I recently wrote a post about establishing a sleep schedule with a newborn (you can read that post here). Instituting the schedule can take about a month, but you can help your baby get used to the schedule faster by creating an environment that will help them sleep deeper through the night.
Your newborn needs to figure out the difference in night and day. Here are 13 hacks to help your newborn sleep longer and more soundly at night:
- Create and stick to a nighttime routine
Initiating a bedtime routine will help your little one wind down for bed. It takes about a month of keeping the routine to actually see results, but it is definitely worth the determination.
When I first started Joshua’s sleep schedule, I had bath time after the 9 pm feeding as part of the bedtime routine. I changed this after a few days of trial and error because babies don’t need to be bathed daily, so switching between bathing and playtime every day would defeat the purpose of a routine. Also, he gets so wound up from the bath that he would be too overly stimulated to put to sleep. (When he gets more used to a bath and it starts to calm him down, I will probably change it back to after his 9 pm feeding.)
On the days we bathe him, we now have bath time after the 6 pm feeding, then put him down for a nap or play with him if he’s still awake.
After the 9 pm feeding, we keep him awake as long as we can. Now that he is almost 2 months old, he usually makes it to 9:45, but sometimes stays awake as late as 10:30. Do all you can to keep him awake so he will be worn out for bedtime, but don’t keep him awake if he gets fussy. You can actually cause babies to be too tired to sleep if you overstimulate them.
When he finally starts falling asleep but isn’t all the way asleep, we lay him in his in his crib and swaddle him.
Your baby should be swaddled during nap and sleep times (I no longer swaddle during the day since Joshua is in his bouncer all day and takes better naps now). Do not take him out of his swaddle when you change his diaper or feed him at night. We use the SwaddleMe swaddle and just open the bottom-half to change his diaper. (Click here to read my 20 Newborn Must-Haves in 2020. The SwaddleMe is #9 on the list.)
3. Reduce the Moro Reflex
The Moro Reflex causes babies to startle in their sleep, flailing their arms and legs which causes them to wake up. A swaddle keeps their arms from doing this, but not necessarily their legs. My husband figured out that if you gently hold down their legs while putting them back to sleep, this helps them fall asleep faster. Be very gentle when doing this. You shouldn’t be pushing on their legs; just lightly placing your hand over them to keep them from shooting upwards.
4. No extra stimulation
During the nighttime hours, do not turn on the light or talk to your baby unless you’re singing a lullaby or telling them a story to get them to sleep. (I stopped having to tell stories after he was about 3-4 weeks old.) Bright lights or other stimulation makes your baby think it’s playtime and you will have a tough time getting them back to sleep.
We turn on the bathroom light next to his nursery and crack the door. This lets in enough light to be able to see what we’re doing but not too much that Joshua thinks it’s playtime. When he slept in the living room in his play yard for the first few weeks, we turned on the light on the microwave in the kitchen since our house is open-concept.
I’ve heard from some people that they throw a thin blanket over a lamp when changing a diaper at night, but this is a fire hazard and should only be used if you have absolutely no other option. You must be very careful and diligent in turning off the lamp immediately and removing the blanket as soon as you’re done.
5. Keep them in the football hold as much as possible.
Practice carrying your baby by your side with your arm under their back and your hand cradling their head (see picture). When you put your baby to your chest, they are warmer and can hear your heartbeat and breathing like they did in the womb. When you take them off your chest to put them in the crib, the sudden change wakes them up. The football carry is less of a change from your arm to the crib and less likely to wake them up. Try burping them sitting up in your lap with their neck rested on your hand so you can keep them off of your chest before putting them back to sleep.
6. Rub their forehead and between their eyes
Gently rubbing between their eyes is the “magic touch” to put a baby to sleep. If you’ve seen Frozen 2, you’ve see Anna do this with her pinky to put Elsa to sleep. I do this every single time I lay him down at night.
7. Softly sing a lullaby
Sing a slow lullaby at a low volume. Singing too loudly could be an over stimulation for baby. My go-to’s are Baby Mine by Bette Midler and Stay Awake from Mary Poppins. If you are still pregnant, choose a song or a few songs to start singing now. I sang Baby Mine to Joshua while he was in the womb and this song calms him down very quickly now that he’s in the world. The nurses in NICU were amazed how quickly he would settle down when I sang this song to him.
