newborn baby sleeping in a bassinet

6 Tips on How to Get Sleep with a Newborn

By Chaunie Marie Brusie, B.S.N., R.N.
Reviewed by Terri Major-Kincade, M.D.
April 18, 2024
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If you’re expecting to welcome a new baby into your home soon or are a parent in the throes of the newborn stage, there’s probably an important thing on your mind: sleep.

Newborn babies are known for not sleeping through the night, and the literal overnight transition to a life of disrupted sleep can be tough on new parents.

When it comes to newborn sleep, we have both good news and bad news. The good news is that you will sleep again.

The bad news? It’ll take a while before that happens.

Here’s what you should know about newborn sleep schedules, along with some tips for getting through this tough period of irregular and unpredictable sleep.

A few key takeaways:

  • Newborns sleep for around 16 hours per day, but wake up every two to three hours for feedings.
  • Babies can’t be sleep trained until they’re 4 months old because of their needs for rapid growth and development.
  • Establishing a nighttime sleep routine can help develop healthy sleep habits for you and your baby.
  • Sleep deprivation for new parents can be difficult. Ask for help, practice self-care, and work as a team with your partner or co-parent.
  • Understanding a newborn’s sleep schedule and setting up consistent sleep cues will help you as a parent in the long run.

What You Can Expect with a Newborn Sleep Schedule

Expect a newborn’s sleep schedule to be erratic for the first three months.

“We tell parents that they should decrease their expectations of getting into a really good routine because babies are growing so quickly in those first three months of life,” says Neela Sethi, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician based in Los Angeles.

Young babies are still developing sleep patterns and habits, and don’t have the capacity for regular sleep—or even sleep that only occurs at night—just yet, says William Sears, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician and author of The Baby Book, a parenting guidebook.

In the early days, your baby will need 16 or more hours of sleep per day, which seems like a lot but they’ll be waking up often.

newborn and infant sleep guidelines by age

Sethi says that most newborns need to wake to eat every two to three hours to fuel their growth and development. So, while babies do sleep for the majority of the day, their sleep schedule demands frequent feedings, which means shorter chunks of sleep for parents.

There’s no set timeline, as every baby is different. Some babies will wake every hour on the hour, while others may go a full two- or three-hour stretch.

But there is hope. After the first two weeks, a baby’s feedings may stretch from every hour and a half to once every three hours, says Sethi.

Babies will need to eat every two to three hours until they’re around 4 months old.

Then, you can expect longer stretches of sleep, sometimes as long as five hours.

Around 6 months, most babies can sleep through the night, which means six to eight hours at a time or longer, Sethi says

Of course, all babies are different and some parents might be lucky and have a baby who is naturally inclined to sleep more at night.

Still, the bottom line is that you should expect your baby to wake up and need milk every two to three hours in those first few months, Sethi says.

Can You Sleep Train a Newborn?

parent putting a baby down to sleep in a crib

While you may be tempted to try sleep training to try to get enough sleep with a newborn, Sethi cautions parents against trying it in the early months.

It’s a misconception that newborn babies can stay on a tight schedule. In fact, most newborns can’t maintain consistent sleep schedules because of their developmental needs. Their feeding and sleep patterns change periodically to keep up with their growth.

This doesn’t mean you can’t ever sleep train your baby. According to the Cleveland Clinic, sleep training should wait until the baby is at least 4 months old, when their sleep cycles become more mature.

How to Develop Healthy Sleep Habits for Your Baby

What you can do now is develop healthy sleep habits by establishing some consistency.

Establish a Newborn Sleep Schedule That’s More of a Routine

With a newborn, it won’t be a firm schedule. It should be a routine or pattern of activity that they can start to associate with sleep.

“Develop a sleep routine that works for you and feels right to you,” says Sears. “Personalize it in a way that works for you and your baby.” Here's how to do it:

  • Try sticking to a normal bedtime routine. This could look like a bath, massage, feeding, and then crib time.
  • Establish sleep cues. You may want to put on white noise or give your baby a consistent sleeping location.
  • Put the baby down to sleep when they're drowsy, but still awake. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says this may help them learn to fall asleep on their own over time.

“A sleep routine doesn't work overnight,” Sethi explains “It establishes a baseline for the baby, so that, as the baby grows and feels more and more comfortable, that translates to longer stretches of sleep.”

