I’m a nationally published sleep expert, journalist, and the mom of three young kids. I’ve been helping tired families sleep since 2007 (more about me here). Subscribe to The Well Rested Family for fresh news and tips on keeping your bunch happy and healthy. Thanks for stopping by!

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Tuesday
Oct112011

Newborns And Sleep

They’re tiny! They’re snuggly! They’re adorably scrunchy! However you look at it, newborns are little bundles of love. It’s a good thing I love brand-new babies—every week, it seems like another friend announces a pregnancy or birth. Baby season is in full swing.

Some parents find themselves blessed with a newborn who snoozes contentedly with no problems. Many other newborns present their parents with some significant sleep challenges. Contrary to popular belief, newborns don’t just magically “sleep when they need to sleep.” And brand-new parents are usually just getting to know their new bundle of joy, so they aren’t yet completely aware of their baby’s sleep needs or sleep cues.

Here are some newborn sleep tips for new and expectant parents:

  • In the first month of life, most newborns can only tolerate being awake for 45 minutes to an hour at a time. Their daily routine should consist of feedings, diaper changings, short periods of playtime, and then being put back down to sleep. By 3 months of age, many babies can tolerate staying awake for an hour and a half at a stretch.
  • As brand-new residents of our planet, newborns are prone to overstimulation. They love staring at your face and hearing your voice. Garishly loud toys, mobiles, and other things designed to entertain babies may wind them up and make sleep difficult.
  • Newborns don’t have a predictable nap schedule. Regular naps don’t begin to organize until 3-4 months of age. Until then, don’t fret about short naps (but please, wake your baby if he naps longer than 2 to 3 hours at a stretch. You want to protect his night rest).
  • When your newborn begins sleeping more solidly at night, she may suddenly be able to stay awake longer during the day. When your newborn starts sleeping better at night and resisting naps, she may be ready for more awake time. Gradually stretch her periods of wakefulness by 10-15 minutes at a time.
  • Many parents believe that newborns need to be rocked or nursed to sleep, but nursing and rocking are learned sleep associations—in the womb, your baby drifted off to sleep without your help. If you put your baby down to sleep when he appears tired and try to allow him to fall asleep unassisted (helping him only if he needs help) he will likely surprise you by revealing that he can sleep independently, at least some of the time. Allowing him to do so whenever possible is the key to healthy sleep habits through babyhood, toddlerhood, and beyond.
  • Newborn sleep cues are often subtle. Appearing glassy-eyed and “burrowing” into your chest are signs that some babies are ready to be put down for sleep. Have fun getting to know your baby’s unique sleep cues!

For more information on newborns and sleep, see my response to an expectant mom’s sleep question at The Creative Homestead blog. And have fun snuggling your sweet new addition.

Reader Comments (4)

Great advice. I've noticed my baby is already developing sleep patterns in the womb and is very active at specific hours. Sometimes I wonder if I should rock myself a bit to either 1) distract her 2) get her to go to sleep - but sounds like I should just let it run its course and let her figure it out on her own.

I don't think I realized newborns are only awake an hour at a time, I thought it was more like 2 hours or more. Wow!

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

I'm 7 months pregnant, btw, forgot to mention :-)

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

Thanks, Susan! Yes, people often don't realize how easily newborns can become overtired. A newborn's sleep needs change quickly, which is why it's important to know your baby's unique sleep cues.

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMalia Jacobson

I was intrigued by your advice to put a newborn down to sleep while awake. I've heard sleep experts and many mothers argue that a newborn can't soothe themselves to sleep. However, I agree with you. I figure that if they are tired, they'll sleep, and it is easier for them at a few days old than it will be months later when the experts all agree they are ready. Granted, I don't exactly let them just cry it out alone. With my current baby, I put him down, put on a heartbeat music CD (most of the time), and then let him fuss or cry, checking on him every 5 minutes. If he is crying hard, I pat him and sing with the CD till he calm down (or for 15-20 seconds if he doesn't calm down), then reset my timer and go about my business. He's usually out in 5-15 minutes.

I've also noticed that just because I hold him or rock him doesn't mean he will not cry; sometimes he cries in my arms, just as he does in bed. So I don't mind letting him cry as he learns to sooth himself to sleep, with a little help from me as needed.:)

August 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Reynoso

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