One thing that no one tells you when you are pregnant is what to do when you are first night home from hospital and baby won’t sleep. Take solace in knowing that it is absolutely normal for your baby, but you may find it torturous for yourself. Learn a few tips to help you develop more mature sleep rhythms and survive those initial sleepless nights mentally and emotionally with your newborn.
You may have kept your comfortable bedside bassinet ready before arrival of your baby and may have envisioned how your baby is going to sleep in the bassinet while you watched her cute little face peacefully dreaming.
It sounds so amazing until you bring your little one home from the hospital.
Those multiple feeding per night, fussy baby who wouldn’t go back to sleep even after an endless rocking, 2:00 a.m accidental diaper changes, and above all, cuddling and going back and forth in the house to soothe the crying of the newborn, can turn you into a furious zombie.
The truth is that the not only first day but the first few weeks with a newborn is tiring even for an experienced mom. When you are dreading the sleepless nights with a newborn, you may wonder how to get the newborn to sleep at night so you can too.
Newborn’s sleep schedule is a little weird. They sleep about 16-18 hours a day during the first two weeks of their life. Yet they awaken so frequently, every 2 to 3 hours even at night. They are still following their schedules as they are in their mom’s womb.
While there is no easy getting away with this phase of the newborn’s life but understanding the fundamentals of baby sleep can help you cope and avoid the mistake that may jeopardize the development of healthy sleep habits.
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Fundamental of Baby Sleep
Newborn’s sleep patterns are a little (a lot!!) disorganized. Following are the facts about newborn sleep. The Sooner you accept it and work around it, the better it will be to control your stress level.
Newborns Sleep Time Varies a lot
For the first 2 weeks of their lives, on average they sleep for 16-18 hours a day. By four weeks, they sleep an average of 14 hours a day. While some newborn sleeps as little as 9 hours a day and others sleep for 19 hours a day at 4 weeks of age (1).
Newborn sleep for short stretches of time
They sleep in short stretches of 30 mins to 3 hours. They do not know the difference between night and day, so they keep waking up randomly within 24 hours.
Some babies are textbook babies, they sleep for two hours, awake for 1 hour, and follow this schedule throughout the day. While others follow no schedule, they sleep for 20 min and do not go back to sleep for a longer time, then sleep for 3 hours and take short naps day and night.
Newborns awaken frequently
Like adult sleep, Newborn sleep is not governed by circadian rhythms. When they are in their mother’s womb, their sleep (the difference between day and night) is governed by the mother’s hormones, particularly melatonin. For them, the night is when fetal heart rate and respiratory rate slows down when the mother is sleeping (2).
But soon after birth, they are all by themselves to develop their circadian rhythms, and unfortunately, that takes a time to develop (3). The fact that they need to feed every few hours, makes things complicated. As a result, they wake up frequently until they develop their circadian rhythms.
Most babies take about 12 weeks to recognize the difference between day and night (4). As they develop their Circadian rhythms, they will sleep in for long stretches of time (about 5-6 hours) (5).
Why do Babies Fight Sleep?
It is frustrating when your newborn can’t fall asleep even though he seems tired. Sometimes, rather than calming down, he gets more and more upset. As much as you want to help your newborn fall asleep, you can’t until you know why he is upset.
Here are a few common causes of why babies fight sleep.
1. He might be Hungry
When your baby won’t sleep, we all assume that he might be hungry. And it may very well be the reason why most newborns won’t sleep. They have very small tummies- about the size of cherry at birth! so they need to eat frequently. Their tummies can’t hold much quantity at each feeding and their liquid diet digests quickly, so next time when your baby cries and won’t sleep, breastfeed him.
Even more, during a growth spurt, they will want to feed every hour. That will not only affect daytime feedings but nighttime feeding as well. Many parents worry about spoiling their babies by offering frequent feeding, but at this stage, there is no such thing as spoiling a baby. They do need you. So when they ask for it, go and feed them.
|Age||A newborn’s Stomach Capacity|
|Day 1||5-7 ml (1-1.4 teaspoons)|
|Day 3||22-27 ml (0.75- 1 OZ)|
|1 Week old||45-60 ml (1.5- 2 OZ)|
|1 Month old||80-150 ml (2.5 -5 OZ)|
2. He is Overtired
If your newborn is overtired, he won’t fall asleep. Baby is considered overtired when they have been awake for longer than their awake window. For newborns, their awake window is about 45 minutes. When they are awake for a longer period, their body can’t tolerate it and it activates a stress response, including the release of hormone -cortisol, which makes it even harder for babies to fall back to sleep (4).
