The First 6 Weeks - Five Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Had My Newborn
Newborn babies can be such hard work. I remember before having my first I thought I would be so easy breezy - I'd just sleep when the baby slept!
Unfortunately the baby didn't sleep!
Newborns are neurologically really immature.
This means their sleep can be really disorganised and sometimes it's hard to know whether you're coming or going and how on earth you're going to get through those first few months.
Prior to your first baby you'll be told lots of things about how to prepare, and often they'll be quite contradictory. The narrative we're given prior to having a baby often doesn't reflect the reality of newborn life and so I wanted to share my top tips for helping your newborn to sleep.
Often initially your newborn will sleep wherever, whenever! Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking we have this amazing dream newborn in the first couple of weeks because of this. However, this is usually due to the maternal melatonin your baby gets from you - it makes a lot of them super sleepy and so portable first the first couple of weeks! Sadly this tends to wear off around week three and you'll notice your newborn 'wakes up', and this can come as a real surprise! Ensuring your sleep environment changes to support their sleep here is really important!
Make sure baby is in a firm arms down swaddle - the Moro reflex is really strong at this age, and babies also lack the control needed to soothe with their hands, so they'll often upset themselves. A firm arms down swaddle like a miracle blanket helps mimic is snugness of the womb and is super comforting.
Darkness - Darkness is magic! You've probably heard the old 'sleep your baby in the light to teach them day from night' but this can cause more harm than good. As long as your baby is in the light during their awake time and having feeds, and you're not letting them nap excessive lengths of time during the day (try waking after two hours if they're napping well), using a dark room for sleep is a really good thing because melatonin, the sleep hormone, is far more readily produced in darkness.
White Noise - again this mimics the environment of the womb. You want a constant stable sound, like white noise or heavy rain, and aiming for the volume of about a shower faucet. White noise needs to play for the entire duration of the nap to be effective.
At this age the best approach you can go for is a hands on one. We wouldn't recommend using any more traditional ‘check in’ style approaches just yet - remember your baby is super new and genuinely probably needs your help to fall asleep. I would suggest trying to shush and pat your baby, starting in your arms and then moving to their crib, for 30mins and if they're not asleep in that time use a backup method like rocking, feeding, holding to get them to sleep. There's nothing worse than an overtired newborn on your hands! There is nothing wrong with using a backup method if you're worn out - promise you won't make 'bad habits' just yet! Just remember to ensure baby sleeps in a safe environment.
Establishing a good feed pattern takes time, so be super kind to yourself here. Whether you're breast or bottle feeding, ensuring your newborn has a full tummy will help you in feeling confident that they can sleep well. We want to establish feeds and see baby growing well before we consider implementing any kind of schedule, so if you’re worried baby is hungry, try two feeds in an awake time. This way you’ll feel confident they’ve had enough to have a good rest.
Age appropriate awake time vs routine
How to establish a routine is something we get asked all the time, and for the first few weeks its often not really achievable. A better option to begin with is aiming for an age appropriate awake time for your baby. This will help you to have some idea of when baby will need to next sleep, without the pressure of trying to adhere to a routine with a newborn. As you get closer to three months of age, encouraging baby to sleep at regular periods during the day becomes a lot easier, but for now, keep an eye on their tired signs and aim for age appropriate awake time between naps instead.
Don’t compare, and don’t panic!
This is probably the most valuable advice I can give you. Sometimes, especially if you get a really tricky newborn with reflux of colic, it can be really easy to feel like you’ll never get out of those hard times, especially if you know of other people whose babies are sleeping well. Everyone will have their own challenges with their babies, and I can assure you at this age there’s not much you can do that can’t be sorted out down the track. Talk to people lots, and get help from wherever you can – there is absolutely no shame in letting others help you – most people who’ve had a newborn know just how difficult it can be.
We’re here to support you if you feel like you need some guidance, so if you’re starting to feel like your grasp on things isn’t where you’d like it to be, reach out to us any time and we’ll help you get through.
Infant and child sleep consultant