ARTICLE by Guest Blogger

Newborn Sleep Tips For A Restful Night

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B_for_Blog | Natural Baby Shower

In this blog, hear from expert, author and founder of Sleep Well With Hannah, Hannah Love, on her top sleep tips for newborns to help both you and little one get a peaceful and worry-free night's rest.

In the first few weeks most parents do what they can to get by. This includes feeding to sleep, contact naps, baby sleeping on you after feeds and lots and lots of cuddles. I am not saying this is wrong or you should deprive yourself of those lovely cuddles, but there are things you can do, alongside the cuddles, to prepare baby for good, safe, independent sleep moving forward.

The fourth trimester is a time when babies transition to our world. Everything is new to them, and this can absolutely mean teaching them sleep habits that suit you as a family. If you want a baby that can sleep in a pram while you eat lunch, settles well in their cot, is adaptable and can settle easily for anyone then this is the easiest time to make those sleep habits possible, and normal for your baby. 

The beauty of starting early is you can avoid the need for sleep training later. It also means you have fewer sleepless nights overall (it’s almost impossible to avoid them completely) and you can enjoy your maternity leave and your newborn baby, rather than muddling through as a sleep deprived mess.

Newborn Sleep

Babies’ sleep varies massively at the newborn stage, some parents have a very sleepy baby that seems to sleep all the time, needing to be woken for feeds. Some newborn babies ‘never sleep’ and need cuddling, rocking, helping throughout the day. Like adults, babies have different personalities - you certainly have some babies that are extremely laid back but you also have some that need constant help. Both of these are ‘normal’. But that doesn’t mean if you have a baby who fights sleep and is generally more unsettled that you can’t help them learn to sleep well. I have helped many, many families who are struggling with sleep from the newborn stage sleep well. It is these babies that often need a little support to find their sleep ‘happy place’.

The one thing that doesn’t vary is your baby’s ability to learn to sleep independently. Often parents are told that sleep is developmental and newborn babies can’t learn to sleep well. This is one of the biggest sleep myths. Any baby can learn to sleep on their own, to go to sleep independently. This isn’t about ‘sleep training’ a newborn. It's about starting habits that suit your family. Often parents fall into cuddling tummy to tummy, or feeding to sleep. This isn’t because baby naturally needs those things, it's just how you hold them, how you are consistent with settling them to sleep. Avoid these and opt for baby settling on their back, without feeding and they will learn this too. I’ve helped thousands of families aim for good sleep from the very beginning.

What can you do to help your newborn sleep well?

1. Practice baby sleeping on their back 

When parents contact me to change their babies’ sleep habits, they are often cuddling baby to sleep in an upright position, tummy to tummy. Unfortunately, this is not conducive to baby being able to be put down in their cot as it is unsafe for babies to sleep on their tummies. If you want your little one to be able to sleep in their cot then they must practice settling on their back to go to sleep.

This doesn’t mean not having newborn cuddles - you can cuddle your baby in the crook of your arm, or on their back, or on their back on your chest. Alternatively practice cot sleeping for some naps and have cuddles for the other naps, babies sleep so much at this age you can absolutely do both.

Practice them sleeping in this position and they will be much more likely to be able to stay asleep on their back in their sleep space when you need, or want, them to. Cuddle them tummy to tummy in an upright position and baby will find it incredibly hard to stay asleep on their back in their cot.

2. ‘Relaxed parent, relaxed baby’ 

I know this is easier said than done, especially if your baby is very unsettled and crying, but babies are so very good at picking up on body language. If you’ve ever been in a room when an older, more experienced relative has taken a restless baby who immediately settled, then you’ll know what I mean. It is simply because they’re more relaxed and confident with the baby. As a first-time parent, it’s very common be anxious around an unsettled or crying baby. Pacing up and down, breathing fast and swapping and changing what you are doing will almost certainly be picked up on by the baby, and make it much harder for them to settle, let alone sleep.

