Whoever coined the phrase ‘Sleeping like a baby’ must have never actually had a newborn. Yes, newborns sleep… a lot. But often in fits and spurts. And sometimes, they seem like they sleep all day, only to stay up all night. In the first days, it may seem like your baby is never awake and they will sleep anywhere – but how you put a newborn baby to sleep can actually help lay the groundwork for great sleep habits through early childhood.
How to Put a Newborn Baby to Sleep
For the first days to week after your baby is born, your newborn will happily sleep all the time, just about anywhere. He or she, like you, is recovering from birth. And while newborns are far too young to sleep train, you can use these early, sleepy days to begin to establish bedtime routines that will encourage healthy sleep habits for the whole family and long term.
First and foremost, you want to put your newborn baby to sleep safely. Since 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended you put your newborn baby to sleep on their back (supine position). This has drastically reduced the incidence of SIDS, and is a complete reversal of what our parents were advised to do when we were babies.
Further safety recommendations include the use of a firm sleep surface (i.e. crib mattress with no additional padding) and keeping soft objects or loose bedding out of the crib. There are other recommendations, such as considering the use of a pacifier and breastfeeding, that have also demonstrated a reduction of SIDS, but in terms of where and how to put a newborn to sleep, you want to place your baby on their back on a firm surface with no loose or overly soft bedding.
The Fourth Trimester & Replicating the Womb
In the Happiest Baby on the Block, Dr. Harvey Karp discusses the Fourth Trimester at length. Human babies have one of the shortest gestation periods of all mammals. Human babies are born while their heads are still small enough to pass through the birth canal and are developmentally, less mature than many other mammals at birth.
Newborn babies therefore take great comfort in the first few months after birth from feeling as though they are still in the womb. Swaddling and white noise are two simple ways to do this.
Swaddling Your Newborn for Sleep
Swaddling your newborn replicates the tight confines of the womb, while also stifling the moro, or startle, reflex. You might notice your baby’s arms fly up suddenly, waking him out of a deep sleep. This is the startle reflex and innate from birth. When your newborn is ready to sleep, put on a fresh diaper, swaddle them, and lay them down awake.
Not sure how to swaddle your baby? You can use Miracle Swaddle blankets, or I learned the ‘Miracle Swaddle’ below while in the hospital with my third baby. It worked like magic right through the end of the infancy, around 3-4 months.
The only blankets I’ve ever found large enough to swaddle well are the Aden & Anais Muslin Swaddle Blankets. Once they regularly begin to breakout of the swaddle, I find they are old enough to sleep without it and trade it in for a sleep sack, a safer alternative to loose blankets, which can put your baby at risk of suffocation.
You might notice your newborn is soothed by constant, rhythmic noise. A vaccuum. Your hair dryer. Even the sound of running water in the bath tub. For 9 months, inside your belly, your baby listened to the rhythmic beating of your heart, sounding much like what you heard over sonograms.
One way to help them through their infant sleep cycles (phases of lighter and deeper sleep) without waking, is by replicating that sound. All 3 of my kids have slept with a white noise machine since birth. And my older two still use theirs, well into their preschool years.
Don’t Do Anything You Aren’t Willing to Keep Doing
The best newborn baby advice I ever received was “Don’t do anything you aren’t willing to keep doing.” Of course, the full meaning of this didn’t really sink in until after my oldest was in her toddler years.Newborn sleep tip: don't do it once if you don't want to do it every time #newmom #newborn Click To Tweet
What exactly does this mean? If you don’t want to have to drive around the block every time to get your newborn to sleep, don’t do it. If you aren’t willing to rock your baby to sleep every time they wake up in the middle of the night, don’t do it. If you don’t want to put your baby to be dependent on their swing for every nap, don’t do it.
Sure, there are always exceptions – babies are only tiny for such a short period of time, and when they fall asleep on your chest, it’s almost impossible not to just sit back and enjoy it. And when they are sick, this may all go out the window. But if I’ve learned anything from 3 babies, it’s that habits are much harder to change the older your child gets. Anything you regularly do to get them to sleep as a newborn, they will become dependent on for sleep until you actively seek to change it.
It’s All About Consistency
Following these simple tips for how to put a newborn baby to sleep, along with a consistent daily rhythm with full feedings, will naturally help establish a routine for your baby, even in the first weeks and months. Learn more about newborn sleep cycles and feeding patterns, or see a sample one-month baby sleep schedule here.
Additional Newborn Reading Recommendations
Want to delve deeper on newborn sleep? I am, by nature, an avid reader, and from the second I learned I was expecting, I read everything I could get my hands on. Nothing truly prepares you for parenthood like actually living it, but drawing on various resources can help you trouble shoot. These tips are based on my experience with my own three children, informed by a few of my favorite baby books.
What about being a new parent worries you the most? For many, it is sleep… and when you are in the throws of sleep deprivation with your newborn, you may feel like you will never sleep again. But applying these tips with consistency, I promise the overnight sleep stretches will lengthen quickly. For more sleep tips, from infancy through preschool, check out my complete Sleep Series. You can find all these posts and more on our Babies and Sleep boards on Pinterest!
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