So, as soon as you see the sign of tiredness like yawning and rubbing their eyes, get him down for sleep quickly.
3. He is Overstimulated
It is good to keep your newborn active during their wake window but overdoing it can overstimulate them. Newborns do not always like bright light or loud noise so if your newborn is showing a sign of distress or looking away from the people or start fussing, take him to a quiet place.
4. Check his Comfort
If you can’t seem to figure out why your baby is crying, check his comfort. Does he need a diaper change? Is he too cold or too warm? It may be as simple as this to make your baby to go back to sleep. Check out his article on how to make the bassinet more comfortable for your newborn so he can sleep longer.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. As an affiliate and amazon associate, I earn commission on qualified purchase at no extra cost to you.
All cotton pajamas (click on image)
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5. He is not feeling well
There is almost always something going on with your newborn’s body. Most of the time it is painful for them.
Your baby may be,
All of this may cause baby to not go to sleep or wake them up frequently at night. If you suspect pain or allergies in your baby, check with your pediatrician.
6. He just Needs you
If nothing works, your baby maybe wants to be just with you. It is big of a change for him to adjust to this too bright, too noisy world that we all live in. He needs your warmth, comfort, shelter, and nourishment to get used to this world.
As a mom, you want to make sure you are there when he needs you. If your newborn is not sleeping and very fussy, try skin-to-skin and let him sleep on your chest.
Occasionally, a newborn is unable to sleep for reasons that are not as easy to determine. Here are some tips to help your newborn sleep or get them into a natural Circadian rhythm of 24 hours.
Tips to Help Newborn Sleep at Night
1. Establish a Bedtime Routine
While you can not establish a bedtime routine right after you come home from the hospital, but you can certainly pay attention to the baby’s feed and sleep pattern. After the first few days, you and your baby may form some kind of pattern in your daily routine. You want to start observing when your baby naps and when your baby takes his longest stretch of nighttime sleep. This will help you establish a bedtime routine.
Once you find out when your baby takes her longest stretch of nighttime sleep, you want to start a bedtime routine 30 min before they usually get sleepy. The bedtime routine usually involves quiet, low-key, relaxing activities to help them wind down in the mood of sleep.
The bedtime activities may look like
- Bathing your baby
- Reading a bedtime story
- Calm baby with gentle rocking
- Sing a lullaby
- Give them gentle massage
- Keep the light dim and noise levels low
A bedtime routine signals baby that it is time to sleep. Keeping bedtime routine consistent helps baby get used to it and eventually they will recognize the pattern and fall asleep without much fuss.
Research also suggests that parents who introduced a bedtime routine saw a rapid improvement in sleep quality in their babies (6). If you find your baby still fights sleep, try delaying bedtime routine later at night when your baby shows the sign of drowsiness.
Later, you can adjust it to earlier bedtime by starting a bedtime routine a little earlier each night until you reach your goal.
2. Swaddle your Baby
You may have noticed your baby waking up at night with a startle reflex. Swaddling is an effective way to keep a baby asleep for a longer duration. Swaddling a baby is nothing but wrapping a baby in a muslin cloth to restrict their movement.
One research study showed that when infants were swaddled and placed on their back to sleep, they experienced fewer startles reflex and slept for a longer duration (7).
However, there are also risks associated with swaddling a baby. Baby shouldn’t be wrapped too tightly that they can’t move their hips and knees. There is also a risk of overheating a baby specifically when they have a fever. Research also shows evidence of SIDS when swaddled babies are placed on their stomachs (8).
So, to avoid the risk associated with swaddling, make sure the baby is swaddled lightly and always put on their back to sleep.
Popular Swaddle Blankets (Click on each image)
Here is the video on how to swaddle a baby safely.
3. Get your Baby Outside
Take your baby outside in the sunlight to reset her internal clock. As explained earlier, the newborn’s internal physiological clock is not synchronized with external circadian rhythms. So, for them, day and night are not different.
By exposing them to sunlight, you are giving them a strong daytime cue (9). Taking them out in the sun every day will help them synchronize faster.