“The sooner you can implement consistency for the baby, and the sooner you can establish a basic routine and stay with that routine, the better the baby will do in the long run and the longer stretches of sleep you will get,” Sethi says.

Sears also notes that parents should adjust the routine as the baby grows to suit what works best for the child and the family.

Follow Infant Sleep Guidelines for Safety

It’s important to follow safe sleep practices.

Always put your baby on their back to sleep, in a crib that’s free from loose blankets and any other items.

Swaddling can be helpful in the early days, but stop swaddling when your baby starts to roll around. For many infants, this happens around the 2-month mark.

Keep a Lookout for Any Problems

Talk to your baby’s pediatrician if they’re having trouble falling into a routine.

Some challenges with establishing a routine are related to babies not getting enough to eat, according to the AAP. Always talk to the doctor if the baby isn’t gaining weight steadily, isn’t feeding well, or isn’t wetting at least four diapers or having at least three normal bowel movements each day.

How to Deal with Less Sleep as a Parent

mother feeding a baby late at night

While you and your baby may not be sleeping for long stretches during those early months, there are some steps you can take to make this time of broken sleep a bit easier on you.

1. Practice Self-Care

The age-old advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps” can really help you avoid feeling too sleep-deprived.

If at all possible, Sethi encourages parents of newborns to take a bit of time away from the baby to calm their own bodies and ease their nerves.

If you have a support system available to you, ask them to watch your baby for a short period. Just one afternoon nap can be the refresher you need to keep going.

2. Talk to People You Trust

It’s also perfectly healthy and sometimes necessary to share your experiences with sleep deprivation as a new parent with others you know will support you.

Sethi notes that one of the most important things that parents can do is to talk about it and not hold it all in. Reach out to friends, join a local new parent support group, or connect with others in the pregnancy community who’ve been through it and are available to listen.

“There are just times that you do feel very isolated as a new parent,” says Sethi. “The more that you can belong to a community and express your emotion, the more that you can calm your nerves and feel that you're supported and that you're not alone.”

3. Team Up, If You Can

Sethi points out that if you have a partner, you can work together to make night wakings a bit easier.

She recommends creating a plan for sleepless nights before the baby arrives (or at least before night falls), so you can avoid trying to figure it out in the middle of sleep deprivation.

Discussing what each partner wants and how they can pitch in—for example, who wants to be involved with feeding or who can be the designated diaper changer—can help, suggests Sethi. Establish shifts, so you can take turns and each get at least one stretch of sleep in.

Remember, every couple is different, so communicating your needs is key.

If one parent is breastfeeding or chestfeeding, the other parent should take the lead at night to comfort their baby, Sears says.

One move he recommends for new parents is the “neck nestle,” which is holding your baby up near your neck and humming. (Just make sure the baby’s face isn’t pressed against your neck, so their breathing isn’t obstructed.)

When both parents play a role in nighttime soothing, the baby becomes familiar with ways to fall asleep besides feeding, he says.

4. Try to Maintain a Sleep Routine Through the Return to Work

Sethi notes that one of the hardest adjustments will be if you or your co-parent have to return to work, adding that the transition when you’re already sleep-deprived can be extremely difficult.

She stresses that it’s important to maintain any sleep routine you’ve already started. Staying consistent can help both you and your baby through the adjustment period.

5. Remember: This Is Temporary

Sethi says that she believes it's important for parents to show themselves grace and to remind themselves that this too shall pass.

The sleep deprivation and night feeding might seem like they’re going to last forever, but they won’t.

“Just remember that your baby will sleep through the night at some point,” she says.

6. Seek Help from a Professional

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you need it, says Sethi.

You can ask your baby’s pediatrician for specific sleep advice for your family. You may also look into hiring a night doula to help out. And after four months, you might consider enlisting sleep training help from a professional infant sleep expert.

If your mental health is affected, then talking with a therapist or counselor is important, too.

Getting Perspective on Your New Sleep Routine as a Parent

Sleep will be an ever-evolving factor in your life as a parent. While there’s not much you can do to guarantee sleep for yourself as a new parent, you can do your best to establish consistent sleep cues and hope that that will encourage more restful nights for your family in the future.