How to Set Your Baby up for Good Sleep
Updated: Jun 14
So many preparations go into getting your home, body, and brain ready for a new baby. But once your baby is here, nothing can prepare you for his or her unique sleep patterns...or for the effects of long-term sleep disruption and deprivation. Subsisting on broken sleep during a baby’s first months is like a rite of passage for every postpartum mom!
Our resident sleep educator, Ann Marie Harriger, gave us some general advice on common questions related to infant sleep. For a deeper dive into this topic, take her on-demand class, Intro to Newborn Sleep.
How long should I expect my newborn to sleep during the day and night?
Within a baby’s first month, total sleep should be roughly 16-18 hours: half of that at night, and half during the day over four naps. For the first few weeks, newborns often have their days and nights confused, spending more time awake at night and asleep during the day.
By the end of the first month, total sleep will be 15.5-17 hours: 8.5-10 at night, and 6-7 hours during the day spread over three or four naps. Expect an average of two or three feedings per night because a newborn’s tummy is so tiny. These are just general guidelines, and your baby might wake up to eat much more frequently.
Where should I put my newborn baby to sleep at night?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies room-share with their parents for the first six months of life. Your baby should be placed on a firm surface, not the same surface as where the parents are sleeping.
With that said, some babies are very loud sleepers. I, myself, could not sleep next to my children beyond about six weeks. They made a lot of loud noises while sleeping which would keep me up at night. If you are comfortable with your little one sleeping in a different room with the use of a monitor, that is totally fine. It is all about following your instinct and doing what feels right for your family.
Where should my newborn take naps?
Naps can be so challenging for newborns, even harder than nighttime sleep. The main focus of newborn naps shouldn’t be so much on location, but simply that your little one gets them in. If your baby is happy sleeping in his or her crib for naps, then go for it. It is great for your little one to get into the habit of sleeping in a designated sleep place consistently.
If a crib or bassinet is not happening, don’t worry! Pop your baby in a stroller or in the carrier because naps-on-the-go for newborns are A-OK. And if naps are not working in any of the previously mentioned places then go ahead and hold your baby. The priority should be that the nap is happening, not where the nap is happening.
When should I try to establish a bedtime routine for my baby?
You can start establishing a bedtime routine right from the beginning. Babies like to know what is coming next and thrive on routine. Following the same bedtime routine can signal to your little one that sleep is coming.
Although your baby can’t talk yet, receptive language is constantly developing. Use cues to let him or her know what is coming. Some examples of cues include:
Verbal cue: singing the same song or using the same phrase before placing your baby down for sleep
Visual cue: turning the lights off and closing blinds before bedtime
What does a successful bedtime routine look like?
Bedtime routines vary from family to family. Some like to rock, sing, or bounce. The most important part of a successful bedtime routine is making sure your baby is placed down before he or she falls asleep.
The more little ones are given the opportunity to fall asleep independently, the more likely they are to start using that skill. This is not going to work every time, and that is OK. Remember to try it a few times every day, always making the ideal habit the first attempt.
How do I create an ideal sleep environment for my baby?
An ideal sleep environment is a dark room. Install black-out blinds or hang towels on your windows - whatever keeps that room dark. An ideal sleep environment also has white noise running continuously. Don’t be afraid that it’s too loud. Think of the volume of the shower running when you’re standing in the bathroom.
Is nursing or bottle feeding my baby to sleep good or bad?
It is always a good idea to keep your little one awake during feeds, especially during the day. Starting your baby on an "Eat, Play, Sleep" routine from the beginning is often very helpful.
Should I change my baby's diaper after middle-of-the-night feedings?
Diaper changes can be very stimulating and disruptive to sleep. I only recommend middle of the night (MOTN) changes if your baby has a rash or a soiled diaper. Look into overnight diapers and use a little Aquaphor to prevent moisture from irritating your baby’s skin.
What strategies do you recommend for handling night feeds and broken sleep?
Newborn babies absolutely need MOTN feeds, but keep in mind an appropriate amount of overnight feeding. Feeding too much overnight can have a negative effect on daytime feeds.
Decide on what time you are going to feed during the night and stick to it. Building on the stretches you know your baby can do is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind. For example, if your baby can do a 5-hour stretch at night, stick with that and keep trying to stretch it out longer. Be mindful to avoid feeding fatigue.
Will introducing solid foods affect my baby's sleep?
It can! Solids are a great experience for your little one. Getting to experience new flavors and textures is great...BUT keep in mind an important phrase when it comes to solids: “Under One, Just for Fun!” Solids offer plenty of vitamins and nutrients for your baby, but the main source of nutrition for a child under one should come from breastmilk and/or formula.
Solids should always be offered AFTER having a really good, full feed. If your baby has a belly full of solids, he or she will not be interested in a bottle or nursing, which is what is needed most.
My baby is sleeping through the night but I still can't! What should I do?
Wow! Great question, because adult sleep is just as important for a happy family. As for Mom and Dad's sleep...Be sure that you are taking as much care in your own bedtime routine as you do for your little one. Dim the lights at least an hour before you're ready to hit the hay (get that melatonin going!) and avoid screens an hour before lights out. Spend time doing something that you find relaxing, take a bath, read a book, etc.
With Warmth and Wellness,
Your EmmaWell Team