Trying to Get Your Newborn Down? Try These 10 Sleep Tips.
Contributing Expert: Irene Freeman, MD
This post is part of our newborn health and wellness series. For more information from our pediatric experts, visit our Newborn Resources page.
Newborns need a lot of sleep. Exactly how much sleep is individual to the baby, the same way it’s individual for every adult.
Be compassionate with both yourself and your baby as you’re figuring out sleep routines. Remember, your job is simply to provide a safe environment and plentiful opportunities for sleep.
To that end, Lurie Children’s pediatricians offer some expert tips around encouraging good sleep for newborns.
- Focus on sleep safety first.
Always put newborns to sleep on their back. They should sleep on a firm surface, such as a crib mattress or bassinet, with no blankets, pillows or stuffed animals.
Ideally, babies should sleep by themselves. Different cultures have different traditions and it’s normal to want to take the baby into bed with you. But most parents’ mattresses are too soft and there are pillows and blankets. Also, a parent may fall asleep too close to the baby and obstruct breathing. The data shows a baby alone in its own space is the safest.
- Offer a feeding.
Nursing or offering a bottle is the oldest soothing trick in the book for newborns. A hungry baby may root (as if searching for food), smack their lips or stick out their tongue. A baby who isn’t hungry will usually turn away. That said, overtired babies sometimes don’t know what they want or don’t want, but food and diaper change are usually the first two things to try.
- Swaddle your baby.
Babies really like to be wrapped up tightly. It soothes them and can help encourage sleep. You can create a swaddle with a blanket, essentially wrapping them up like a burrito. Blankets with Velcro designed for swaddling can help keep your baby in the swaddle much longer. The best swaddle is a tight one! At some point, they’ll be too old for a swaddle (usually around three months), but swaddling can really help a fussy, fidgety baby relax in those first months.
- Create a womb-like environment in the room.
Babies like a swaddle because it’s like a constant hug — which is the same feeling they got from the womb. In fact, to help newborns adjust to life outside the womb, try creating an environment that will feel familiar to them. The womb is dark and loud, with all kinds of noises happening 24/7. A dark room and a white noise machine can help your baby nod off a little easier.
- Shush or sing.
Shushing, which essentially means repeating a “shh shh shh” sound is similar to white noise and also reminds a baby of the comfort of the womb. Babies also respond well to singing. They love the sound of voices — especially their parents' voices. It makes them feel comforted and can help calm a fussy newborn quickly. Don’t worry about singing off key!
- Use gadgets if they help, but in moderation.
Swings, bassinets that offer movement and noise (like the SNOO) all work with your baby’s built-in associations of enjoying movement. It’s the same reason that babies loved to be rocked to sleep. A swing can be a terrific way to help a baby relax and fall asleep. Many parents use these types of rocking and swinging devices for naps. But they generally aren’t safe for nighttime sleep, where your baby sleeps unsupervised. You’re also building sleep associations, and ideally, babies learn to soothe themselves to sleep without external movement.
- Put your baby down when drowsy, but not asleep.
Ultimately, your goal is to put your baby down when they are drowsy, but not yet asleep. This way, they learn to fall asleep themselves. It can take a bit of patience and multiple tries, as a drowsy baby seems to wake up the minute you put them into their crib. But try to persevere! You can also think about sleep training when your baby is old enough.
- Try a pacifier.
Pacifiers are safe for newborns, and continue to be okay up until a certain age (try to get rid of them by two-and-a-half to three years old). Sucking is very soothing to newborns. It’s a built-in instinct and helps them to be good eaters. The main issue with pacifiers is that they fall out, and newborns aren’t able to put them back in again.
- Beware of the overtired baby.
Overtired babies can have trouble falling asleep. Babies sometimes “miss their window” for falling asleep, and wind up cranky and overstimulated — which often translates into lots of crying. One of the best things you can do is keep an eye on how long your newborn is awake for any one stretch. If it’s approaching two hours since they’ve slept, work to get them down for a nap or down for the evening.
- It’s okay to take a break with a colicky baby.
Colicky babies are higher needs babies. They can go from being calm to crying for no reason.
If you have a baby who is truly inconsolable and won’t settle with any of the above methods, give yourself permission to put the baby down, and turn off light and walk away. Even just a 10-minute break can help you breathe and calm down. And the colicky or overtired baby may just need to be left alone for a few minutes. It’s a difficult thing to do but, sometimes, it’s the only thing left to try.
In addition to expert specialty care, Lurie Children’s offers several primary care locations around the Chicago area for your child's healthcare needs — from infancy through childhood and adolescence. Learn more about our primary care services.
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