How to establish a sleep routine for your newborn
You have waited nine months for their arrival, and once they are born, the first few weeks are exciting but also overwhelming as you get to know your baby, learn how to care for them and get them into a good sleep routine. Rest assured that between all the crying, cuddling, burping and feeding, your baby will find their rhythm and so will you.
A baby’s sleep habits
In the early days, your baby will mostly sleep, wake and feed when their instincts tell them to. While every baby is different, they will generally sleep for about 16 – 18 hours every day, wake every two to three hours for feeds, with bouts of wakefulness lasting around 45-90 minutes in between sleeps.
After a few weeks your baby is awake for longer periods, and consequently sleeping for longer episodes. There are different states of consciousness through which your baby cycles several times a day. Two are sleep states; babies spend 50% of their time in each of these states:
Active Sleep (also known as REM [rapid eye movement] sleep): breathing becomes more regular, your baby may startle at some noises.
Deep Sleep (sometimes referred to as quiet sleep or Non-REM sleep): Baby lies quietly without moving; twitching and other movements stop.
There are also waking or ‘active states’:
Drowsiness: Baby’s eyes start to close and they begin to fall asleep
Quiet Alert: Baby’s eyes open wide, their face is bright and body is quiet
Active Alert: Their face and body move actively
Crying: Baby cries, perhaps screams; their body moves in very sporadic ways
After a few weeks, you can start introducing concepts like night and day, and developing a gentle routine that is beneficial to your baby, ensuring they get enough rest, food and stimulation.
Here are some tips to ease them into a good sleep cycle.
To swaddle is to wrap your baby in a blanket, so that they feel safe and cocooned. Swaddling also prevents unnecessary awakenings caused by the startle reflex and so can help with longer sleep.
Learn the signs of fatigue.
Overtiredness can make it difficult for your baby to fall asleep, so it’s important to know when they are ready for a nap. Eventually you will know instinctively when they are tired, but until then, signs to look for include crying, rubbing their eyes, pulling on their ears, and faint dark circles under their eyes.
Consider giving dream feeds
Dream feeds may help your baby to sleep longer and can gently introduce a pattern of sleep that is easier for you. Three or four hours after your baby has gone to bed try semi-waking them for a quiet breastfeed. The idea is to fill your baby’s tummy without them being fully alert and awake; they should drift back to sleep easily after the feed.
Reinforce the difference between day and night
For the first few months, you’re on your baby’s timetable so late nights and early starts may become more regular. But in the first weeks, you can start to gently teach them the difference between day and night. In the daytime keep curtains open and go outside for a walk, encourage them to be alert and active and play with them as much as you can.
When night falls, make your house calmer and quieter with low lighting and less activity. Blackout blinds can help you to control the light even in the height of summer.
It will not make a difference straight away, but it will help them to learn that night-time is the right time for sleep.
Ensure their sleep space is safe
Lay your baby on their back on a firm mattress, free of loose bedding or clothing. Let them learn to self-soothe.
To encourage your baby to learn to fall asleep independently, start laying them down just before the time they usually start nodding off. They may need lots of support at first, but your gentle shushing, tummy rubbing, or soothing cuddles will help.