The saying ‘relaxed parent, relaxed baby’ is absolutely true, and can even be pretended at first. If you are feeling anxious, you can take some steps to appear calm to your baby:

  • Take deep, slow breaths, this will relax your autonomic nervous system and make you feel more relaxed
  • Walk slowly, your body language will then seem relaxed to your little one
  • Also pat or rock slowly. Often parents are fast patting, or vigorously rocking but this will make them, and their baby less relaxed
  • Choose one thing and stick to it, be consistent with your help for your baby (more to come on this)
  • If you shush or talk do this in a very slow and low voice, even if it seems unnatural this will help
  • Take a step back and release the ‘need’ for your baby to sleep. The more you ‘need’ baby to sleep the less likely they will be able to sleep.

3. Don’t feel you need to do more to help

This might be the hardest of them all.  As a parent you feel you need to do as much as you can to help your baby. I’ve been there! Your baby is crying and you keep trying new things to help them stop. One thing doesn’t work, so you try another. That doesn’t work so you try something else. But this has the opposite effect – the inconsistency and swapping and changing just makes things worse. Babies love consistency and predictability; they take great comfort from both of those things.

When working with families that are struggling and have fallen into the ‘try everything’ approach I always advise stepping back. Do less. Choose one technique to sooth them, whether bouncing them in a baby chair or sitting on the sofa with baby in crook of your arm this one thing will become familiar if you are consistent with it.

4. Separate feeding and sleep

Whether you choose to bottle or breastfeed your baby, it should be the first thing you focus on in the initial days. Weight naturally drops in the first week - that is normal, but your baby should be back up to their birth weight by 7-10 days. For this reason, it is vital that you focus on feeding for those first few days.

Once feeding is established then aiming for a more predictable day, so you have times when you can practice baby settling without feeding is important. If baby always feeds to sleep, as well as back to sleep, then they won't be able to learn to settle to sleep without feeding. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this scenario but if you want your baby to be able to settle well for anyone, anywhere then you need to practice settling without feeding as a starting point.

In order to do this it’s important to know when baby is hungry, versus when they are tired. This is when the more predictable day comes in. Feeding ‘on demand’ is usually taken as ‘feeding every time baby cries’ but it’s important to learn the different signals. Babies cry for many, many reasons and only one of those is hunger. If you want your little one to settle in their cot then settling them to sleep, rather than feeding them, when they are tired is crucial. This can be started from the newborn stage so it becomes normal for baby. 

5. Distinguish between day and night

In newborn babies night time sleep should be about 8 hours so choose your 8 hours and treat day and night times differently.  This can be as simple as waking baby up after their day time feeds with a nappy change but letting them sleep after their night time feeds.

I usually advise baby’s bed time to be the same as yours in the first few days/weeks. This is because the first stretch of the night is typically their best stretch, so you want to take advantage of this stretch of sleep.

Often parents are aiming for the 7-7 routine which doesn’t work in newborn babies. This results in baby doing their only decent stretch of sleep while you are awake in the evening and then getting increasingly unsettled as the night goes on and finally ‘waking for the day’ at 3 or 4am. This is exhausting for the whole family.

I know losing your evenings can be tricky but I promise you your days will be much more manageable if you can get a good stretch of sleep overnight when your baby is sleeping well. The best way to manage this is to go to sleep when your baby does, for the first few weeks anyway.

I really hope that these tips help you plan for some good sleep with your new arrival. Remember this isn’t about not being able to cuddle, comfort and respond to your baby. You can absolutely be a gentle and responsive parent and have a baby that sleeps well. I want you to be able to enjoy those first few weeks with your little one without simply muddling through exhausted and sleep deprived.

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 About Hannah

Hannah Love is a sleep and parenting expert and number 1 best-selling author. Since qualifying as a Paediatric Nurse, Maternity Nurse and Nutritional Therapist 25 years ago she has been showing families that parenting doesn’t need to be exhausting. More importantly, juggling work, life and a baby can be a pleasure. You can be a gentle parent, have a baby who sleeps well and who fits into your lifestyle - whatever that means to you. Through her C.A.L.M approach, (Consistent, Achievable, Loving, Manageable) she helps parents in all areas of parenting, including her favourite subject - sleep. 

If you’ve got a little one on the way you can access Hannah's free New Parent workshop where she'll help you prepare for those crucial first few weeks, before your little one arrives:

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