We’ve already covered the topic of how to get a newborn to sleep in a related article entitled 35 Infant Care Tips Every Parent Needs to Know, but we did so at an altitude of 30,000 feet.
I think it’s safe to say we missed a few things.
So we’ll be discussing how to get a newborn to sleep in more detail here. We’ll identify some of the common mistakes new parents make, and tell you how to avoid them. We’ll also be letting you in on some of the trade secrets experienced parents use to help their newborns sleep soundly through the night.
The Irony Isn’t Lost on Me
Right now, as I’m writing this article, my newborn daughter is awake and crying while my wife desperately tries to console her. It won’t be long before the two of us are crying too because we’ve tried everything and our newborn still refuses to go to sleep.
Joanna is a beautiful little girl with big blue eyes and dark brown hair, but she prefers to sleep when the sun is up rather than at night with everyone else.
At this point, we’ve tried everything to get her to sleep and nothing is working. Our only consolation is that our two-year-old son is still asleep in the room next to us with his noise machine turned up to jet plane and the covers pulled over his head.
But we’re not alone. Any honest parent will tell you there’s a point at which you begin to question everything. You’ll question every decision you’ve ever made, especially the ones that led you to this place, this desolate wasteland of drowsy days and sleepless nights.
So, is it worth it?
There’s nothing like holding your newborn in your arms for the first time, but the weeks that follow are a different story. When coffee and adrenaline are the only things keeping you going, the world can seem like a much darker place.
Your brain is fried, your emotions are frayed, eyes are burning, body exhausted…
You get the picture.
So in that moment of crisis, what do you do? Where do you turn?
To the Internet of course!
Good old Internet. You’ve always been there for me. Like a faithful friend you stand by me. Sure, we’ve had our moments, like that time you forgot all my passwords and locked me out of my accounts, or when you assaulted my eyeballs with that picture of Joe Biden washing his Thunderbird in nothing but kaki shorts and penny loafers…
But we always pull through.
So here we go internet, get ready because it’s time to strut your stuff. Show me how to get a newborn to sleep…
How to Get a Newborn to Sleep: Common Mistakes
When you’re new to the game, you’re going to make mistakes. You’ll try something new, but it’ll end up backfiring. My wife and I made just about every mistake in the book before we found what worked. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:
1. Starting out with unrealistic expectations. Okay, the first mistake new parents make is starting out with unrealistic expectations. They’re ready for things to be hard, but not this hard (things get a lot more complicated when you’re sleep deprived) Starting out with the right mindset and realistic expectations will go a long way toward making life with a newborn a little bit easier. Be prepared for several long nights and don’t expect to bring home a super sleeper.
2. Doing too much too fast. Lot’s of parents try to do too much with their new baby. My wife and I did this when our son was born. We had family in the waiting room for over 24 hours while we gently* coaxed Ben out of his mommy’s warm tummy. (Find out more about our story here.)
Knowing our family was waiting right outside the delivery room only added to an already stressful situation.
So, keep in mind that the first few weeks are going to be tough. Family and friends will be excited to meet your little one, and you’ll want to show her off (especially if you’re a first-time parent), but be careful not to fill up your schedule with too many visits until you know how your baby will react to life outside the womb. It’s exhausting enough having an infant without hosting your family at the same time.
3. Keeping your infant awake during the day. We tried this one too. It backfired BIG TIME. Less sleep during the day does not equal more sleep at night. An overtired baby will actually have a harder time falling asleep than one who takes adequate naps during the day.
4. Trying to go it alone. Okay, so I’d like to add one caveat to the previous paragraph. Yes, having too many visitors too early may serve only to upset you and your baby, but having one or two people you trust to help out with everyday things like meals, cleaning, or diaper runs can help you hold on to your sanity. For instance, my mother-in-law was here just yesterday doing dishes and laundry while my wife and I tended to our 3 -week-old daughter, Joanna.
How to Get a Newborn to Sleep: The Best Approach
Having a new baby can be overwhelming. You’ll likely be in survival mode for the first few weeks. You’ll be shut in, sleep deprived, and desperate for a break. It’ll probably feel like it’s lasting forever, like one long day stretched out into a thousand, until one day.. it ends. You’ll begin to regain a sense of normalcy. You’ll start sleeping through the night again and your alarm clock will no longer sound like a screaming baby.
The light at the end of the tunnel is always there, but these tips may help you arrive a bit sooner. Speaking of light…
1. Use light to your advantage. Your baby will arrive with little sense of night and day. She will likely be taking several naps throughout the day, which will continue into the night. She’ll have limited vision, so training her to sleep more at night will be hard at first, but you can help her transition sooner by following these guidelines:
- Go outside during the day.
