A rundown of how to optimize your newborn’s sleep those first 5 weeks
Hey Peaceful Sleeper Community! When my youngest London was born, I created a series of blog posts that walked through my experience with having her home the first 5 weeks.
As a sleep training consultant, I have helped so many mamas and babies get the sleep that they need, but every baby is different! I had a lot of ups and downs with London, but I wanted to clean up my previous posts and make them into one big and to the point blog post on what sleep training looks like from the beginning.
I want mamas out there to get a realistic look into how to establish healthy sleep patterns and how to deal with the millions of wrenches our babies throw into the mix.
If you haven’t already, download my FREE newborn sleep guide. It’ll give you a good rundown that you can print and keep with you!
My two main priorities right out of the gate were orienting day/night and getting full feedings.
First off, we DO NOT want wakeful periods at night.
It’s hard enough that we have to get up so often to feed them. When it takes an hour or two for them to fall back to sleep it’s extra painful.
Orienting day/night is going to be challenging.
I made the mistake with my first of wanting too much awake time during the day (so she’d sleep at night) that I was inadvertently making her over tired. With London, I had trouble finding the right balance of day time wakefulness. You don’t want to make your baby over tired but you still want to get them to get nice and sleepy after being awake.
It’s hard to wake a sleeping baby and figure out what her natural routine is before you start intervening. But you want to start making the awake times during the day a little longer and trying to get baby to have nice, full feedings before bedtime. This will help them sleep through the night longer for that first stretch of sleep.
London had about 30-60 minutes of wakeful/stirring time before she fell back to sleep. This was probably due to gas, since newborns aren’t used to gas or tunny troubles.
Most days this week look like this:
- Wake up around 8:30am
- Nap on and off inconsistently throughout the day
- 9/9:30pm last feeding and then bed
- 1:00am wake up to eat
- 4:30am wake up to eat
Plan for Week 2:
- Focus on getting good awake time after each feeding during the day.
- Keep things bright and noisy during daytime naps.
- Keep finding the balance of getting enough wakeful time during the day without making her over-tired.
Newborns sleep 16-20 hours a day so to keep trying to figure out how much awake time baby needs for optimal sleep.
PS as a general rule, newborns shouldn’t have wakeful stretches longer than 1 or 2 hours.
Try to get a full feeding every time.
This is hard because their sleep pressure is STRONG.
It feels nearly impossible to keep them awake to keep eating, but we want them to nurse for as long as possible to promote milk production and get longer stretches of sleep.
In my experience, it takes 20+ minutes per side for a good, full feeding.
Other priorities week 1:
- Focus on getting to know your baby. Play detective. Figure out what her little nuances are and tune in (as much as possible) to what different things mean. But try not to let the second guessing go overboard and stress you out.
- Take care of yourself. It’s all too easy to neglect yourself when you have a baby. You have all this adrenaline from having a new baby and you don’t feel as exhausted as you really are. You may have visitors there to help out but you might feel guilty letting them do things for you that you CAN do yourself. Sit down, snuggle your baby and let people wait on you. Say yes to offers for meals from friends. Don’t feel like you have to entertain your guests. Take naps if you can. Cry if you need to. Take medication if it helps.
I’ve heard way too many moms tell me they think they had postpartum depression but didn’t realize it until after the fact.
Pay attention to yourself and your emotions.
Medication is so helpful and it doesn’t mean you’re broken. Do what you need to feel happy and feel like yourself.
Self-care isn’t selfish.
Bedtime and Swaddle
We’re still trying to orient day and night and getting a nice routine down. With London, most of the week was pretty consistent with:
- 9/9:30 bedtime
- Wake up at 12:30/1
- Another wake-up around 5
- Pp for the day around 8:30.
She squirmed a lot at night and dropped her paci, and again that could be from gas.
Swaddling is so important for newborns. It helps with relaxing baby and imitates her environment while she was in the womb.
Here’s my swaddle tutorial blog to get that swaddle nice and tight!
If your baby is being fussy and you’ve tried the swaddle, swinging, and other soothing practices, the culprit may be gas. Check out my gas and reflux guide here!
A couple of tips that it could be reflux are:
- Baby is uncomfortable on their backs
- Arching of the back when feeding
- Smell of acrid milk
How to alleviate that for baby is having them fall asleep propped on you on their stomach. Don’t let baby fall asleep on their stomach in the crib, but if they are propped at an angle on you, it helps a lot to get rid of that reflux.
Here are two go-to positions that seem to relieve the most discomfort:
These positions work really well because in both her knees are bent under her in a way that will help push gas out if that’s the problem.
There’s also more pressure on the top part of her belly to help get burps out, and she can easily lay her head down and comfortably fall asleep when she’s ready.
Plus, she’s propped up which will alleviate discomfort from reflux.
Though you can’t spoil a newborn, if baby falls asleep in the swing, that’s OK. You want to make sure baby is getting all the sleep that they need. And if your baby is having signs of acid reflux, talk to your doctor about your medicine options and how to move forward!
