Sleepy newborn baby.

Parents Share What They’ve Learned About Newborn Sleep

By Lauren Krouse
Reviewed by Terri Major-Kincade, M.D.
May 16, 2022

Bringing home a newborn rapidly transforms your understanding of sleep deprivation.

“Give yourself grace and know that this, too, shall pass,” says Megan Imhoff, 38, a mother of three boys, including an 18-month-old, in Richmond, Indiana.

Thanks to tiny bellies, a frequent need to eat, and erratic sleep cycles, newborns typically only sleep for stretches of about 20 minutes to four hours. Precisely when they might graduate to longer snoozes varies, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. But often, they begin sleeping through the night by their first birthday.

With postpartum recovery, baby blues, and drastic lifestyle shifts to manage on top of poor sleep, it really isn’t easy, and some down-to-earth advice may come in handy. You’ve likely already heard standard guidance like “sleep whenever you can” and “do chores later.” In addition, here are a few parent-approved newborn sleep tips you can use so both you and your baby can get enough rest.

1. Create a Nighttime Parenting Plan

If you’re partnered and you’re chest/breastfeeding (or on parental leave) and your partner isn't, nighttime feedings and diaper changes can fall entirely on you. This can lead to exhaustion and resentment.

“The key is to talk things out up front,” says Daniel Powers, 28, a father of two toddlers, with another on the way, in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. This way, you can forge a plan together to ensure you’re both getting as much sleep as possible. For example, after his wife breastfeeds, he often burps the baby and walks with her until she falls asleep.

Monica Greco, 34, a mother of two toddlers in Auckland, New Zealand, seconds this newborn sleep tip. When she went back to work after she and her wife had their first child, they split weekend feedings to help her wife catch up on sleep.

For single parents, nighttime help may be more challenging, but some ideas for help could include asking a trusted family member or friend to help a couple of nights or (depending on cost) potentially hiring a baby nurse or postpartum doula for those early weeks.

2. Follow a Routine

Daniel found a sleep routine to be helpful. For his family, a standard bedtime (7:30–8 p.m.) and a full feed before bed helped to ease their daughters down for the night. He says that once they learned the routine, they started to sleep for 10–12 hour stretches.

Bear in mind that this is for slightly older infants, whose stomachs can stay full longer. Your pediatrician can advise you best on the proper age for long stretches of sleep.

“There might be some tears at first, so expect some initial resistance,” Daniel says.

Monica chose to rock her newborns until they slept. “Don't be afraid to rock them or hold them until they fall asleep,” she says. “Enjoy the cuddles while you can.”

For both Daniel and Monica, a set routine helped everyone get the sleep they needed, but the trick is to find the one that works best for your family.

3. Share a Room

Safe sleep guidelines advise against having your baby sleep in your bed. In fact, the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) goes down by as much as 50% when you keep your baby in your room but don’t share your bed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, keeping your newborn’s bassinet or crib in your bedroom is highly recommended. “I would recommend having a baby close to you when they are still very little,” Monica says. “I think that really helped my daughters sleep at night.”

Having them close by can also help you get a better night’s sleep because you can easily pick them up for nighttime feedings and then put them back in their sleeping space without having to get up and flick on lights, Monica says.

4. Get into a Rhythm

Sunlight is a powerful regulator of your circadian rhythm (the natural internal process that controls our sleep-wake schedule). By age 3 months, some babies may begin to develop a sleeping pattern, though it can take up to one year for others.

Crystal King, 40, a mother of a 1-year-old and 4-year-old in Orlando, Florida, recommends investing in blackout curtains for increased light control. When her newborn’s sleeping schedule was off, she relied on them to keep the bedroom extra dark, help her daughter get on schedule, and avoid personal exhaustion.

5. Reach Out for Help

“If you get to the point where you haven’t been sleeping, you’re physically and mentally exhausted, and/or you can’t get the baby to stop crying, give your baby to another adult who has slept,” Crystal says. Sleep deprivation can get to dangerous levels, and if it does, your rest needs to take priority.

It’s also important to consider bringing in a professional if something feels abnormal. If your baby is inconsolable, seems to have a breathing problem, or struggles to wake up from sleep, it’s a good idea to call your healthcare provider and explain what’s going on. It’s important to rule out any medical problems that could be interfering with your baby’s sleep.

With the risk of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders during the postpartum period, it’s also important to get professional help for yourself if you’re feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, or having scary or intrusive thoughts. Postpartum Support International offers a provider directory, postpartum support groups, and a help line you can call or text.

One of the most important skills for getting through this sleep-deprived time is to know when you need help and ask for it.

“Acknowledging some powerlessness in the face of this major life event,” Megan points out, “will help new parents roll with the punches and give themselves grace.”

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