Does your newborn only sleep when being held? Does your baby wake up as soon as you put it down? Getting a baby to sleep and to stay asleep can be one of the most difficult and frustrating pastimes you will ever have to face.
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Newborn sleep is a large focus of most new parents. Bedtime can be fraught with frustration and tears (from both sides). Night waking is seen as a thing to compare with friends, almost like a competition. Sleep patterns can vary significantly between babies (even within the same family).
If you have an easy sleeper, count yourself very lucky! Many parents struggle with sleepless children, especially when they are newborns. Try to relax, it will eventually work itself out , in the mean time here are some tricks that may help.
Why Your Newborn will Only Sleep on You While Being Held
Think about what our species has had to endure for the last (however long). To survive a baby’s instinct tells them they need to be warm, they need to be fed, and they need to be close to someone safe. Newborn babies simply cannot relax into a deep sleep until that primal need has been filled.
If you rock your baby to sleep and almost as soon as you place them in their bassinet do they wake up and cry – you are not alone.
Do you hear all this talk of ‘placing your baby drowsy but awake into their crib’ to ‘let them fall asleep by themselves’ only to find they are crying a moment later and beside themselves howling very quickly.
Your baby is not being ‘difficult’ or ‘manipulating’ and it cannot ‘learn bad habits’ at this age. It is simply following it’s hardwired instinct. Your baby needs you to be close so they feel safe.
You cannot argue with nature, you are best just to go with it. Your whole household will be happier and less stressed for doing so.
For the first few months we recommend you go with the flow with sleep and settling, and do almost what ever it takes to get baby to sleep. If you choose to, sleep training can happen after this newborn period.
A baby carrier can be your best friend to get your newborn to sleep and to stay asleep during the day. Be sure that baby is sleeping safely in the carrier, check the instructions to make sure as each carrier has different rules to make sure baby’s breathing is not compromised.
Cuddling your baby won’t ruin them
Holding a sleeping baby while they nap will not harm them, in fact all that body contact is good for their brain.
At night time, it is best that baby sleeps lying flat somewhere safe. It might be in their own crib, or in bed with you, but to protect them from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) babies should not be held while the adult is asleep – be it in bed, on a chair or couch or somewhere else.
Healthy sleep habits take time to learn, and babys sleep cycle will change and develop as they reach each developmental milestone.
I will reassure you that no teenager needs to share their parents bed, sleep on mom or need rocked or sung to sleep. Babies will naturally learn to put themselves to sleep in their own time, and you don’t need to employ sleep training methods to make this happen.
You are not damaging your baby or setting up a bad habit by cuddling them to sleep, or letting them sleep on or next to you while they nap. Naptime can be a really special bonding time with your newborn.
Baby’s sleep and sleep pattern will change as their body and brain grows and develops. Healthy sleep comes from supporting infants to learn sleep association, to work with their natural circadian rhythm and to comfort them and make them feel safe as they are falling asleep. A newborn baby functions entirely from instinct, and they need to feel safe for every nap or sleep. Safe sleep means being both physically safe, as well as near one of their parents.
A Note on Sleep Routines and Newborns
It is not recommended to expect a baby to follow any sort of routine before 3 or 4 months of age.
It’s far more important in the early days that you and your baby are well rested. Being a new parent is exhausting, and you need to be able to rest when your baby is sleeping. There are some babies who will only ever sleep for one sleep cycle (20-45minutes), regardless of what you do! I have had 3 of them so far!!
Once your baby gets to about 12-14 weeks you will find that she has worked out a little pattern to her day all by herself. The actual times may be flexible as I have yet to meet a baby that can read a clock, but the patterns will start to emerge.
I will never ever condone or agree to any method of cry-it-out or self-soothing, no matter how it is packaged and sold to you, and no matter how gentle they imply it is, it is simply not natural, it is not how babies were designed to be cared for and it is distressing and hard for all concerned. No cry sleep solution is one option, or you can do what nature intended, and nurture your baby to sleep until they are old enough to do it themselves.
If your baby needs you, go to them, please go to them. Hold them and hug them. You are their everything, please be there for them. The dark is scary, being alone is scary, be their loving parent. I know it is hard, I know you are exhausted (trust me, I have BEEN there!) but it is part of being a parent, it is part of the contract you signed.
Night waking is normal and expected
Night waking is normal, even for adults, we are just old enough to know we are safe and how to get back to sleep. Infant sleep cycles are no different, but they have not leaned these skills yet.