If you can’t take them out in sun, keep their crib near a window that gets bright light.
4. Keep Lights dim at Night
Keep light deem or no light at all near baby’s sleeping area gives them a signal that it’s time to sleep. Keeping light on at night delays the release of hormone-melatonin that helps with relaxation and drowsiness.
Baby Sleep Aid Red light ( Click on image)
Newborns and even children up to 6 months old are often distracted by lights and will stare at them. So, if you want light in your baby’s room, hide it behind the furniture or use red light. Red light affects the circadian rhythms the least.
5. Use White Noise
White noise refers to sounds that mask other sounds that might occur naturally. There are a variety of white noise devices marketed for use with infants. Some devices are also equipped with lullabies or even a heartbeat noise to mimic the environment of the womb for newborns. White noise has been recommended heavily by sleep consultants as a sleeping aid for a newborn.
A research study published in 1990 found that 40 newborns when exposed to white noise during sleeping time, 80% of them were able to fall asleep spontaneously within 5 minutes (10).
However, caution should be taken when using a white machine near your newborn’s bassinet or crib. Keeping the volume of the white machine higher than recommended noise limits for babies may impose a risk of increased hearing problems, language, and speech development problems.
White Noise Favorites (Click on image)
6.Try Newborn massage
Who doesn’t love getting massage? If you ever had a massage you know how relaxing it is.
The concept of infant massage is around for thousands of years to aid in relaxation. Giving a newborn an infant massage can help him relax and doze off to sleep.
Research also supports the benefit of giving massage to a newborn as a sleeping aid. A study published in 2016 found that mothers who used lotion to massage their newborns at bedtime experienced better newborn sleep outcome (falling asleep faster, sleeping in longer stretches, waking less often at night) compared to mothers who massaged without lotions and mothers in a control group who didn’t massage at all (11).
Soothing massage oils
7. Nursing a Baby to Sleep
The ultimate remedy to make a baby fall asleep faster is nursing a baby to sleep. Without a doubt, it is the most reliable sleep aid for a newborn.
Even the fussiest baby will relax and doze off to sleep when mom offers breasts to him. It is no secret that sucking itself is relaxing for babies in addition to the warmth that babies get when they are held securely against mom’s body.
Recommended Reading :
- How to Establish Breastfeeding to Maintain Milk Supply
- 17 Natural Ways to Produce More Breast Milk
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Research studies show more benefits of nursing a baby to sleep than mere sucking and cuddling. A research study published in 2009 showed that breastmilk produced in the evening and throughout the night contains a higher level of nucleotides that are associated with sleep in contrast to milk produced in the morning which has a stimulating effect (12).
However, there is a downside to nursing a baby to sleep in long run. If you keep nursing your baby to sleep every night, he might start associating feeding with falling asleep. This means that your baby will want to nurse every time to fall asleep as he doesn’t know any other way of falling asleep. They will also want to nurse when they wake up between sleep cycle.
This sleep association with feeding continues even when they are toddlers and as they grow older, it becomes increasingly hard to break this association.
So, sleep researchers do not recommend nursing a baby to sleep. They recommend that babies be put in their bassinet or crib when they are drowsy but awake.
Research also supports this claim. When babies are put to bed awake, they are more likely to self-soothe when they wake up between sleep cycle (13).
How to Help Newborn to Sleep without Nursing and Feeding?
Nursing a baby to sleep is a quick fix for those earlier days when your baby won’t sleep without you holding them and I think there is nothing wrong if that what it takes to get them to sleep.
I did that for the first 4 weeks. So, if you have to do it, go ahead and do it. There are ways to gently wean your baby from needing to breastfeed to sleep and teach them to fall asleep independently.
When I wanted to wean my baby from needing to breastfeed to sleep after the first 4 weeks, it took a lot of time and there was a lot of crying involved.
I wish I had known the fundamental of infant sleep and affordable newborn sleep training when I bought my first one home from the hospital. It would have made a huge difference in those earlier days when you are sleep deprived the most.
Sleep training helps your baby learn to fall asleep without you feeding them, holding them, or rocking them.
You might be thinking, sleep training does not employ until the baby is 5 months old. You are right, but you can always start a healthier sleep habit from day one. It will help baby sleep for longer stretches and teach them how to self-soothe when they wake briefly between sleep cycles.
