns will wake hungry at night regardless of what you do, as their tiny tummies need feeding frequently. But you want the bulk of their milk to be ingested in the 12 hours of daytime.
Try to keep track of their feeds, whether you are breast or bottle feeding, and encourage your baby to feed more during the day.
Don’t forget to burp
Get a good burp in the middle of every feed and at the end of every feed, especially when you are bottle feeding your baby.
Putting your baby down for a nap when they are gassy is likely to lead them to either fight sleep or wake up in pain from the trapped wind.
How to help baby nap without being held
When it’s time for a nap your baby’s ideal spot for snoozing is in your arms.
But if you’ve got things to be getting on with, or maybe want a nap of your own, there are a few things you can do to get your baby to sleep in their crib:
Look for signs of drowsiness
First of all your baby needs to actually be sleepy when you put them to sleep for their nap. Try to follow their natural rhythms through the day and you may see a very loose pattern emerging even in the early weeks.
A small baby will likely only manage to stay awake for around 45 minutes. Once your baby reaches around four months they might manage to stay awake for up to 90 minutes.
Signs of tiredness in a newborn baby include:
- Staring off into space.
- Less movement or jerkier movements.
- Disengaging from toys and eye contact.
- Fussing and agitated behaviour.
Try to avoid feeding to sleep
I am a great advocate of “by any means necessary”. Ideally you will work to avoid feeding to sleep, so that your baby doesn’t associate having a boob or bottle in their mouth in order to get to sleep.
But some babies just make it impossible to do that.
So as someone who had a baby who was brilliant at settling without a bottle and another who just wanted my boob in her mouth for the entire nap, I’m going to reiterate that every baby is different.
Some babies will be totally fine with no milk before they go down for a snooze. Others will crave that comfort of suckling.
You could try to use a dummy at nap time, as long as you are confident your baby has taken a full feed at their last feeding time.
However if you do feed to sleep, try not to panic. You could feed until your baby is just dropping off and then put them down so that they nod off properly in their own bed to help them learn to sleep in bed.
Use a swaddle
A swaddle helps baby to feel constricted just like they were in the womb. You can get swaddles that you simply zip or button up so that you don’t have to learn how to fold up a swaddle that baby cannot wriggle out of.
Swaddling is great for the early weeks, although you won’t be able to continue once your baby seems ready to start rolling over.
Avoid using thick blankets when swaddling and follow safer sleep guidelines.
Put baby to sleep in the same place
Sticking with the consistency theme, putting your baby down in the same place for their naps sends a signal that baby needs to start trying to sleep.
Some sleep experts suggest that if your baby is sleeping longer chunks in the day and shorter chunks at night (also known as day-night confusion in babies) you should try putting baby down to sleep in a room with the curtains open in the day.
This helps baby to figure out the difference between daytime sleep and nighttime sleep. This never worked for me when it came to naps, as light just made them think it was still time to play! But you may want to try it if day-night confusion is an issue for you.
Safer sleep guidelines state a baby under six months should always sleep in the same room as their parents, which also goes for naps.
This has mixed results for babies but many mothers swear by it. You can get free white noise on YouTube that you simply play through your TV or smartphone.
You can also buy toys that play white noise. Some switch off after just 10 minutes which may not be enough time for your baby to settle, so consider that when buying a white noise machine.
Help to show your baby that their big sleep should be saved for night time by waking them up if their nap continues for too long.
A decent daytime nap for a baby will last for around 45 minutes to two-and-a-half hours.
You can also try these 25 sleep tricks for babies for more tips on getting baby to fall asleep.
Getting baby to sleep at night without being held
Your primary focus for your own health and sanity will be sleep in the night time, but by doing the above and getting the daytime sleep right, you are halfway to getting the nighttime sleep right too.
Have a bedtime routine
Your baby is never too young to start a bedtime routine. Before I carry on, there is a big BUT here. That is, when your baby is going through cluster feeding and fussy evenings, it’s best not to battle your way through a bedtime routine.
Most babies experience unsettled periods of time, usually in the late afternoon and early evening. It’s often called the witching hour and tends to begin at around three weeks and last for anything from two to eight weeks.
If your baby is being very fussy and requiring extra feeds, just surrender to this.
Don’t try to force your usual bedtime. Instead, feed in the dark, try to soothe your baby and keep comforting them until they do fall asleep. You could try white noise and swaddling to encourage them to settle.
But if your baby is sleepy and has fed well, carry on with your bedtime routine every day.
A good bedtime routine is not complicated! A simple wash or bath, putting on pyjamas, reading a story, singing a nursery rhyme and then putting down for sleep is all it has to involve.
Keep the light low
Signal to your baby that it’s nighttime by keeping the lights low.
Switch your main lights off and shut the curtains. Blackout curtains may help you to keep the bedroom dark in the summer.
You may want to invest in a good nightlight that helps you to avoid banging into furniture as you move around the room.
Keep your voice down
Talk to your baby in soft and soothing tones. This will help them to distinguish between day and night.
Don’t rush to every cry
I’m not suggesting that you don’t respond to crying, but sometimes your baby may cry in their sleep and then settle back down. It might be unsettling for you, and you could simply try saying “shh” and gently stroking their head while they are still in bed to soothe them.
But many times you can be surprised at how your baby may settle back to sleep on their own.
Think twice about waking to eat
If your baby is gaining weight, producing plenty of wet and dirty nappies and healthy, then you do not have to wake them up to eat in the night.
If your baby was born prematurely then you should be sticking to the feeding plan your baby’s doctor has suggested to help them gain weight.
But an otherwise healthy baby who wants to sleep through can be left to keep sleeping. Enjoy the rest for yourself!
Avoid nappy changes
A nappy change can wake your baby up even more. Try to avoid changing their nappy unless it has leaked or baby has done a poo.
Don’t start playing
If your baby does wake up, keep those lights low, your voice quiet and avoid doing anything too stimulating for your baby.
This means it’s not playtime! Keep the toys away and try to soothe your baby back to sleep and put them back into their cot once you have finished feeding them.
Should you leave your newborn to cry it out?
No you should not leave your newborn to cry it out.
It’s impossible to spoil a new baby by cuddling them too much and actually by responding to your baby’s cries, you’re showing them they can trust you which in turn will ultimately be a good thing.
Some days, especially around the evening time, it may seem like your baby is crying all the time. If your baby is in a growth spurt, it could be that they are demanding more feeds or it could just be a developmental leap they are experiencing, which tends to make them fussier.
Newborns need to feed little and often, so at times they may well be feeding every hour. Try to roll with it and deal with the exhaustion in any way that you can.
As your baby gets older, they are able to take larger feeds and therefore go longer between feeds and begin to wean, then you can start to think about stricter sleep training.
While cry it out is an option, and one that can work within a couple of nights, you can try gentle sleep training once your baby is six months old if they are still keeping you up all night.
You can read way more about sleep training when your baby is six months or older in this article.