In the Words of Dr. Harvey Karp “Your babies nine months – or three trimesters – inside you is a time of unbelievable complex development. Never less, it takes a baby an additional three months to “wake up” and become active partners in the relationship. This time between birth and the end of your baby’s third month is what I call your baby’s fourth trimester.”
Congrats mama on your new baby and welcome to the 4th trimester! It has always been so amazing to me how in a matter of minutes a new person is welcomed into the world. That moment when you see their face for the first time really tops the cake for experiences you will go through in your lifetime. The newborn smell… ahhhh, nothing better! I am excited to welcome you into the world of motherhood as a first-time mama or a mama of more!
The first few months after baby arrives can be a beautiful but exhausting time. I can’t stress enough about how you got this!! It gets better and so try to enjoy this time where there are lots of sweet cuddles and let your body recover. As a sleep consultant and from a mother’s perspective I love looking at newborn sleep as a 4th trimester chunk of time. It is important to understand that for the last 9 months all your baby has known as a safe place is you! As parents, it is our job to gently introduce them to their new life outside of the womb. I want to talk to you about newborn sleep and some tricks and tips that can help you and your baby get the most amount of rest during this tiring time.
What Does Newborn Sleep Look Like?
Newborn sleep is erratic and often doesn’t show any sort of pattern until around the 4-month mark. This is when babies go through a major sleep maturation process known as the 4 month sleep regression. Prior to this event your baby’s sleep cycles mimic how it was in the womb which may mean sleep all day and awake more at night! Your baby will begin working on day/night differentiation around 12-15 weeks but before that sleep will be quite unorganized. When in the womb your baby also had constant touch and motion that helped them drift off to sleep easily and much of this comes to an end when they arrive earth side so keep in mind that they may need these cues to help them drift off during the day and night during these early months.
As the weeks go by your baby will begin staying awake for longer periods of time. The first month they may wake to feed and then fall right back to sleep during or after the feed and this is normal. During month 2 you may notice your baby staying awake for 30-60 minutes between sleep periods and by month 3 this might go up to 1.5 hours between sleep periods. These longer awake periods mean that your baby will need to adjust to all the new stimulation that they are not used to. Lights, sounds, smells, textures, soaps, lotions, water, etc. are just some of the new stimulants that your baby is taking in. It is a huge adjustment for them. It is very common for babies during the early months to become overstimulated and this may lead to:
- Shorter cap naps. Don’t stress out if your baby is cat napping throughout the day. We often see some long and some short naps which is perfectly fine. Once you get to the 4 month mark you can start working on more of a sleep schedule/routine.
- Extended periods of crying. One of my favorite resources on this is called PURPLE crying. It can help to put your mind at ease when your little one seems to be crying more than they were during the first month.
- Long spurts of crying between 5 p.m. and midnight.
- More frequent night wakings.
All of these sleep disruptions are perfectly normal as the body adjusts to the longer periods of wakefulness. Don’t be discouraged! Instead use the tips below to work on getting as much rest as you can.
** If you ever feel that the crying may be indicating that something is wrong then please trust those maternal instincts and reach out to your health care provider! Your instincts are there for a reason and so trust them!
How Much Sleep Does My Baby Need?
Babies need A LOT of sleep!! Much more than parents anticipate. Here is a little breakdown:
Newborn – 2 months
Total Sleep: 16-20 hours
Day Sleep: 7-9 hours
Night Sleep: 8-9 hours
Total Sleep: 14-18
Day Sleep: 5-7 hours
Night Sleep: 8-10 hours
** During these early months most babies feed every 2-3 hours! Some babies consolidate their night sleep a bit while others continue to feed often. Every baby is different, and I would not stress about this one bit until after 4 months of age!
SPOILER: Most babies after 4 months of age wake up to feed during the night ☺ It is o.k. mama as this is normal!
Newborn Sleep Tips
Newborn sleep tips revolve around helping baby feel at home! “Home” in their case refers to the wonderful world of the womb. They have spent most of their life in this location and so this is what makes them feel safe and secure. The best way to help with sleep is to use the cues they are already familiar with from being in the womb and then as they get older gradually introduce new cues as well.
- Follow the 5 S’s
The 5 S’s are based on the notion that recreating the womb for our babies allows for a gentle transition to our outside world. Dr. Karp, the doctor who came up with this concept, believes that by following these 5 S’s you can soothe a fussy baby in no time by triggering their internal “calming reflex” which helps lead to more sleep.
