Newborn Sleep Routines
Adjusting to life with a new baby can be challenging, and present many, many questions. Including what newborn sleep routines should look like.
We chatted with a pediatric sleep specialist and mom of two, Rachael Shepard-Ohta of Hey Sleepy Baby. She gave us her advice on newborn bedtime routines, including some of her favorite ways to establish an everyday rhythm with your new arrival. Here’s her advice:
It’s never too early (or late!)
If you’re expecting a little one soon or newly postpartum, you’ve probably wondered or Googled, “when do I need to start a routine?” or “how to get newborns to sleep.”
The answer is it’s never too early to start, but it’s never too late either. Routines for infants and children are proven to have a host of benefits, and the sooner you start, the better your outcome.
That said, you don’t have to go crazy or over-schedule yourself or your newborn. Think rhythms, rituals, and routines vs. schedules. You don’t need to go by the clock or have things be the same every day.
Newborns won’t get on a true schedule for quite some time. Their sleep is pretty variable throughout the day and night and from one week to the next. Newborns haven’t established circadian rhythm or a “body clock” the way we do which means they might sleep in spurts between 15 minutes and 3-4 hours, day and night. They also don’t produce melatonin yet, so night and day don’t mean much to them!
Vitamin D is Key
Get your baby lots of natural sunlight during the day. It’s even okay to have them nap in the daylight! Exposure to daylight can be beneficial, and the natural light and Vitamin D will help your baby’s circadian rhythm mature.
Create Little Moments of Rhythm
Another great way to help your newborn (and yourself) is to establish little rhythms to your day. They don’t have to be involved or complicated, just small moments that create consistency. A few ideas include a morning walk with your baby in a carrier after breakfast or listening to soothing music while your baby does tummy time before dinner. Building these moments into your day will help your newborn make sense of the world around them and can help you, too, when the days seem to all bleed together, and you long for some structure.
Create Special Rituals
Create special rituals with your baby. You might decide to take baths together (bonus for extra skin-to-skin!) or do a loving massage before getting your baby’s Little Sleepies on. This intentional time for connection, touch, and tenderness helps both of you feel more bonded.
Spend some time thinking about your nap and bedtime routines. The routine you use for sleep time can become a sleep cue for your baby and eventually, they’ll know that these things mean sleep is coming. These rituals can help them wind down and fall asleep more easily. For bedtime, you might do a bath or a massage, get pajamas on, read a short book or sing a song, and offer a nighttime feeding. The nap routine can be a short and sweet, abridged version of this.
Pay Attention to Wake Windows
Remember your baby’s wake windows will change every few weeks. A “wake window” is the time your baby spends awake between naps. For newborns in the first couple of weeks, a wake window might be as short as 30-45 minutes! This window is just enough time for a feeding and a diaper change. After the first few weeks, wake windows might extend a bit but are still rather short, between 45-90 minutes. You can expect wake windows to extend about 15 minutes approximately every two to four weeks. You’ll want to start your nap time routine toward the end of a wake window.
Remember, most newborns will prefer to sleep on or with their primary caregivers. If your baby doesn’t like to be put down for naps yet, that’s okay! You aren’t doing anything wrong.
Overall, it’s important to remember that while schedules might work well with adults, newborns haven’t gotten the memo yet. Our clocks and agendas mean nothing to them! So instead of worrying about nap times, spaced feedings, etc. try to tune into your unique baby and what works for them. Remember, you cannot spoil a newborn. Holding your baby for naps, and letting go of a tight schedule in favor of a more relaxed rhythm to your day, when possible, can be truly freeing.
If you're looking for more support on newborn routines, check out Rachael's resources on her website or @heysleepybaby on Instagram. And, be sure to show us how you beat the toddler bedtime battles in the comments below.