Newborn Sleep Secrets: 4 Tools

Teaching a Newborn About Sleep

Weeks 1 to 3


Here is the truth, for better or worse, and it's really important to understand this:  you cannot teach a newborn about sleep. Sorry, it's just a fact. It's not you. It's not your baby. It's science.  Newborns sleep around 16 hours in a 24 hour day.

What most of us don't get our heads around (because you really can't until your baby is born) is that that 16 hours is done in bite sized chunks, one, maybe if we're lucky, two hours.  Some will go three hours and parents want to throw a party! Smart parents know that that 3 hours might have been a one off, might not happen again for weeks.  Some newborns hit 3 hours all the time.  None of this reflects on your parenting one iota.

Babies are not able to consolidate sleep into long sleep spells as newborns because they need to eat!  It's a survival skill this not sleeping business. Their stomachs are tiny and need constant refilling to keep them going.   Some may sleep for longer stretches. They may not. Your baby is unique.  It has nothing to do with you and certainly nothing to do with your parenting!


Newborns who do sleep for longer stretches are told to do the unthinkable-waking a sleeping baby.  Why?  Because you  want them to survive and thrive. They need to eat.  Talk to your doctor about how long your newborn can go without food.  In the first few weeks off life they will need to be fed every two or three hours.

Before you concern yourself with sleep, make sure that baby is gaining enough weight. If baby is not getting enough nutrition they will struggle to sleep and so will you. Their little bodies know what they need, and much as they need sleep, their body knows that they need food. So, if they are not gaining enough weight they will not sleep until they have enough in their teeny stomach!  Again, it's about their survival, they are built for this!


Think about it. Your newborn has just emerged from a warm, safe place where they were fed just enough constantly, where they were rocked constantly, where they were held in close cozy quarters and then they take this not very pleasant journey and are born!  We are ecstatic!   They might be feeling something else.

I believe that our primary role as parents in baby's first weeks of life is to teach them that we are here, that this strange, seemingly cold world is a safe place for them to be, that we are trustworthy, that we will take care of them. Our job is to love them and make them feel safe. Period.

Where should a newborn sleep?

You cannot teach a newborn bad habits in the first weeks of life, you can just teach them love.  So, during the day? If you take a walk and they fall asleep that's great! Let them fall asleep on your chest and just soak up the wonder. Take a nap yourself maybe?

Don't worry about the hundred and one things that you could be doing if only this baby would transfer to their bassinet! 

At night they need to be in your room in their own safe sleep space-bassinet, co-sleeper or crib, or any other place which follows CDC safe sleep guidelines. 

I strongly recommend that parents do not concern themselves with baby's sleep schedule for the first few weeks with baby.  Feed baby, make sure that they are getting enough food, and let them sleep wherever, whenever.  (Following Safe Sleep Guidelines always!) Let go of any expectations of time and sleep.  Baby will grow older and you may miss this exceptionally exhausting, but sweet and precious window of newborn life. You never get it back.  

When do parents sleep?!

Do pay attention to parent's sleep! These are tiring weeks.  Maybe let one parent have a down hour in the morning and the other parent the same in the afternoon?  Schedule these, otherwise they will not happen.  If baby is exclusively breastfed a degree of flexibility will be needed.  (See above re: needing food!) So, in the beginning it may be as simple as one parent gets an hour after the second morning feed and the other parent gets an hour after the first afternoon feed.

(Discclaimer: Some of us moms are nervous and afraid that the other parent will not do it "right".  Yep, us moms are smart, and hormones are real. This is a great opportunity to build trust, and be trustworthy.  If a breastfeeding parent is crawling around the room "out of sight" will know it. That parent might have been me when the other parent was trying to give a bottle to a 6 month old because that's what I wanted.  Not my best parenting moment! )

Week 4-12

By these weeks parents are super tired, and are also getting used to the fact that life has changed and have given up on it "returning to normal".  (If you're not feeling like this, bravo!  Don't tell anyone!)

These are the weeks when we get to teach ourselves, as parents.  Our aim in these weeks is to remember that baby is developing daily, and it is our goal, as their parents, to start to be aware of what they are developmentally ready for.  Babies will not tell us when they are ready to sleep, we have to teach them.  Having a nap and sleep schedule which is developmentally appropriate and reasonable and slowly easing baby into it is best for parents and baby.  No one wants to wake up at 15 weeks or 5 months and say "Why aren't they sleeping?!?" This can be avoided.

This is the secret.  

In the first few weeks? Practice letting go. 

You will take care of this baby.  You love them.  Let go of doing it right.  Love them  Feed them when they're hungry.  Let them sleep wherever they like. 

Take care of yourself and if there is another parent, make sure that both parents take turns in the tiring job of being life support for your baby. If you don't take care of yourself you cannot do your best for your baby, because no matter what you do, you will be tired. Let go and enjoy these weeks.

This is the sweet spot.

Yes, when you're pregnant.  The earlier that you understand and teach yourself about infant sleep the better off you and your entire family will be. 

Practice letting go. 

Your goal in the first few weeks of your baby's life? Let go.  If you let go in the first few weeks you may have the energy to start working on teaching your baby the first of many lessons that you will help them learn-sleep.

The early weeks?  Let go.  Enjoy. Sniff the top of their head. Don't go tripping into the future.

The four tools: 

Love, Consistency, Boundaries. Honesty.

They are not a secret.  Pick up any book on parenting, from sleep to toddlers to teens and these tools are there. 

Like all tools in a tool box, learning how to use them, how to use them together to you use the mallet to smash down the wall, then what? We sort of smash down our pre-baby life, how do we use our skills to live the full and sleep filled life that we want?!

If you miss the sweet spot, it's cool, there are always more opportunities.  That baby isn't going anywhere for long time.  They've got a lot to learn, and a lot of time to do it in.