She is a mother of two and came up with all the highly practical tips and tricks on exactly how to go about teaching your baby to sleep. This book is written keeping in mind how busy life is when you have a newborn. She talks to the point without many bluffs so you will be able to finish reading this book in just a day or two. I like how she talks about establishing healthy sleep habits in your baby early on and does not enforce any specific sleep training method.
My favorite parts of this book are sample sleep schedules and a section on common sleep issues like shorter naps, frequent waking up at night, and sleep schedule change. I have read many books on newborn sleep and I have to admit Baby Sleep Solutions is the simplest, to the point book with practical advice on how to get your newborn to sleep at night. Check out this book on Amazon.
Taking care of newborn can mentally and physically exhaust parents. Parents are most sleep deprived during first 12 weeks after birth of their babies. When you are struggling to cope with newborn sleep patterns, you start ignoring yourself. But that is not wise thing to do.
Taking care of yourself is equally important as taking care of your baby. Check out this post to get 19 tips on how to survive the first month with a newborn.
First Night Home from Hospital and Baby won’t Sleep: Conclusion
It is very common for babies to not go to sleep in the first few days of their life. It is a big adjustment for them to get used to this world. Think about yourself when you are away from your bed. It is hard to fall asleep when you are not with something familiar. The same applies to your baby. They need your warmth, comfort, and shelter to fall asleep.
So, when they need you to rock them or feed them or hold them, go right ahead, and do that. Remember that, it is just a phase and it will get better as they get older. So, hang in their mamas!!
How About You?
How were your first few days with your newborn? How did you get them to sleep? Please share your tips in the comments below.
- Iglowstein I, Jenni OG, Molinari L, Largo RH. 2003. Sleep duration from infancy to adolescence: Reference values and generational trends. Pediatrics 111(2): 302-307.
- Torres-Farfan C, Rocco V, Monsó C, Valenzuela FJ, Campino C, Germain A, Torrealba F, Valenzuela GJ, and Seron-Ferre M. 2006. Maternal melatonin effects on clock gene expression in a nonhuman primate fetus. Endocrinology. 147(10):4618-26.
- Kennaway DJ, Goble FC and Stamp GE. 1996. Factors influencing the development of melatonin rhythmicity in humans. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Vol 81, 1525-1532
- Rivkees SA, Mayes L, Jacobs H, Gross I. 2004. Rest-activity patterns of premature infants are regulated by cycled lighting. Pediatrics. 113(4):833-9.
- Jenni OG and O’Connor BB. 2005. Children’s sleep: An interplay between culture and biology. Pediatrics 115: 204-215.
- Mindell JA, Leichman ES, Lee C, Williamson AA, Walters RM. 2017. Implementation of a nightly bedtime routine: How quickly do things improve? Infant Behav Dev. 49:220-227.
- Franco P, Seret N, van Hees JN, Scaillet S, Groswasser J and Kahn A. 2005. Influence of swaddling on sleep and arousal characteristics of healthy infants. Pediatrics 115: 1307-1311.
- Pease AS, Fleming PJ, Hauck FR, Moon RY, Horne RSC, et al. 2016. Swaddling and the Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: A Meta-analysis. Pediatrics DOI: 10.1542/peds.2015-3275
- Thomas KA, Burr RL, Spieker S. 2016. Light and maternal influence in the entrainment of activity circadian rhythm in infants 4-12 weeks of age. Sleep Biol Rhythms. 14(3):249-255.
- Spencer JA, Moran DJ, Lee A, Talbert D. 1990. White noise and sleep induction.Arch Dis Child. 65(1):135-7.
- Field T, Gonzalez G, Diego M, Mindell J. 2016. Mothers massaging their newborns with lotion versus no lotion enhances mothers’ and newborns’ sleep. Infant Behav Dev. 45(Pt A):31-37.
- Sánchez CL, Cubero J, Sánchez J, et al. The possible role of human milk nucleotides as sleep inducers. Nutr Neurosci. 2009;12(1):2-8. doi:10.1179/147683009X388922
- Goodlin-Jones BL, Burnham MM, Gaylor EE, and Anders TF. 2001. Night-waking, sleep organization, and self-soothing in the first year of life. J Dev Behav Pediatrics 224(6): 226-233.
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