There are somethings that you can do to make this adjustment to life earth-side easier for your babe.
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Tips for Helping Settle a Newborn to Sleep Easily
1) Recognize your baby’s tired signs early.
This will help avoid your baby getting over-tired. Tired babies may yawn, get twitchy legs and arm movements or get a glazed/staring look, they will also often act hungry, which might be the case, or they might just be looking to feed to sleep. This can be very confusing for new parents.
If these cues are missed they will begin to grizzle, by this stage they are getting too tired to settle easily. They can also make a lot of noise (grunting and snuffling) winding down to sleep, unless they are actually grizzling/crying, let them be, they may well just be heading off to sleep. If they need help to get off to sleep, try one (or more) of the techniques below.
If you are out for the day, it is very possible for your newborn to get over stimulated, they will often only have very short naps and be quite tricky to get into a deep sleep as their surroundings and noises are different to what they are used to. This isn’t saying not to go out, but do be aware that this is what is happening for your baby, don’t get stressed, she will sleep better tomorrow and a short nap is better than no nap.
2) Use the Feed, Awake Time, Sleep pattern if possible.
This reduces the confusion, you know baby is well fed, so it is likely he is tired rather than hungry again when they start fussing later. Start looking for tired signs when a newborn has been awake for only 45 minutes, an hour awake is usually plenty at this age.
Letting baby suck to sleep is totally fine in most situations. If your baby has reflux, you might find a pacifier works better to give them something to suck on that doesn’t re-fill their belly which when they lie down can give them reflux pain and shorten the length of time they are asleep.
A baby that sleeps plenty in the day will sleep better at night. It is not recommended to limit baby’s days sleeps until they are closer to two years of age. Prior to that age, limiting their sleep is counter-productive. Your baby will be over tired and very difficult to settle or keep asleep.
3) Replicate the womb environment
This works wonders as it triggers a powerful response inside babies’ brains that turns off their crying. To do this try:
This is simply wrapping a baby securely. This is the cornerstone to settling a newborn. Get a large, good quality wrap, at least 45 inches square made out of a breathable fabric, with a little stretch.
Bed sharing babies should not be swaddled, as they need their arms to alert you if you are too close. Babies that can roll over also shouldn’t be swaddled as they need their arms to push up their faces to keep their nose and mouth clear to breathe.
Either ‘shhhhh’ very loudly, play a white noise CD on repeat, a fan, vacuum or shower. In the womb babies are exposed to a constant noise of 80-90 decibels – equivalent to the sound of a vacuum. So while you might not appreciate the noise, your little one will find it quite soothing.
This can be achieved by a dancing/jiggling cuddle, sling carrier or hammock, a pushchair or car ride. This should be a gentle movement. Never ever shake your baby, as their little necks are not strong, it can cause brain damage or death. If you find yourself getting frustrated, but baby in their crib and leave the room to calm down.
Breastfeed, thumb/finger or pacifier. This technique is very effective for reflux or colicky babies.
Either in your arms, on your lap, on your chest or in their bed while being patted. Side/stomach is never for sleeping so ensure you roll them back to their back once they are calm but that gentle pressure on their front is very soothing for them.
DO NOT PLACE SWADDLED BABY LYING ON THEIR STOMACH! – They might suffocate.
Bright lights are stimulating for a babies brain, dim the lights to settle, and let them sleep in the dark even for their day naps.
Keep the room as dark as possible during night feeds, and avoid eye contact or talking with them at this time, it will help them recognize night time is for sleeping rather than being social.
Ensure your baby is sleeping safely for EVERY sleep. This includes each nap in your arms, in the car or when they fall asleep playing or on the couch.
Babies and toddlers who have a bath and a massage before bed, fall asleep faster than those who are only read a story. So break out the baby-safe oil and rub them down using soft strokes and moderate pressure.
Babies who are usually good sleepers go through phases of not settling as well. This may just be a growth spurt in which they need to feed more frequently. These usually only last 1 – 2 days.
If the child/baby has been unwell with a cold in the last week it might be good to get their ears and throat checked by a doctor. As these are often more painful with the increase in pressure when they lie down and makes babies very difficult to settle.
If a baby’s crying is getting too much for you, put them down somewhere safe and go outside for 2-3 minutes to take a few deep breaths. Go back to the baby and try to resettle them calmly. Remember – it is just a phase, and it will pass.