- Shushing – Shushing can help mimic the womb by mimicking sounds that your baby heard during their 9 months inside. By doing loud “Shhhhhhhh” or “Shhh, shhhh, shhhh, shhh” close to your babies face you are re-creating a calming sound that they are familiar with. (More on this with white noise).
- Swaddling – The womb is nice and tight and there is no busting out of it… until the end. When babies are born they do not have control over their limbs and so you may notice their arms and legs moving in jolt like movements. These are reflexes and may wake a sleeping baby. Swaddling your baby mimics that safe, comfortable feeling in the womb and it also prevents these jolty reflexes from waking them up.
- Swinging – When baby is in the womb there is constant movement. Every shift, walk, roll-over, etc. sends your baby into some motion when in the womb ☺ This movement lulls your sweet baby to sleep while they are inside of you. Using motion through a baby carrier, the swing or your arms is a great way to replicate that feeling of motion.
- For sleep put your baby in the swing and let the swing motion put your baby to sleep. It often works best to turn the swing on its highest speed as this is most similar to the womb.
- If you are trying to calm your baby in your arms do a jigglier type of motion. As you are holding them swaddled and belly to belly, begin to jiggle your arms quickly up and down. It is the fast, jolty motion that mimics the womb when you are trying to calm them. This works!!
- Side Lying – When your baby is sleeping it is always safest to put them on their backs to sleep as recommended by your family doctor and the National Sleep Foundation!! When you are trying to calm your baby during a fussy period then holding them in a side lying position, so their belly is against your belly (or heart to heart) is a great holding position to help trigger that calming reflex.
- Sucking – The sucking motion is second nature to your new baby. In the womb they were constantly sucking in amniotic fluid to help mature their digestive system (hello first black poop) and strengthen their lungs. When baby arrives using the sucking reflex via bottle, breast or pacifier is a great way to calm your baby and can also be used as a tool towards the prevention of SIDS.
** The key to the 5 S’s is combining them! One by itself may not work but by using a combination this is a very successful method to calming your baby down which will make it easier for them to fall asleep.
- Try to Prevent Overstimulation!
As you read above babies need a lot of sleep. They spend more and more time awake as they get older but during the early months it can be very beneficial to make sure they do not get overstimulated. Over stimulated babies are harder to settle and don’t sleep as well. You can help with this by only keeping them awake for short spurts between sleep periods.
Follow these suggestions for your little one:
0-1 Month – Babies here will be sleeping all of the time. Rule of thumb is to have them awake the duration of their last sleep period or up until a max of around 45 minutes (closer to 40 minutes is even better!). For example, if your baby only slept for 30 minutes then we would want them sleeping again in 30 minutes but if they had a 2 hour nap then the max we would keep them awake for is 45 minutes and so we would want them ASLEEP by the 45 minute mark.
1-2 Months – Your baby may be beginning to stay awake for slightly longer periods of time. The awake time here is duration of their last sleep period or up until a max of around 60 minutes. For example, if your baby slept for 45 minutes you would want them asleep again by 45 minutes but if they had a 2-hour nap then their new max time is 60 minutes and so we would want them ASLEEP by this time latest if we can.
2-3 Months – Every month they are becoming more alert! Awake time is duration of their last sleep period or up until a max of 80 minutes.
3-4 Months – Your little baby is becoming quite the character!! Usually between this age is when I start using more consistent awake times versus using the duration of their last sleep. The range here is usually somewhere between 1.25-1.5 hours of awake time between sleep periods although some may be slightly shorter and some slightly longer.
- Identify Your Baby’s Sleepy Cues
Using those suggest awake times above can be helpful but we should also be watching their individual cues! If you notice sleepy signals before your goal wake time (listed above) then this is a sign that your baby is ready to go to sleep earlier. This is O.K.! Remember, they need A LOT of sleep and every baby is different.
Signs to watch for include: becoming still, staring into space, getting fussy, rubbing eyes, eyes/eyebrows becoming red, or when your baby is being quiet but lets out a single whine/cry. These are all signs that it is time for your baby to be sleeping, even if it is earlier than you expected. Stimulation levels are always different which means they may need some earlier sleep times and some later ones.
- Set Up a Healthy Sleep Environment
Wherever your baby is sleeping it can help a lot to introduce some cues that make them feel safe and secure like in the womb. My favorite tricks for doing this include:
White Noise – White noise is a very similar concept to the shushing outlined above! It mimics the sounds of the womb which help your baby to relax. If we think about it from our baby’s point of view they came from a noisy environment to a place where everyone is trying to keep things quiet. Having white noise on in their sleep environment can help re-create their safe place! Don’t forget that this sound can help to block out disturbing noises from inside and outside your home!
