How To Get Your Newborn On A Sleep Schedule

cute newborn baby in diaperCongratulations! Your newborn has arrived and you’ve been getting to know each other for a few days or weeks now. You love the way he feels and smells. In fact, everything about him is adorable. But everything might also seem a bit scary. Especially how to get your newborn on a sleep schedule. (And whether he even needs one!)

Common concerns newborn moms have include whether swaddling is necessary, how to prevent SIDS, symptoms of colic, if it’s ok for baby to sleep on their chest and what the heck is “the witching hour?”

The questions are endless, because everything is new! Don’t worry, mama. I got you covered.

The truth is that your newborn won’t have consistent sleep patterns like older babies. He’s not developmentally ready for that just yet. But there’s plenty you can do to help baby sleep well.

This article will give you all the essential tips & tricks to get your newborn baby sleeping well, day and night.

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Newborn sleep schedule – What to expectsmall dotted linesx

For newborns, sleep is pretty unpredictable. That’s the unfortunate truth. Your newborn’s body clock hasn’t developed, so he doesn’t understand the difference between day and night yet. It’s also normal for some of his sleeps to be long, and others really short.

In a time filled with such uncertainty, one thing’s for sure. Starting your newborn on a loose schedule (or routine) will help this phase go so much easier for you.

Routines give parents peace of mind. Let me explain- once your baby is on a fairly consistent daily routine you’ll know how to decipher his cries. If he recently ate but is fussy, he must be tired or gassy. If he recently slept, you’ll know he’s hungry, etc…

The best way to help your newborn fall into a predictable sleep schedule (as soon as he’s developmentally ready) is to follow the tips from this article.

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Newborn sleep tipssmall dotted lines

Newborns can’t handle being awake for long periods of time. The world is full of new sounds, lights and stimulation, and your baby’s brain needs to “shut down” often during the day. Otherwise, baby runs the risk of getting overstimulated, which can make him fussy and hard to settle. He can only handle the world in “small doses” at this point.

Your newborn will want to sleep every 30 – 90 minutes, day and night. It’s perfectly normal for your baby to stay awake only long enough to feed, change a diaper and play a few minutes. Allow your baby to rest as often as he wants.

If your newborn gets fussy and the usual tactics aren’t working (like feeding, changing him and soothing) try taking him to a dark room to settle. Turn on your white noise machine and bounce or walk him around the room. Babies often need us to help them “shut down” and go to sleep. They can’t always do it on their own.

Also, when you find yourself with a wide awake baby in the night, try not to freak out. Remind yourself that he’ll sleep again in the next 30 – 90 minutes (and so will you.)

Short and unpredictable naps are common in the newborn phase. Consider yourself warned! 😉 It’s perfectly normal for your baby to take a 20 minute nap and then a 2 hour nap.

Let your newborn nap in the stroller, sling, swing, or your arms if it helps her nap well. As long as you supervise these naps, it’s fine.

Also try to have your newborn nap in her crib or bassinet at least once each day, to get her used to it. (You can try more often if you want, too.) But if you find that your baby rejects napping anywhere other than your arms during these first few weeks, that’s fine. You don’t need to stress about forming negative long-term sleep habits at this point. Just do whatever works.

Remember, the most important thing is to let your baby sleep often. When she starts to get fussy it’s probably because she’s hungry or tired. Change her diaper, give her a feed, and put her down for a nap. (Then feed yourself and rest!)

I recommend you wake your newborn and feed her once a nap has reached 2 hours. This will help set her body clock as she grows. You’re slowly showing her body that daytime is for eating, being awake and sleeping periodically. And nighttime is for sleeping. (More details on “day/night confusion” below.)

Your newborn will want to feed every 2-4 hours, day and night. In these first few weeks, your baby’s nutrition should take priority over his sleep (and everything else.) What’s most important is making sure your baby is eating well (and breastfeeding is getting established, if applicable.)

The best way to determine if your baby is eating enough is if he seems happy between feeds, has at least 6-8 wet diapers everyday and is gaining weight as expected

Don’t allow more than 3 hours between feedings during the day. Wake your newborn from a nap to feed him. If he’s difficult to wake try undressing him, tickling his feet, and talking to him.

