One of the ultimate mom goals when you bring home your new baby is to get them to sleep through the night. By the first night home from the hospital, that goal seems nearly impossible to reach.
Your baby will probably be awake most of the night to eat, crying for any unexplained reason, and you’re a tired, hot mess not knowing how you’re going to make it to week 2 alive. Trust me, it does get better, but establishing a good daily routine will quicken the process.
Getting your baby to sleep well (both at night and during the day) is so important for a new mom’s self-care. When we are rested, we feel good and are able to tackle all the new obstacles that are presented at us with having a new baby. Starting your baby off early in life with a good daily routine will bring you both years of well-rested nights .
The first few weeks are just about getting through each day alive. You’ll learn your baby’s cries, needs, likes, and dislikes. You’ll get to snuggle, kiss, and hold them all you want. However, once your baby is around 6 weeks old, you’ll really want to get them started on a schedule or routine.
Even though you may not think one has to do with the other, a consistent daily routine will help an infant become a better night sleeper. You want their days to become predictable for both you and them. They need the consistency to learn when and how they’ll be fed, held, and soothed.
Here are my essential tips for getting your baby on a good day & night schedule and being on your way to better sleep for good. I followed these rules and my daughter was taking 2-3 hour naps in her crib 3 times a day until she was about 9 months and 2 times a day until 14 months! That was a blessing!
1. Feed, Wake, Sleep Schedule
The best tip that you will hear over and over is to adopt a feed, wake, sleep schedule. This routine is the BabyWise approach. The basic premise is to not let your baby fall asleep while eating.
Newborns and infants typically get lulled to sleep from nursing or a bottle and feedings make them very tired. However, we want to help them fall asleep from an awake state and not from a feeding.
The reasoning is that if your baby has awake time before they fall asleep, they will soon be able to put themselves to sleep on their own. If you let them fall asleep while eating, they will always rely on you or milk to put themselves back to sleep. Whether they wake up in the middle of the night or when you put them down for a nap or bedtime, the goal is that they can fall asleep independently.
How to implement this routine:
From the early days, you can begin waking up your baby if they have fallen asleep during a feeding. The feeding will usually put them right to sleep, so just nudge them a little until they wake up.
At that point, continue their feeding or keep them awake for a few more minutes before they start to doze off again for their next nap. Even 1-5 minutes is sufficient in the first couple weeks and you can work up from there.
Once your baby is about 4-6 weeks old, they should start being able to stay awake longer after a feeding and before napping. At this point, they should be able to go about 20-30 minutes of wake time.
You can use this time to play with and stimulate them to keep them awake. Here is a whole list of ideas on ways to play with your newborn if you’re having trouble thinking of things to do. Don’t think your newborn has to actually ‘play’ this whole time. They’re young and play time for them could just be keeping their eyes open long enough to stare at your face.
After their awake time (20-60 min depending on age), you should attempt to put them down for a nap EVERY cycle except for the last. So if your baby has 7 feedings, they should have 5 naps. Down to 6 feedings around 3 months? 4 naps. If your baby only sleeps 10-15 minutes or doesn’t sleep at all, it’s ok! You’re still helping to establish a healthy nap cycle.
I highly recommend the BabyWise book for tips, strategies, and the science behind why this strategy works so well. I downloaded it on Amazon’s Audible and just listened to it on my commute to work which made ‘reading’ all those parenting books much easier! There’s a free trial that gets you 2 free Audio books– well worth it to sign up and you can cancel it after that.
Also, on the BabyWise website, they have free sample schedules week-by-week that are super easy to follow. Definitely try them out to help establish a routine.
2. Put them down drowsy, not asleep
When you’re ready to put them down for a nap (from 15-60 minutes after the end of a feeding, depending on age), make sure they aren’t sleeping before you put them down.
If your baby has fallen asleep in your arms, you don’t want to gently put them down in the crib without waking because that doesn’t teach them how to fall asleep on their own. Just give them a little nudge to wake them up before putting them down.
You don’t want them to be wide awake because in most cases that won’t work for your baby. If they need a little help getting drowsy, you can rock them, shush them, walk with them, swaddle them, or give a pacifier. All 5 of these strategies work for me!
You’ll notice soon that their eyes will start to get very heavy and they’ll begin dozing off. BEFORE they completely fall asleep is when you should set them down in the crib. They may fuss a little bit, but this will ensure that they can fall asleep on their own.
Once you place them down awake, if they start to get really crazy irritable, pick them up and repeat the process of soothing and again put them down awake. It may take several tries before they get used to it, but remain consistent and they will pick up the habit.
The steps I followed consistently were: Swaddle, put the pacifier in, sound machine on, rock in my arms while walking around the room for a couple minutes, then put him down drowsy once his eyes got heavy.
3. Put them in the crib for all sleeps
Your newborn will feel the most safe and comfortable in a cozy inclined device, like a swing, rock n play, mamaroo, or bouncer. After all, they just spent the last 9 months curled up in a warm, safe place, surrounded by fluid. The first couple weeks you can let them nap in your arms and these devices until they are used to being in the outside world.
The hardest thing for a newborn is to sleep flat on his back in a bassinet with no blankets, cushion, or even a slight incline. However, even though it may seem like a challenge to put them down on their back, it will be worth it in the long run.
Trust me, I’m guilty of having my baby sleep in a Rock n’ Play overnight for my own sanity, but I had to get him out of this habit early on. Around the 8 week mark was when I started putting my infant down in his crib for EVERY nap.
If I saw him starting to doze off in the swing, I’d scoop him up and get him to the crib. I would follow the same routine I outlined above about 4 or 5 times a day.
