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How to Help Your Newborn Sleep Better: Practical Tips for Parents

Newborn Baby

Before your baby is born you may dream of them sleeping soundly in their Moses basket or crib and having time to catch up on all those jobs you have been meaning to do. In reality this is not normally the case. It’s quite normal for them to settle to sleep in the day in their beds but at night it’s a different story… They will only sleep on you, every time you pop them down they wake and need to be resettled and before you know it they want feeding again or you have just settled them and you can hear them fill their nappy!

Newborn babies vary considerably in the amount of sleep they take. When they are brand new they are usually very sleepy from birth. For some, this will wear off in a few days, others a few weeks. For the first 0-6 weeks, many will just feed and sleep while others have periods of being awake for up to an hour at a time. It’s normal for a breastfed baby to be awake in the evenings for longer periods, perhaps feeding and drifting of to sleep, only to wake 20 mins later and feed again. This is called cluster feeding and is perfectly normal. My top tip here would be to go with the flow, they are working hard to stock up on milk and establish your milk supply. Some say it’s mother natures way of getting new mums to sit, relax and recover after giving birth.

The first two weeks is probably the hardest for both you and them, you’re both adjusting to this new life. If breastfeeding, it’s often once the milk has come in around day 3-5 that they then start to settle down and into their own bed at night.

To help with this I recommend that you consider:

1. Swaddling – this is great for newborns, they have been used to the walls of your uterus to keep them snug and this helps them feel safe and secure. Practicing safe swaddling, where the hips are free to move and the arms are stopped for flaying around and the moro or startle reflex waking them, so kept snug but you can still get 2 or 3 finger width at the top is important. There are blankets specifically designed for swaddling but a muslin will also do the job. It’s important that they don’t get too hot, so avoid using a thick blanket as this can be dangerous.

2. Make sure they have had a full feed – breastfed babies will often fall asleep on the breast before taking a full feed. Try giving one side or until they fall asleep then waking them by either laying them down or changing their nappy, before returning to the same or other breast. Newborns have tiny tummies and there need feeding frequently both day and night, every 2-4 hrs is normal.

3. Wind in newborns often results in disrupted sleep – one reason is that their tummies and digestive system have not done this before so often it takes a week or so for wind to settle down but to help, wind them well during and after a feed.

Breastfed babies in general are less windy if attached well and don’t have any underlying issues, such as a tongue tie, reflux or intolerance which can all contribute to wind.

If formula feeding, try winding them every 30 mills in the first few days and then at least once during the feed when older. This will help prevent wind building up at the bottom of their tummies and then preventing them taking a full feed as feel full or brining the whole lot up, when the wind comes up. When winding it often helps to lay them down briefly and then pick up and sit upright or over your shoulder or sitting them upright with a hand under the chin while gently rocking them backwards and forward or round and round a few times.

When working on community, I remember a mum saying it was as if her little one’s body clock was on Australia time – awake all night and sleepy all day! This is perfectly normal and in the early days little ones up to 8 weeks cannot differentiate between day and night. You can start a gentle routine to help them regulate their body clock or circadian rhythm to being awake more in the day and settling to sleep after feeds at night. Start your day by opening the curtains and getting them toped & tailed, maybe managing to keep them awake for a short period. At evening/nighttime, keep the lights dim and quiet during feeds and nappy changes.

Tips for coping with the sleepless nights:

– Sleeping during the day when they sleep

– Letting the housework go and accepting help from friends and family (outside of lockdown)

– Eating regularly. 3 meals + snacks and drink plenty of water

– Get to bed early when possible & getting your partner help especially with nappy changes in the night

– The first few weeks are in no doubt tough so ask for support and help & understand this is normal

If you would like hear about my new baby plans, covering establishing a feed / nap routine & creating positive sleep associations, I would love to help.

Sam, The Baby Guru

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