You don’t want baby having a 5 hour stretch between feeds during the day. You want this to happen at night!

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This awesome FREE guide covers everything you need to know about breastfeeding: The benefits, best positions, breastfeeding diet & common breastfeeding problems. 

Your baby doesn’t yet understand the difference between day and night. This means you’ll find yourself  “hanging out” with your little cutie at 3 am. It’s par for the course.

There really isn’t a set number of night feedings that we can work toward just yet. Remember, your baby should feed every 2-4 hours around the clock. You can ask your pediatrician if you need to wake baby at night to feed or if it’s ok for baby to determine night feeds. 

Newborn babies typically sleep 14 – 18 hours each day. This sounds like so much! “Why am I so tired, then?” you might be thinking. 😉

Well, although your newborn sleeps more than half of each day, her sleep will be broken. Which means your sleep will be broken, too. And that’s why you feel so exhausted. (It’s 100% normal.)

You don’t have to keep track of your newborn’s sleep patterns. I only recommend this if you’re concerned about something. The Glow Baby App is a favorite among parents for tracking sleep, feeds and lots more!

Bedtime for newborns is naturally late, usually falling between 10pm – midnight.

Remember, your baby doesn’t yet know the difference between night and day. We’re going to start gently teaching his body that nighttime is for sleeping and daytime is for being awake, playing, eating and napping (using the tips below.)

The first “nighttime” you want to establish for your baby should fall between midnight – 5 am.

This means you want to treat all wakings between 12 – 5 am as “night wakings” to encourage your baby to fall back asleep. Keep the room dark with minimal stimulation. When your baby wakes- change his diaper, put his sleep sack back on and feed him in the dark. Then cross your fingers and hope he falls back asleep!

Once your newborn has consolidated his first “nighttime” between midnight – 5 am, he’ll start adding hours as he grows each month. He’ll add hours in the evening and early morning, and before you know it he’ll be sleeping longer at night.

Click below to download my newborn baby sleep guide!

newborn baby sleep guide

Does your baby only want to sleep on your chest? Here’s what to do!

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How To Avoid Day/Night Confusionsmall dotted lines

Your newborn’s circadian rhythm starts developing during the first three months of life. This is your baby’s “body clock” and it’s what causes her to sleep more at night and less during the day.

Much of this development is pre-programmed, but there are certainly things you can do now to help your baby establish healthy night sleep patterns. You can start the following tips as soon as your baby is born!

  • Keep the lights on & curtains open.
  • Allow normal household noises.
  • Take your baby out for errands, stroll, and play dates. Include her in your daily routine.
  • Keep baby awake during feeds to encourage her to take big feeds.
  • Dim the lights & close the curtains when napping. Baby doesn’t need silence and complete darkness, though. Just reduced stimuli.
  • For naps on-the-go (stroller, baby carrier) you may need to reduce noise and natural light. But it depends on your baby.. Some little ones can nap in a noisy restaurant just fine!
  • Wake baby after a 2 hour nap and feed her. Try to keep her awake at least 30-60 minutes until her next nap. (This may not be possible for your newborn, but by 2 months old you want to start working on it.)
  • During night wakings, keep the room as dark as possible. Keep overhead lights & bright lamps off. Use your phone’s flashlight for diaper changes.
  • Speak or sing softly to your baby during the night. Aim for minimal stimulation.
  • When baby wakes, first change her diaper. Then put her sleep sack back on. Finally, feed her in the dark so she can easily fall back to sleep.

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Is this normal newborn fussiness or colic or the “witching hour?” small dotted lines

Many newborns go through a period of increased fussiness. This often happens around the same time each day (usually evening.) This fussiness can start at 2-3 weeks old and peak around 6 weeks. It’s also called the “Witching Hour.”

Sometimes it’s caused by a growth spurt. Your baby fusses because he’s hungry and wants to feed often. Other times it’s caused by cognitive development. Your baby is becoming more aware of his world and taking in more. But, by the end of the day he’s overwhelmed and overstimulated and can’t help but have a meltdown. His neurological system is still immature and it’s difficult for him to process so much stimuli from his new world.

