Today I want to chat a bit about sleep…newborn sleep, baby sleep and even toddler sleep! I am by no means an expert in baby sleep; however, I have worked with a few different pediatric sleep consultants and have learned a ton.
I have a couple friends who are new moms! I reached out to one of them to see how things are going and she said that her newborn wasn’t sleeping great. She was really nervous because her husband was going back to work from paternity leave soon and she would be solo with baby during the day. I said I would be happy to share some tip and she told me she would take anything I got! Here is what I shared-
The first couple weeks after they are born are blissful in that they nap great and sleep at night great. It lulls you into a false sense of security and then between week 3-4 is when sleep can become a bit more of a challenge for them. Below are some tips that might help-
- Newborns do not know how to fall asleep. They only know that they are tired. You need to initially help them fall asleep and later one with sleep training – teach them how to fall asleep on their own. So, that may mean bouncing or baby-wearing or rocking. You can set a sleep foundation for them by putting them down in bassinet and crib drowsy but still a bit awake and let them try to fall asleep on their own.
- Newborns should be offered a nap one hour to 1 hour 15 minutes after waking. If he wakes up at 6am, should be trying to put him back down for another nap by 7/7:15am.
- Don’t let him sleep during the day for longer than 2 hours during the day. Wake him up at 2 hours to feed him. Babies need set amount of calories/volume of milk in a 24 hour, if he isn’t getting enough during the day, he will wake up more often at night to get them. On the flip side, since he wasn’t a preemie and if doctors aren’t concerned about his weight, you don’t need to wake him every 2 hours at night. He will let you know at night when he is hungry!
- When he is awake during the day, get him in the bright light whether that be in the living room with the blinds open and lights on or outside for a few minute. At night time, keep the house lighting low and as dark as possible. It’s super common for babies to get their nights and days confused bc they are used to being in the dark womb. Light is stimulating and darkness signals sleep for them. It helps them to start regulating their circadian rhythm (which doesn’t usually solidify until 3-4 months)
- Make sure he gets a full feed when he eats. And does not fall asleep while eating. Try to change his diaper before feeding if needed. That always woke lucas up enough so he would eat well. Babies usually poop while eating so it may mean changing more diaper but is a good trick to wake them up
- When sleeping, use swaddle and white noise and keep room dark. It’s so important to mimic the womb for those early months. Don’t worry, he will still sleep well anywhere. Lots of parents worry that that will mean baby will only sleep with those things and that just isn’t true. Lucas can fall asleep anywhere If he is tired enough!
- Pacifier can help put baby to sleep. Lucas didn’t really like it but sometimes it would help him get to sleep and he would spit it out sometime during sleep which was fine.
- If you have not already, start a bedtime and nap time routine that you do consistently everyday. This will start signaling to baby that sleep time is coming. Like doggies, babies love routine and things that are predictable. To this day when we put lucas in his room with the light low and it his sleep sack on him, he starts yawning and rubbing his eyes. 🙂
- When he is awake during the day, keep him nice and stimulated, the more stimulation, the better they sleep. It’s great with babies because literally EVERYTHING is stimulating because they are so new to this world!
- Don’t feel chained to the house. I did and it made those infant months really tough. Take him out on walks, run errands, meet friends for lunch/coffee, join a mommy and me class (let me know if you want recommendations on one). Just try to enjoy the time off work with him!
While those tips are geared more towards newborns and babies, here are a few tips I have for toddlers. My little guy is just over 2 and these are all things that work for us.
- Toddlers are very smart and even if they aren’t saying many words yet, they can understand a lot of what we say. It’s helpful to talk to them about sleep and what to expect before nap and bedtime. When I take my son in for a nap I say things like “You are going to take such a great nap and get good rest so we can play later” or “it’s time for nap buddy. Lay down and close your eyes and mama will come get you when it’s time to get up”. Similarly, after bath and while reading books before bed at night, I will say “Are you going to have such a great sleep all night long in your bed?” and my son will usually get excited and say “Yeah!”. And I say something like “Mama will come and get you when it is time to get up. If you wake up early, snuggle up with your Fox (his little blankie) and go back to sleep.” Amazingly, this works great! Bedtime is not a struggle and he isn’t screaming in his crib to get up in the morning.