This is just helpful to start establishing that routine early because you want them to eventually sleep in the crib. If you just let your baby take naps in your arms all day, they aren’t learning how to fall asleep on their own and in the proper environment. When they’re 9 months old, you don’t want the only place they nap to be in your arms!
You should be at least attempting to put your baby down for a nap when they’re a newborn (through 4 months) between every feeding cycle. This will get you and the baby into a routine and he will know his consistent eat, play, sleep schedule.
4. Understand your baby’s cues
Your baby may or may not show signs of being tired or hungry at different times of day. It may take you a few weeks to figure them out, but you will eventually understand what your baby is trying to tell you. My baby’s hunger cry is more of a scream, whereas his tired cry is just being fussy and irritable.
For example, since I follow the feed, wake, sleep schedule, I know if my baby is getting fussy only 30-60 minutes after his last feeding, he is probably just tired. Before I really understood this cue, I would just try to feed him every time he fussed.
5. Assist your baby in these habits
Your baby may not always show cues. My first baby never really told me she was hungry and would probably go 10 hours without eating if I didn’t feed her on a 2.5-3 hour schedule. It goes the same for sleeping.
You may be thinking, my baby does not like to nap. Is that because you never see them yawn or when they get fussy, you feed them and they will always just eat because that also soothes them? You may have to help them get tired for a nap just as you do with bed time.
My son doesn’t always fall asleep on his own wherever he is (being held or in a swing). So when I see him start to get irritable, I know he’s actually just tired. I swaddle him up and rock him. That’s when he’ll start to fade into the heavy eye drowsiness.
Some time after your baby’s feeding (30-90 min), start the same routine you would do at night. Whether it be to swaddle, use the sound machine, rocking, etc. It should get them drowsy enough to take a nap. Even if they aren’t showing their tired cue, still put them down for a nap based on this timing.
If you’re consistent about putting them down for naps at these times, whether they’re showing signs or not, you will be creating a good habit for them.
6. Use positive sleep associations
At first, it wasn’t easy to get my baby to fall asleep in the crib by himself. Along with being determined and consistent, I enlisted the help of several positive sleep aids or associations, as well.
There are positive sleep associations and negative ones. Positive ones are those that the baby associates with sleep, but they don’t need your help in order to use. These could be sound machines, swaddles/sleep sacks, chewing their hands, holding a lovey, rocking themselves, or banging their feet. Although you need to be the one to put their swaddle or sound machine on, this is just done one time so not considered a negative association. They help them get a peaceful night’s sleep, but are not dependent on you for them.
Negative associations are those that are reliant upon you to carry out for sleep. You want to avoid the negative associations as much as possible. These include rocking them to sleep, nursing or feeding, driving them in a car, holding their hand, or bouncing them up and down. You can do some of these to get them drowsy, but not to complete sleep.
Here are some of my favorite sleep aids and others that have worked too. Some things that work for my baby may not work for yours. That’s why it may be helpful to try out different products to see what works best for your specific situation.
Favorite sleep aids
Both my babies calm down from shushing close to their ear (a sound machine or Baby Shusher helps with this). If your baby is also particularly fond of the shushing sound, the Baby Shusher will really help you out. It makes the exact shhhhh sound so you don’t have to!
I love my Dohm sound machine for white noise that I leave on through the whole night and all naps to provide background noise when it’s too quiet. Sometimes silence can make it difficult for them to fall asleep.
I’ve also noticed that my humidifier makes a very similar white noise sound so since I always keep that on in my baby’s room, it provides white noise. However, I purchased another humidifier to use for my other child’s room hoping it would provide the same white noise, but it didn’t. They are making non-noisy humidifiers now which defeats the purpose of that for me!
For newborns up until they start rolling, these SwaddleMe swaddles are my favorite! The velcro and tightness is what made my daughter sleep so well for the first few months of her life. They wrap them up so tightly so they can’t break free like traditional blanket swaddles. It makes them feel like they’re being hugged all night long.
However, with my son, he originally did not like the swaddle. He would struggle to pull his arms out which would make it a hard time for him to fall asleep. I switched to a Swaddle Up technique which worked great for those first couple weeks.
The Swaddle Up allows their arms to be up by their heads and not tied down to their sides. Some babies may take to this approach better than a traditional swaddle.
Once they start rolling over around 3-4 months, they aren’t safe to be swaddled with their arms tied down or up anymore. At this point, you should move to the Nested Bean Zen Sleep Sack.
This sleep sack still gives them the tightness around their body of being hugged, but their arms are free. By this point their startle reflex should be gone, so you shouldn’t have to worry about them waking themselves up from flailing. It also keeps them warm since they can’t use blankets.
Both of my kids took pacifiers which was a lifesaver to soothe them. The Mam Pacifiers are the perfect shape and both of my kids loved them.
You also may want to try black out curtains, in case your baby is sensitive to any light coming in from the street or even when it starts to get light out. Dusk to dawn night lights are what we use in our room and the nursery to keep a little light in there for the babies so it’s not pitch black.
Babies are much trial and error. What worked for me, may not work for you, but it’s good to know your options!
Starting your routine
If you follow the above steps consistently, the routine will just fall into place. They will eat, play for a bit, take a nap, and repeat. Providing your baby with a stable schedule will be easier for both you and them. They’ll know what to expect when and you will be able to plan out your days much more efficiently.
Since I implemented all these strategies, my daughter was taking 2-3 hour naps twice a day until past 1 year. Get your baby on a schedule and you will have time for yourself to be that great mom you know you can be!
If your baby is a bit older and you’re ready to start sleep training, head to my post on How I Sleep Trained my 5 Month Old in 1 Day for more tips.