More Sleep Please! - The Five Pillars of Newborn Sleep

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

Bringing your baby home from hospital can often feel completely overwhelming. You thought you were prepared, the nursery is perfect, you’ve got 1000 outfits and the best pram you couldn’t afford but all of a sudden you’re in charge of this little human and they are completely reliant on you for survival! The first three weeks are often a blur getting a handle on feeding and in most cases, bub just feeds and sleeps. This is because they still have plenty of maternal melatonin leftover from you but after three weeks, it starts to wear off and the baby ‘wakes up’. This is when the real fun starts. 

The baby who once slept perfectly now will only sleep for 45mins during the day or will only sleep on you! Or they are ok during the day but will be awake for hours at night. The good news is this is all completely normal and expected of newborns. We would never ‘sleep train’ them out of this as it’s biological but there is a lot we can do to encourage longer, deeper and more comfortable sleep for them.

Here are my essentials for newborn sleep. These are all to be used in context assuming baby is ready to sleep (not over or under tired) and not hungry or in pain with gas etc.

Swaddle A nice snug arms down swaddle is a game changer. The reason why we swaddle is because they still have that moro reflex where they will flail their arms up and it will scare them and wake them up. We’re trying to make them as comfortable and secure as they were in utero and a good swaddle will do this. The arms up swaddles don’t protect against this reflex so it’s important to go arms down. If you’re no good at baby origami there are plenty of commercial ones you can get. I like the Miracle Blanket or Mum2Mum ones. Just make sure they have movement around their hips. 

White Noise When your baby was in your tummy, it was loud! To engage baby’s calming reflex shushing is essential and you’ll find you often do it without thinking if you’re trying to calm your baby. You can’t stand there shushing for the whole nap so playing white noise is the solution. It will also be a nice constant for them when they move between sleep cycles and they will find that comforting. The trick with it is that it needs to be low in pitch and loud. And I mean LOUD! As loud as a hairdryer. Pump it up and play it for naps and all through the night.

Movement Gone are the days when you could just pop bub into bed and she would drift off to sleep on her own. Movement is a fantastic way to get her to sleep in your arms and then you can transfer into the basinet. This is also why they sleep so well in cars and prams as they are being gently jiggled. The trick with settling baby in your arms or in the basinet with movement is the head bobble. The head still needs to be fully supported but if you can jiggle in a way that you get a bit of a head bobble, you will lull that baby off to sleep in no time.

Pro Tip: If you have a baby that wakes as soon as that pram stops moving, have a look at a Rockit. 

Darkness I’m sure your mother in law has told you to sleep baby in the light so they know the difference between day and night but it’s time to tell her delicately, she’s wrong. Even if your baby has some day/night confusion, get them into the sun during their awake windows and still sleep them in a dark room. The reason why it’s so important is because they produce melatonin in the dark and this is the hormone that will help them go to sleep and stay asleep. If the room is light, the light filters in through their eyes even when they’re closed and signals the body to produce serotonin which is telling them to be awake. Getting lots of light during those awake periods is still really beneficial as that serotonin converts to melatonin when they go into the dark room so boosting them up with lots of sunshine when they’re awake will benefit their naps and night sleep. And it will make you feel pretty good too!

Sucking This may sound controversial but I am 100% Pro Dummies for Newborns! Seriously, give your baby a dummy! Their sucking reflex helps with their digestion so less gas and easier poos and it’s completely natural for them to want to suck. If they’re sucking on the boob all the time you end up being trapped, and if they have some reflux overfeeding can make it worse. Experiment with different shapes and get in there and offer it early on. Being able to suck will help baby soothe himself and will make it easier for you to get them nice and calm and drowsy and into bed or back to sleep. Between 12 – 16 weeks you can work on teaching bub to self soothe without it and you can take it away then. Taking the dummy away isn’t as scary as you may think, it only takes a few days, I promise! Be sure to ditch it cold turkey when you do otherwise it’s not fair on the baby to make them cry for a certain period of time before they get what they want.

This may sound controversial but I am 100% Pro Dummies for Newborns! Seriously, give your baby a dummy! Their sucking reflex helps with their digestion so less gas and easier poos and it’s completely natural for them to want to suck.

Using these five pillars of newborn sleep together will calm a cranky baby and help them to sleep for longer stretches. The most important thing to remember is that you can’t spoil a newborn, they need lots of cuddles and help to sleep so don’t worry that you’re feeding or rocking to sleep, give them what they need now and you can wean off those associations later. These first few weeks are all about surviving. And coffee. And crap TV at 2am.

Abby is a Brisbane based Baby Sleep Consultant working with families from Newborn to Four Years. She has two preschoolers and a newborn.

Abby deeply understands how a lack of sleep can derail your confidence as a parent and how that can go on to affect every aspect of your life. Having been there herself with her first child, she made it her mission to help other parents who struggled as she did. Abby's approach is scientifically based with a personal approach, she believes there's no one size fits all solution so focuses on understanding the temperament of the child and family to achieve their set goals.

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