First things first. There are no universally right or wrong ways to raise kids, or to sleep train kids. After I had my first son Miles, and he only wanted to sleep by being held- I became really passionate about sleep. In a really dorky, read too many books on newborn sleep training, kind of way. After some knowledge coupled with trial and error, we developed a pretty great system that I have to share with you all! Will it most definitely work for every baby? Maybe not. Every baby is different. But it’s an easy, proven method and it just might work for you!
This article is focused on what you can start day 1 of your baby being home to help them self soothe and develop a sleep schedule. Newborn sleep training is one of the first important routines we help our babies develop. I know- it’s a lot of pressure! And feels daunting. But I promise these tips are simple to implement and effective.
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The first time I was pregnant, what I heard about sleep training was that it was something you did starting at 4 months. And you let your baby cry for hours! Ahh! No thank you. Obviously, that is not true. Sleep training is really just helping your baby learn how to sleep, and we all do it. We don’t have to endure 4 months of a baby not sleeping well and then use strategies to “fix” their sleep problems. There are things you can start right away that will help prevent sleep problems.
We used the following newborn sleep training tips with our second son Ellis right away. He followed a schedule, soothing practices, and routines that helped him learn to self soothe and when to expect sleep. One of these tips was the most important part of his sleep training that I will explain below! What was amazing is that we didn’t have to “fix” any sleep problems with Ellis, because he developed into a good sleeper from the start. Yay!
We didn’t start true sleep training with our first son Miles until he was about 3-4 months. Even though he had a good routine, he did have some trouble falling asleep and we tried various methods to help him self soothe and sleep longer. Such as some cry it out while checking on him every 5-10 minutes and the shushing while rubbing his back from Baby Wise. There was success and he became a great sleeper, but the anxiety of going through it was not fun! And after I learned that it didn’t have to be that way, I changed my whole mindset and approach to sleep.
The First Week
The beginning is exhausting. It’s a 24 hour round the clock care. Babies do not have internal biological clocks their first few weeks. There will be a lot of sleeping, but it won’t necessarily be at night when you want it to happen. The first few days, they sleep about 15-18 hours a day, in 2-4 hour stretches. Your focus will be feeding your baby and helping them stay awake long enough to eat. In order for Ellis to stay awake for a full feeding, I had to gently tickle his feet, or unswaddle him. If he fell asleep in the middle of a feeding, he’d wake up early from his nap and be really hungry.
There are bonuses to the beginning, like your baby can sleep anywhere. We had a birthday party for my husband when Miles was a week old. He slept in the middle of the party the entire time. At this age, babies can sleep through any loud noise.
I separated the first week, but your baby may easily sleep through noise in the second week as well. As you’ve gotten settled at home, you can start using the following sleep training plan. It will still be hard to have a set schedule, like exact times when your baby takes naps. They also don’t know how to differentiate between day and night, which is why they don’t know to sleep longer at night. You can still start helping them develop a routine! What helped me most was to keep a baby sleep log, so that I could follow the newborn sleep training plan. You can read all about how to keep a baby sleep log and download your own FREE copy!
Night sleep does get longer after 6 weeks! They will start to get drowsy earlier and start to “learn” the difference between day and night sleep. At 6 weeks, their longest sleep periods are usually at night and can last up to 6 hours. So baby sleeps longer and you get to sleep longer too!
** I know that there are articles promising through the night sleep at this age. From my personal experience and research, it isn’t a natural age to expect all night sleep. I’m sure there are babies out there that do sleep through the night at this age, but it is not the most common time.
One to Two Hour Window of Wake Time
This is the most important part that made the most difference for us! It is the beginning of sleep training and creates that much loved routine for mom and baby. It can also help prevent future sleep problems. The key is to be consistent and stick to the time frame.
So how long should babies be awake? And why? How about if my child doesn’t show drowsy signs, what are the best times to put them down for naps?
Watch the clock or jot it down in your app or baby sleep log. 1 to 2 hours after they wake up, they are ready to sleep again.
There has been research on this and I read most of it in Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. After various studies on babies and sleep, it was observed that babies have an ideal window of wake time before they become overtired and need to sleep again. Your baby is naturally going to be drowsy at the end of a one to two hour window of being awake and you should start your soothing routine then. If they do not fall asleep right away, continue to soothe a little longer. How you soothe is not as important as to when.
We don’t want them to be crying and irritable when we start to put them down for their nap. That means they are already beyond drowsy and have become overtired. Right at the two hour mark (or earlier), I’d take Ellis to his room (or our room in the bassinet) for soothing and nap time. Make sure all caregivers are following this window as well! Some people will think it’s silly to follow the time so closely. I know there were some around me that did. The baby isn’t crying yet, are you sure they need sleep? Yes!
Whenever I have left the house, my first question coming in is “how long has the baby been awake?” Even though my husband found this very annoying, he now loves to tell people how much this helped our baby sleep so well!
Finally, naps in the first 3 months are not based on the time of day, but when your baby wakes up from their last sleep. Then plan for 1 to 2 hours of wake time before soothing to sleep.
It doesn’t matter how you soothe, but decide what works for you and your baby and be consistent. And make sure all other caregivers follow a similar system! (I keep saying this because it’s that important 🙂 )This helps give familiarity and predictability as to what those actions mean- “it’s time to sleep”. Also known as sleep associations, because your baby associates those things with sleep.