** Use a solid sound such as static versus a fluctuating sound like waves to get the most out of your white noise!
** Use it continuously versus one that turns off on a timer.
Create a Sleep Cave! – Having your baby sleep in a darker environment for naps and nights can be beneficial to sleep because we are lowering stimulation of light. This can naturally help calm them when fussy and keep them sleeping for longer spurts.
A dark sleep space can also help with that day/night differentiation when the time comes. At night I encourage having all sleep in a dark space and try reducing as much light as possible even at wakings (we don’t want to stimulate them at night). During the day I also encourage you to have baby sleeping in a dimmer/darker environment but when they wake be sure to expose them to lots of light and stimulation so that their body can start working on a pattern of when to be asleep and when to be awake.
- Use a Soothing Ladder
This is a gentle method that you can begin implementing early in your baby’s life. It is meant to take place during the night to help your baby gain independence in falling back asleep by using a structured soothing ladder to help meet their needs. Young babies wake up frequently and that is NORMAL but sometimes it is still nice to try a couple of things and see if it works and if not then feed. It is also not recommended to use any sleep coaching before the age of 4 months and so this is kind of a beginning step IF you are wanting to try something gentle.
A soothing ladder starts with the least intrusive method of soothing up until the big guns of feeding them ☺ It looks something like this:
Every time your baby wakes you would start from the bottom and work your way up to the top. The length of time you spend on each level may vary depending on how long has passed that they have been sleeping. For example, if you know it is time for a feed I would spend a quick 5-10 seconds on each step and then feed your baby. We have all been there mamas with our arm hanging over the bassinet wiggling it trying to get them back to sleep am I right? If your baby just fed 20 minutes ago then spend more time on each step to see if something else soothes them. Don’t feel like you have to go all the way up the ladder! If your baby is calming, then stay on that step ☺ If your baby is still upset then attend to their needs. They are still new and they need you!
Your little one is going to change so fast and so this soothing latter can help you keep track of their needs and capabilities of falling asleep. Every time you implement the soothing ladder you are giving your baby an opportunity to calm with less intervention, but it is totally fine if you want to snuggle and feed your baby.
- Take Care of Yourself!!
This is the most important one! Take care of yourself and that will help you take care of your baby. You are going to feel worn out, exhausted, frustrated at times and maybe even lonely. It is a grind during that first 4 months and so here are my tips for you:
- Sleep when the baby sleeps! I know you have read this before but seriously, if you can then do it! Oh, how I wish I could go back to my first baby and just take more naps!
- Ask for help! People want to help you and so let them. If they ask what you need… tell them! They won’t judge you, I promise!
- Set up realistic expectations! Your baby needs to eat… a lot. Don’t compare your baby to other babies who are sleeping longer or “better” than your baby. They are unique, and you are giving them exactly what they need at this time.
- Eliminate stress! If this blog stresses you out, then close it and never read another sleep blog again. If cooking supper stresses you out then order in, hire a meal service, stock up on freezer meals or ask your friends/family for help. If you have people in your life who are making you feel bad about your parenting choices or situation… tell them where to go! Take care of yourself!!
- Cuddle your baby! I may be a Sleep Consultant, but I am always a mama first. Sleep can be worked on later… cuddle that baby! This helps them, and it also helps your body to recover.
- DO WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY! You know what is best for your family and so stick to your guns and trust your instincts. Our newborns are made just for us and we are made just for them.
The first months following the birth of your baby can be challenging. Each day will be different so I can’t stress enough to be confident in your parenting!! Take every day one at a time and if you have a bad day then just know tomorrow will be better. You got this! Before you know it your baby will be older, time really does fly. Remember, the most important factor in the first 4 months to get your baby lots of rest….no matter how you do it! Mommas always know best!
My name is Hailee Schollaardt, Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant, and the owner of Nurturing Sleep Solutions. I have a passion for helping families set up realistic sleep expectations in their home to help reach a balance between healthy sleep and doing what works best for our family. I believe that there is no one size fits all in terms of sleep approaches and love building new plans for each family I work with. There are so many resources, people, information out there that make us feel like we are not doing things “right” but it is important to know that we, as mamas, always know what is best for our family. I am the wife to my high school sweetheart, the mother to 3 wonderful children (5, 3, 1 years old) and spend most of my time spending time with the kids, writing about sleep, connecting with families with young ones, crocheting and drinking cold coffee (that I have warmed up at least 3 times in the microwave). If you every have sleep questions or want to learn more about sleep you can find me on Facebook, Instagram and on-line!