8. Use noise machines
Many noise machines have sounds that mimic the noises in the womb. While you were pregnant, your baby heard your stomach digesting foods, your heart beating, your breathing, and muffled noises from the outside world. It would be irrational to think a baby needs a silent room to sleep since they were sleeping with noise for the last 9 months.
We use a Baby Shusher — which has a prerecorded voice saying “shhh” — and a Motorola Baby Monitor — which has a built in noise machine. (Click here to read my 20 Newborn Must-Haves in 2020. The Motorola Baby Monitor is #11 and the Baby Shusher is #16 on the list.)
9. Try a pacifier
Joshua likes pacifiers during the day, but he doesn’t seem to like them at night. A pacifier may work for you, however.
If you’re using the Wubbanub pacifier I talked about in my 20 Newborn Must-Haves in 2020 post (#3 on the list), you can give your baby the Soothie brand pacies because they are the same brand used on the Wubbanub. You should not give your newborn a Wubbanub while he or she is laying in a crib. It is a stuffed animal and can lead to SIDS if you’re not watching them. A Wubbanub should only be used when you are watching your child.
10. Don’t forget to let him practice self-soothing
Babies need to practice self-soothing. If you pick him up the moment he cries, he will never learn to self-soothe and you will never get any sleep or get anything done.
Calm him down and put him to sleep, then leave the room. If he wakes back up, even immediately, wait 3-5 minutes to see if he can put himself back to sleep. In the early weeks, he probably won’t be able to, but you have to let him practice. I know it’s hard to hear your little one cry, but set a timer and distract yourself if you have to.
11. If all else fails, he may still be hungry
If you have tried everything else, and he is still crying, look for feeding cues such as rooting or sucking on his hand. While my son was in NICU, the nurses overfed him. When he should have been eating 2-3 oz of formula per feeding, he was eating 3-4 oz. He never lost his birth weight, but instead gained weight rapidly. My pediatrician was concerned upon meeting him at his 1-week-old appointment. He told me I shouldn’t be giving him more than 3 oz per feeding until he was 2 months old.
Instead of giving him extra formula, he instructed me to give him 3 oz of water and 1 tsp of sugar if he was too hungry to be consoled. (Please consult your pediatrician before doing this.) Instead of giving him 3 oz of water right away, I give him 1.5 oz of water and 1/2 a tsp of sugar. Then, if he’s still hungry, I’ll do that one more time.
I don’t do this as soon as he shows me he’s still hungry. I try to distract him and get him back to sleep because I don’t want him to think he needs 4.5-6 oz of something in his belly to be full at a month old. For the first few weeks, I was always having to give him sugar water after feeding, but now at 7-weeks-old I probably only have to give him 1.5 oz once a week and usually only at night to get him to that 4 hour mark.
Sometimes all that is left to do is pray. I have said lots of nighttime prayers over my child, desperate for just one full hour of sleep. Also, pray for yourself for strength to get through this tough time of little sleep while you’re getting your child on a schedule. Thank God that He is growing you to be a better mom and growing your child to be a more independent little human.
Nighttime Hack for Mommy…
13. Ask for help
This final hack is for you, Mom. Get your husband, or a loved one, involved in the nighttime routine. It is unreasonable to think you can cope on 2-3 hours of sleep at a time. You need to get a full night sleep.
Ask someone if they can help for a few hours at night so you can get a full night’s rest (minimum 6 hours if possible). As soon as your husband — or whoever is helping — gets home, GO TO BED!
When my husband gets home at 6 pm, his shift starts. We eat supper, and then I am in bed by 7:30 pm. Hubby has baby-duty until midnight. He stayed up that late on a regular basis before Joshua was born, so this isn’t a problem for him. If he feels tired, he will sleep between feedings.
At midnight, he brings me the monitor, tells me when Joshua last ate, then goes to bed. I usually get another hour of sleep in after this before Joshua wakes up to eat.
Midnight may not work for the two of you. Maybe they can only watch your baby until 10. Maybe you need to ask grandparents, family, or friends to take turns coming over once a week in the evening to take the night shift for a few hours. Let people help you, Mom! You are no good to your child if you can’t even keep your eyes open.
This too shall pass, Mom!
Your little one not sleeping through the night and waking up every 15 to 30 minutes is just another trial you have to go through together. My son is about to be 2 months old and sleeps 4 hours at a time at night — most of the time (Except last night when he decided to only sleep 2 hours). Before you know it, you will be waking up to your timer going off at four hours in total shock thinking you slept through his cries. You will get there! A month or two may feel like a long time, but it will be here before you know it. You’ve got this, Mom!