- Nap in a well lit room if you can.
- Dim the lights about an hour before bedtime to begin calming and preparing your newborn for a good night’s sleep.
- Night lights are okay, but try to position it so that it doesn’t shine directly on your baby (ours is behind a dresser). Also, keep in mind that some night lights can get hot, so try to find one with a bulb that is small and dim.
- Avoid turning on the lights when your infant wakes up at night.
2. Give your newborn a minute to get back to sleep on her own. This one’s a tough one. When your little one wakes up in the night and begins to fuss, you’ll want to rush to her side, but don’t. Give her a moment to get back to sleep on her own. Doing this will help your baby to begin learning independent sleep habits.
3. Avoid making eye contact. Locking eyes with your little one could signal that it’s time to play. Instead, keep your eyes focused somewhere like her belly and use a gentle voice to soothe her to sleep.
4. Put baby down drowsy, but not asleep. Okay, this tip is a must for any list of baby sleep strategies, but it’s much easier said than done. The truth is, my wife and I have tried this several times with very little success. But the benefits of this strategy make it worth pursuing. The process is pretty simple actually. All you need to do is put your baby down just after feeding (the last meal before bed is often referred to as dream feeding) and just before she goes to sleep. Sounds easy right?
5. Swaddle like there’s no tomorrow. Swaddling your newborn will give here a sense of security, keep her warm, and prevent her startling reflex from waking her up in the middle of the night (which always seems to happen just as you close your eyes). We’ve included a link to a video and detailed instructions on how to swaddle your baby below.
How to Get a Newborn to Sleep: Insider Tips
Here are a few insider tips for how to get a newborn to sleep from parents just like you who’ve been through exactly what you’re going through. Let’s be honest, baby raisin’ ain’t easy as we say here in North Carolina (okay, maybe I’m the only one who says that), and sometimes it’s all you can do to survive you’re newborn. Here are a few things that might help when nothing else will.
1. Use infant sleepers to keep you baby warm. Swaddling your infant is a great way to help her feel safe and secure while keeping her warm all at the same time. However, not all babies like to be swaddled. For instance, my son enjoyed being swaddled most nights, but my daughter isn’t really a fan (she likes to have at least one arm free at all times). So we used sleepers like these cotton jammies from Carter’s for both our kids.
They’ll help keep your newborn warm if they don’t like to be swaddled, which will help her (and consequently you) asleep. We like to use fleece sleepers in winter and cotton in the summer, and we prefer the full body zipper to the snaps because it makes diaper changing easier.
2. A noise machine that creates sound naturally will make a big difference. This one is a must for any article about how to get a newborn to sleep. It may sound strange, but a little white noise can actually help your newborn fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. If you have a light sleeper (like we do) then these are worth their weight in gold. My wife and I use the Dohm-DS All Natural Sound Machine because it uses a small internal fan and rotating slots and holes in the housing to lull your baby to sleep.
The sound is natural and soothing, and it doesn’t have the harshness of a recorded sound from a digital noise machine.
3. Use a Leachco Infant Lounger and Sleep Positioner. If you have an infant that spits up a lot when you lay them flat (like our son), the Leachco Infant Lounger can help. This is no ordinary pillow. If your newborn has trouble sleeping flat on her back, the Leachco Infant Lounger will allow her to recline instead. Pillows are normally not recommended for newborns, but this one is special. It’s contoured so your baby can’t roll over in it. She’ll sleep soundly in her warm pillow, and, because it reclines and secures your little one, you’ll breath a little easier too.
4. Try an automatic baby swing. My wife and I purchased our My Little Snugapuppy Cradle and Swing from Fisher-Price after our son was born (he was an exceptionally bad sleeper).
On nights when we couldn’t get him to sleep for hours and it was nearer dawn than dusk, we’d put him in his swing and he’d be asleep in minutes.
There is a danger with this type of sleep strategy though. Your child may become dependent on the swing if it is used too often. A good rule of thumb is to use it only after everything else has failed. (I’m happy to report that our son is now two years old and he’s been sleeping through the night for over a year.)
How to Get a Newborn to Sleep: The Takeaway
As you can see from the story at the beginning of this article, no one has all the answers. Even seasoned pros get stumped sometimes, so don’t get discouraged if your infant doesn’t start sleeping through the night right away. It may take some time, but if you follow the tips outlined above, and avoid the pitfalls, you and your baby will be back to sleep sooner than you think.
We hope you enjoyed this article on how to get a newborn to sleep. What’s your favorite baby sleep tip? Let us know in the comments below!