Colic is different than normal newborn fussiness. Colic is often diagnosed by the “rule of three.” Your baby cries for at least: 3 hours each day, 3 days per week, for 3 weeks. (Pass the wine, please!)

It’s important to rule out other causes of discomfort or crying in your newborn, so speak to your pediatrician if you’re concerned.

What’s causing my newborn’s fussiness?small dotted lines

“Witching Hour”

 Baby is fussy only at certain times of the day, otherwise she’s fine.

What to do:

⇒ Cluster feeding, baby wearing, skin-to-skin, strolling, quiet & dark room, try the 5 S’s.

How long?

⇒ Typically lasts a few days/weeks.

Schedule Issue

⇒ Baby is fussy all day. Grizzly, grumpy, cries throughout the day.

What to do:

⇒ Follow awake times & make sure baby sleeps every 30-90 mins.

How long?

⇒ Typically resolves immediately.

Colic

⇒ Baby cries at least 3 hours per day, 3 times per week, for 3 weeks.

What to do:

⇒ Cluster feeding, skin-to-skin, tummy compress, white noise, 5 S’s, sling, massage, warm bath.

How long?

⇒ Typically resolves around 3-4 months.

Download my Newborn Fussiness Guides below!

witching hour vs colic vs fussy newborn infographic
newborn colic fussiness chart pin

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Ergobaby Carrier 360

CuddleBug Baby Wrap

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DadWare Bonding T-Shirt

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Can I prevent SIDS?
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SIDS is the unexplained death of a seemingly healthy baby while sleeping.

It’s one of the biggest fears of every parent. (It definitely kept me awake and worried many nights when my daughter was a newborn.)

The good news is that you can reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS by more than 50% when you follow a few basic guidelines. First, make sure your baby’s sleep space is safe (this article tells you how.) Then, make sure your baby uses safe sleeping positions (explained more here.)

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Should I swaddle my baby for sleep?
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Your baby just entered the world from a tight and cosy space- the womb! Some babies have difficulty settling easily and sleeping well without tight boundaries. You want to ease your baby’s transition from the womb by making her sleep space cosy and comfortable.

Swaddling does this remarkably well. My years working as a NICU nurse taught me that the majority of newborns loved swaddling for sleep.

This is because the startle reflex wakes babies. But a cosy swaddle dampens your baby’s startle reflex, preventing it from waking him. So yes, I recommend you swaddle your newborn for naps and night sleep.

I also recommend you use a swaddle blanket that has velcro or snaps. Babies can wriggle out of swaddles made from a loose blanket, becoming a safety risk. (See my favorite swaddle blankets below.)

If you’re worried that swaddling could interfere with your baby’s hip development, make sure that your baby’s swaddle blanket allows the legs to bend up and out at the hips. This position allows for natural development of the hip joints. Don’t swaddle baby’s legs straight down together. 

Your baby can be swaddled for sleep for several months, which is exactly how long his startle reflex is present. If you’ve tried swaddling your newborn and he didn’t seem to like it, try a tight and cosy sleep sack instead. It keeps baby feeling snug but isn’t as restrictive as a swaddle blanket.

Popular Swaddle Blankets

Miracle Blanket

SwaddleMe Original 

Halo Swaddle (*Hip Friendly)

Love To Dream “Swaddle Up” (*Hip Friendly)

Woombie Grow with Me (*Hip-Friendly)

Nested Bean Zen (*Hip-Friendly)

Related: When to stop swaddling

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Your newborn’s sleep schedule
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Although it’s too early to begin formal sleep training, this article gives lots of tips for creating healthy sleep habits for your newborn. Following these tips will help your newborn (and you) sleep better.

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Are you struggling with your newborn’s sleep?
Tell me about it in the comments or Join my Facebook Live Q+A every Tuesday where I give out personalized sleep tips.

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This awesome FREE guide covers everything you need to know about breastfeeding: The benefits, best positions, breastfeeding diet & common breastfeeding problems.