For London, this is when we got her Zantac and it made the world of difference!
Read more about reflux and how to spot it here.
Orienting day and night should be getting better and better. Schedules should also keep getting more predictable. If your baby is still going through tummy troubles or reflux this might set things back a little. Just give it time, try different medications and see what’s working better with your baby.
Baby should also have more alert time after those feedings. Again, getting those nice, full feedings before bedtime will help baby sleep for longer.
Schedule wise, here’s a good 3-hour rhythm to go off of:
- Wake up
- Eat for about 45 minutes
- Poop, burp, spit, fart
- Awake and alert for about 45 minutes
- Sleeps for 1 ½ hours
Bottles and Pumps
If you haven’t introduced a bottle yet, do so this week. Even if you are planning to be a stay-at-home mom, it’s so worth it to get them used to a bottle as soon as possible.
There will be times that you’ll need to leave your baby for a doctor’s appointment, date night or a solo grocery trip and it will be a giant relief if you know they’ll take a bottle in your absence.
Give your baby an ounce or two of expressed breast milk once or twice a week and they’ll be golden.
If you’re not planning to pump a ton, I am totally in love with this manual breast pump.
It feels so natural and I love how quick it is. In less than 30 seconds you can be set up and pumping.
Things should be getting into a rhythm.
London’s routine was been this same(ish) pattern pretty regularly:
- Every 2 ½ to 3 hours between feedings
- Nights are consistently longer than daytime stretches
- We hold steady at 5 hour stretches at night (but every few days she’ll surprise me with a longer one)
Sleep at night should also be getting progressively longer and longer. Night time and daytime feedings should also be getting pretty solid as well.
Around 4 weeks a lot of mamas start to feel like they’re finding a groove. If you’re not in a groove yet, don’t fret. You’ll get there.
If you’re still feeling super duper overwhelmed there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Motherhood is hard and hormones are crazy.
Lots of moms also start to get impatient that their postpartum body isn’t bouncing back as quickly as they’d like.
Your baby needs all those nutrients. Eat cleaner if you want to, sure, but don’t restrict your caloric intake.
You will be eating way more than you did when you were pregnant—you’re still nourishing a full human entirely from your body, and now she’s not on the inside anymore squishing your stomach capacity.
Be patient with yourself.
It took 9 months to make a baby and may take just as long to bounce back.
You may find yourself with a discontented newborn. There are several reasons for this:
- Reflux- read more about that here
- Milk intolerances
Your baby is probably more alert than she was a few weeks ago. This may mean that she needs more help going to sleep.
Remember: you can’t spoil a newborn so go ahead and rock her to sleep, use the swing, snuggle her, wear her in a backpack or wrap, etc.
And don’t forget to swaddle that baby up tight! Swaddle tutorial here.
Lots of parents think their babies don’t like to be swaddled, but my experience shows that most often the swaddle is just too loose.
Our aim right now is to do whatever we can to make our babies as happy as possible. We’ll work on fostering good habits and self-soothing later.
Right now the most important thing is that they’re getting good meals and good sleep.
Preventing over-tiredness now sets the stage for smooth sleep training in a few months.
Remember: tiny babies don’t like to be awake for more than an hour or so at a time.
Week 5 is where we saw London take a big step backward in her sleep at night. Week 4 we were getting 7.5 hour stretches of sleep. At the end of this week we saw 2-4 hours at a time at night.
Sometimes, for no good reason, things fall apart. It’s hard not to lose hope when you have 2 or 3 bad nights, but this is just a temporary phase.
6-week Sleep Regression
A 6-week sleep regression is VERY common. My guess is that we hit it a week early. Two major things happened this week that were worth noting.
1) Incomplete feedings
Eating can become a battle. You might start to think that baby is just eating faster that’s why their fussing after 5-10 minutes. Try to keep feedings at 20 minutes and make sure you look for signs of reflux or gas.
At around 6 weeks, it’s common for babies to be more awake and alert and have a tougher time drifting into sleep with less effort. As a result, it’s REALLY easy to over-stimulate them.
Don’t panic that your baby is bored or feels neglected for not being able to see everything that is going on. It sounds silly as I write it, but as parents we’re ALWAYS projecting our own thoughts and feelings onto our kids.
It’s important to pick up on their sleepy cues during this time because they’ll try and push through them when something exciting is going on.
Remember, you can’t spoil a newborn.
I needed to use sleeping aids like pacifiers, swings and rocking her to sleep WAY more during week 5.
But remember, babies can’t self-soothe yet and she won’t get into bad habits this early in life.
Objective #1 for good sleep throughout LIFE is preventing over-tiredness. So, do what you have to do to keep that baby calm and getting all the sleep she needs.
Have you heard of Dr. Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s for soothing a fussy baby? If not, check them out here. You’ll need all the tricks you can find to soothe madame fussy-pants when you hit this week too.
Check out my trouble shooting guide for more helpful tips on how to sooth your baby.
For a more in-depth look at sleep regression, check out my guide here.