When your baby starts showing drowsy signs, begin a soothing routine to put them to sleep. Some signs of drowsiness could be:
- Decreased activity
- Slower movements
- Not smiling as much
- Eyelids look heavier
If they have moved past drowsy to overtired, they may be crying or very irritable. Ideally, you want to catch them before they are overtired because it can be harder to put them to sleep. As you observe your baby, you’ll notice what their particular signs are. Ellis is usually laughing and active, but right when he gets tired he stops playing, it’s harder to get him to smile and is not happy doing any of his favorite things.
Soothing is just helping your baby get out of a playful state to a more relaxed, peaceful place. The most common soothing techniques that work when done all together are:
- Gentle rocking
A routine that includes a combination of these three soothing practices creates a perfect scenario for sleep. Include an environment perfect for sleep and you have a winning recipe! Dark rooms, a nice swaddle, and white noise help babies fall and stay asleep. We used swaddles and the halo sleep sack (gave them room to kick!) at night. Blackout curtains are a must for the nursery! Our babies initially slept in our bedroom so we made sure it was dark there as well.
We have a hold that everyone who takes care of our boys know. It is the golden hold! For us at least. So grandma, auntie, nanny, etc all knew it. When you figure out that magical touch with your baby, make sure everyone else learns it also to keep the consistency. Ours is chest to chest, with a light bum patting.
As an example, this is our nap routine: Change diaper and swaddle (for the first 6 weeks- 3months). My boys punched out of their swaddles a lot around 8 weeks, so this merlin sleepsuit also helps with the startle but lets their hands be free. Then I sit in the glider while using the “golden” hold, in their dark room and glide back and forth. Sometimes if my boys couldn’t relax, I would sing softly to them. If no one has ever liked your singing, say hello to your new biggest fan! After laying them down practically asleep, I turn on their white noise machine.
For night time sleep we add a bath, gentle massage with lotion and reading. With Miles, we actually played classical music during bath time. Yeah I know. First baby life. It was very calming! Poor Ellis’ bath includes a toddler screaming, throwing toys and splashing him. He still loves it though, and while it’s not as relaxing- he still associates it with sleep. He immediately starts rubbing his eyes when I put him on the changing table after bath.
At the beginning, I often nursed both boys to sleep or very close to sleep. Neither took a pacifier, but I’ve heard this one is great because it doesn’t fall out! Miles sucked his thumb and Ellis sucks two of his fingers also. Babies naturally use sucking as a comfort. So however you or your baby wants to accomplish this- it works wonders! I personally do not think nursing to sleep created any sleep problems for my boys, even though I know others say it can. If you have always nursed your baby to sleep and want to transition, just make sure they have something else as a soothing replacement.
Your baby becomes more and more social as they grow and they want to hang out with you all the time! This is great, but they can also use that to trick you into thinking they don’t need sleep. There were many times I would go start my soothing routine for Ellis’ nap and he’d be drifting, but then suddenly he pops his head up and gives me the biggest, gummiest smile. Then he puts his hand on my face and starts laughing. It is the cutest thing ever. And it is a great moment to share, but I continue my soothing routine because I know he’s been up two hours and needs to wind down for his nap. Even if he’s developing a strong case of FOMO (fear of missing out), I know he needs sleep.
Pausing. So essential. Many times at night Ellis gets up and starts talking to himself a little bit. I don’t go in to get him. It usually lasts a minute or two and then he falls back asleep. Pause if your baby wakes up. This also helps them learn to fall asleep on their own. If they continue to wake up more and get increasingly upset, then go in and repeat your soothing routine. A video monitor works wonders for this, because you don’t have to wonder what they are doing but can just look at the screen.
Other developmental milestones to be aware of in the future: Nap times do eventually take place naturally at certain times of day. Between 3-4 months, your baby starts taking a morning (9-10am), afternoon (1-2pm) and a short third nap (4pm). If you notice, it still follows the same wake time window. At 4 months, babies naturally want an earlier bedtime. We did a 7pm bedtime. The recommended window is 6-8pm. Night time sleep should be about 12 hours. Both my boys dropped their night feedings around 6 months, but they may need them up to 9 months.
- Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child– my sleep bible! If you only buy one book on sleep- this is the one to go with! I’ve read it several times, he not only helps you learn about sleep but has several options for fixing sleep problems.
- On Becoming Baby Wise. This is widely referenced as the introduction to the Eat-Wake-Sleep Cycle. After my sons started sucking their thumb/fingers, I started following this more. At the beginning I did nurse before sleep. The biggest take away is a consistent routine! There are also strategies to help babies sleep without crying
- The first couple of weeks home with baby is all about feeding and sleeping on demand, cuddling and bonding.
- As you settle into a rhythm (around 2 weeks is ideal), start your routine.
- Keep your baby’s wake time to 1 to 2 hours tops!
- Log your baby’s sleep and feeding times.
- Use consistent soothing techniques and routines to help your baby develop healthy associations with sleep.
- Make sure all other caregivers use the same techniques and routines for consistency and predictability.
Most importantly- just breathe and relax. Take everything you read as guidance, not law. With Miles, I was too rigid with the advice I read and tried following guidelines but not observing him enough. It’s a delicate balance between the two. Not every nap or day will be perfect. That’s okay. Anything to do with kids takes some flexibility and sleep is no different.
I promise a good night’s sleep is in your future!
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