- Toddlers, like babies, love routines. I would say they love them MORE than babies. Toddlers like to be able to know what comes next. Nap time and bed time routines are so very important. It doesn’t have to be at the exact same time everyday but the order matters. For us, our nap routine looks like – go into room, read 1 short book, dim lights and turn on white noise machine, change diaper, put in sleep sack, sing a song, lights off, bed. For night time the routine is a little bit different but similar – dinner, play a bit, bath, lotion, diaper, jammies, read 3 or so books, dim lights, white noise on, put in sleep sack, lights out, sing 3 songs and bed. I almost NEVER get any protest from him. He happily goes in his bed, grabs his blankie and goes to sleep.
- Toddlers, like babies, also sleep much better if they are able to work out their energy. On rainy or sick days when we are stuck inside all day, I find that my son does not nap or sleep as well at night. He’s just not tired enough. When he is at daycare, he sleeps GREAT because they are busy all day long. On the weekends, we try to get out for a walk as a family around the neighborhood in the mid morning and take a trip to the park in the afternoon. This helps him to work off all his energy and sleep better.
- Back to how smart toddlers are. They learn real quick if they can play you! I learned this the hard way. When my son came down with pneumonia, I felt so bad that he was sleeping so poorly. I would pat his back in his crib until he fell asleep for nap and nighttime sleep. Then when he was waking up a night once or twice, I would rock or pat him back to sleep. I also brought him into my bed the first two nights he was sick because I was so worried and wanted to keep an eye on him. Once he was all better, silly me thought I would just go back to the way it was before he got sick….WRONG! He now expected me to pat him to sleep every night or come into my bed. We would go in to get ready for bed and he would say “go sleep in mama’s bed” or “mama pat back”. So, I had to do a mini sleep training session and get him back on sleep track! It took about 3 nights of crying (for him and me!) but then he got the message and was back to sleeping great on his own again.
- White noise, white noise, white noise! It’s super helpful to drown out noises in the house and even outside the house. Toddlers are super independent and smart and want to be where the action is. If they can hear you hanging out watching TV from their room, there is a good chance they will whine and cry and want to be with you. If they cannot hear it, and just hear a consistent white noise, then they can relax and fall asleep! I really like the Hatch Rest + linked here. It is a light/white noise/clock and time to rise light (more on this below) all in one!
- Above I mentioned how much toddler’s love routine. Another great part to add into the routine once they hit about 18 months is a Time to Rise clock. This is a clock that changes colors or patterns at a set time and signals to the kiddo that it’s time to wake up. We use the Hatch Rest + above and I set the light to turn green and white noise to switch to birds chirping at 6:15am when it is time to wake up. My son knows that it’s not morning time and time to get up until the light turns green and the birds chirp.
- Toddlers should stay in their crib for a long an possible. Toddlers do not understand imaginary boundaries until 3 or later. Meaning, they don’t know what it means that they have to stay in their bed. They see that they can get out of bed easily and so they do and they will….over and over and over and over again. If you have a kiddo that has started to try to climb out of crib, there are a couple tricks to help keep them in the crib longer
- Use a sleep sack. It makes it harder for kiddo to walk around in crib and makes it almost impossible to throw leg up to get over crib rail
- If the back of the crib is taller than the front, turn the crib around so that the smaller side is against the wall
- Lower crib mattress to the floor. Speak to pediatrician about this and make sure there are no gaps between top of mattress and bottom of crib
- Start using a time to rise clock and teach toddler that they aren’t to get out of the crib until light turns green (or whatever you decide)
- Be prepared for a 18 month and 2 year old sleep regression. May cause some sleep battles (including nap strikes). Do not mistake this as a sign to drop the nap. Stay the course and keep a consistent routine. Things should regulate out.
- Hang on to the one nap for as long as possible. If kiddo is on one nap, it should be a minimum of 90 minutes. When they do eventually drop their nap, still encourage some quiet time in their room. Have a quiet time toy bin with books and quiet toys that they can play with.
- When naps aren’t great or they wake up too early, early bed time is the best tool you got. Bed time can be as early as 5:30pm and we have certainly done that on some days! My son’s typical sleep schedule is awake at 6am, nap from 1-3, bedtime at 6:45pm. If he wakes up super early or nap is super short, then I move his bedtime up to 6:15/6:30.
If you are looking for some extra support or need help coming up with plan, check out the site for an amazing sleep specialist who helped us a ton – her name is Xan and her company is called MyBaby Sleepology. She is a guest on my podcast soon, stay tuned!