Would I ever sleep again? As my due date with baby #1 was getting closer, this was one of my biggest fears. A lifelong insomniac, sleep had always been elusive, and all the horror stories out there about parental sleep deprivation seemed to confirm my worst fears.
However, as a sleep scientist, I had a unique advantage: I was intimately familiar with the subject. So, I used that knowledge and developed a science-based method to help babies—first my own, later many more—sleep at night. The general steps are outlined in my first Cluster moment (linked below!), but let's take a step back and talk about your first day home with your newborn, or even before then.
What can you do to help baby sleep better from day one?
Preparing a Sleep Environment
Baby's circadian clock is not developed when they are born, and it's our job to help their bodies learn the difference between day and night. And though newborns are too young to impose a schedule on themselves, you can actually use light to help them distinguish the difference. This means to make the days bright and the nights dark, get red light bulbs for baby's bedroom, and only turn those on for nighttime feeds and diaper changes.
The goal is to make day and night sleep as different as possible from each other, which is another cue for baby to understand what's what.
For nighttime sleep:
- Darkness/Red Light
- White Noise
- Less interaction with baby
For Daytime Sleep:
- No Swaddling
- Not Too Dark/No Red Light
- Normal Voices
- No White Noise
- Interaction Encouraged
Feed baby on a schedule, no more often than every 2 hours from start to start. We don't want to create a state of constant snacking, which leads to baby not getting a full portion at each feed. By making sure baby eats their full portion, their tummies are full enough to sleep for 2-3 hours before they eat again.
If they only snack, they will wake up much sooner (sometimes every 30 minutes) which is hard on everyone involved. To keep baby awake, it's okay to take somewhat drastic measures if necessary: blow air on them, undress them, or even use a wet wash cloth to prevent them from falling asleep "on the job."
Sleep When Baby Sleeps
In those 2-3 hours between full meals, baby will sleep—and so should you. If you have trouble sleeping during the day, use a sleep mask. If you feel like doing other chores, don't. Make sleep a priority. It will make everything else much easier.
While newborns are too young to be put on a schedule, you should keep at least 2 events consistent every day: morning wakeup and evening bedtime. To figure out what those are for your baby, use my Kulala app. Put baby to bed at the indicated time every day, and in the morning get up and feed them at the same time, no matter how the night went. This will help create a strong circadian rhythm for baby and set the stage for sleeping through the night when they are physiologically ready to do so.
You got this, mama!
For more help and useful resources, check out my website kulalaland.com
, and sign up for my weekly office hours here on Cluster.
Sofia Axelrod, PhD