The Things That No One Tells You About Those Early Days of Sleep
One thing that people never tell you when you have a newborn is that, if you can put good sleep practices in place from the start, then you’ll be much less likely to need to do anything drastic further down the line. I often like to start working with 1-1 clients from around the 5 weeks onwards stage and wanted to share my tips on what you can be doing from the start to set up good sleep behaviors in those first 12 weeks.
The key thing that I want to draw your attention to is: Feeding. Getting breastfeeding established or a bottle feeding pattern that works for you and your baby is essential because I firmly believe that feeding and sleeping go hand in hand. If you have a baby who is not sleeping well then they are very unlikely to feed as well.
We are often told “babies don’t sleep – that’s your life now!” but I would argue that’s not the case. I think a baby should be capable of sleeping for small chunks of time without waking every minute from the newborn weeks, if they are well fed. A sleeping baby feeds better; so here are my top tips to help you to encourage your baby to sleep well from the early days.
Top Tips on getting your newborn settled and sleeping well:
Establish a good feeding pattern
You’ve got your bundle of joy in your arms and the first 4-5 days is about BONDING. Skin to skin, establishing feeding and making sure that your baby is healthy are the most important things to focus on in the early days.
The first thing no one really tells you is that your newborn baby is only really capable of being awake for 45 minutes to an hour. Not very long! If a feed takes that whole entire awake time then, after they’ve fed the chances are it’s time to go to sleep. If you’re sure they’ve fed enough and well (they seem content rather than crying and asking for more) and you get to the 45-60 minute mark I would suggest that you make sure their nappy is clean and then start to get them to sleep.
To help them get to sleep you could swaddle them and you might need a bit of movement, rocking and shushing if they’re wide awake to help them to drift off. If they’re full from a milk feed this should happen quickly. It doesn’t matter if they sleep on you or if you put them down at this stage. If you get them down in the right amount of time, they’ll be well rested and sleep better. So my advice here is to really pay attention to that hour awake window. Ultimately if you‘re feeding for hours on end, your baby is getting overtired.
Babies often cluster feed to get your milk in; this is normal. However, I would say that your milk won’t fully be there if you are absolutely exhausted, so if you’ve been feeding all afternoon and all evening then it is totally fine to acknowledge that you know by this point your baby is likely to be overtired because they’ve been awake longer than an hour and they haven’t had good quality sleep. Personally, I would advise if you get to this stage, then grab a bottle of either expressed milk or a small amount of formula to top them off and get them off to sleep. Don’t be concerned if you use formula in the early stages, as you can definitely continue to breastfeed, but babies might need a little more milk to help them get off to sleep. At this stage we want to feed every couple of hours, followed by a short sleep, to help them have a rest and to allow you to have some rest, eat and recharge before then you’re ready to go again in a few hours time.
I know that a lot of my clients are often told not to pump because it can affect their milk supply but, if you do it correctly, it really should not be a problem: If you’re going to give a tiny amount of formula to get them to sleep because they’re not full (remember a non-full baby won’t sleep) then hand baby over to Daddy or whoever’s with you whilst you can pump for 10-15 minutes to pump the equivalent milk volume, then everyone is going to be in a better position to have some rest before starting again in a few hours time.
There is no harm in giving them a little top up in order to get them some sleep.
Obviously this is a different approach to someone who might feed on demand the whole time but I have very successfully breastfed two babies who have learnt to sleep in between feeds; for the first 2-3 weeks with both of mine I did occasionally, after an hour, give them a top up, pump a little bit and then we would have a bit of rest. This did not affect my breast milk or breastfeeding journey at all and, with both, by around 3-4 weeks I exclusively breastfed both of mine. But it did allow me that brief respite and helped baby to nod off after their awake window was up.
A full newborn baby is a sleepy newborn baby.
In an ideal world only be awake for 45 – 60 minutes.
Baby is hungry.
The difference between how much milk your baby drinks from the breast or from the bottle is more obvious depending on how you choose to feed but it is important to be reminded that newborn babies should be hungry.
A lot of the guidance for newborns talks about them gaining weight and wet or dirty nappies as signs for them feeding well, which are obviously helpful signs, but I know that there are a lot of babies who do both of these things yet still do not sleep well.
If this is your baby and you’ve tried everything to put them down but they won’t go to sleep it could be a sign that they need a bit more milk. If you are bottle feeding then do top them up a bit more. If you are breastfeeding then your options are:
1) put them on again and another cluster feeding cycle can begin;
2) top them up after an hour;
3) if looking to increase milk supply you could use something called breast compressions (as explained by Dr Jack Newman in this video) which involves compressing the breast whilst the baby is feeding so more milk gets to them to fill their tummy. You could also look at their latch and consider if that is going well or even look into tongue tie, as that can affect feeding too. If you have any doubts at all, do get it checked.
4) Some of my clients are fans of herbal remedies, such as fenugreek, to boost milk supply. As ever, you need to be careful with the amount of tablets you take and I can’t give you an evidence-based comment that this will work for you but it is something to think about and perhaps consider researching as it is suggested that it can help to boost milk supply, if your baby is hungry;
5) Allow Daddy to give the baby a bottle in the evening. This gives you a break and you can pump instead of the feed. This way, your body doesn’t think you’ve dropped a feed, you encourage bonding between father and baby plus you have the chance to rest, eat and do whatever it is you need to do to get ready for that next feed.
Babies can sleep if they are comfy, warm and well fed at the newborn stage.
3: Your baby won’t necessarily just fall asleep!
This might seem a strange concept to you because you may think “hang on a second, surely they know how to.they sleep in the womb so they should know how to sleep?!” but the reality is that some babies will need help.
To encourage baby to learn to fall asleep in their window you can try swaddling them, to make them feel comfortable and to still their startle reflex that they all have up to 12 weeks. If swaddling doesn’t work then you might want to try movement, such as jiggling, rocking and finding the rhythm that they enjoy. Once you have found a rhythm that soothes them, maintain it until they fall into a deep enough sleep to be put down. Movement for small babies is a really useful tool to remember and it doesn’t have to be just Mummy who does it – perhaps the pram and a walk that grandparents can do whilst you get some rest.
The other thing that might help is white noise. If you imagine a baby has been contained with white noise in the womb for 9 months and when they come out they need background noise. There are many free apps that you can download with white noise on or special toys that play it. Please don’t worry that they’ll only ever sleep with it on – during these first few weeks you really just want to establish these helpful routines to allow the baby to feel full and content enough to sleep well.