Written By: Hilliary Giglio, Certified Pediatric Sleep Specialist & Family Coach, and Founder + Owner of Tranquil Beginnings @tranquil.beginnings.sleep
"I can clearly remember, like most mothers I’m sure, the very moment I gave birth to my first child. I was absolutely buried in feelings of love and gratitude.
And then, about ten to fifteen seconds later, I was equally buried in questions about how to keep this tiny human alive and thriving.
How do I breastfeed? When should he eat? Is he hot? Is he cold? Why is he crying? When should he sleep? HOW DO I GET HIM TO SLEEP?
And that last question, folks, is one that I kept asking.... over, and over, and over again. For many sleepless months.
Fast forward nearly 3 years later, and that question ultimately led me to becoming a Certified Pediatric Sleep Specialist and Family Coach, and Founder and Owner of Tranquil Beginnings, where I work with exhausted and frustrated parents of babies and children who just won’t sleep. I help them teach their baby to sleep through the night, so they can too. So they can be a healthy and happy and functioning parent and so that they have a healthy and happy and THRIVINGchild.
So, I wanted to answer some of the most frequent questions I had about my new baby’s sleep and the most frequent questions I receive from my clients with newborns.
When should my newborn sleep?
It’s important to watch for your baby’s sleepy cues, but it can be quite hard to see them in a newborn. They are very subtle in newborns, but include:
● “I’m sleepy” cues: red eyebrows, eyes avert, turning head away from stimulation, blank stares
● “I need a nap now” cues: yawning, rubbing eyes, pulling on ears, becoming fussy
- ● “I’m overtired!” cues: arches back, becoming rigid, making fists, hysterical crying
A helpful guide, because these cues can be so hard to spot in young babies, is that most newborns up to 10 weeks old can only tolerate about 45-60 minutesof awake time. Just long enough for a feed and a few minutes of awake activity (“play”) time and they’ll be ready for sleep again. Keeping an eye on the clock can help ensure you get your baby to sleep before they are overtired (which makes it much, much harder). Bonus tip:Lay your baby down about 10 minutes before the end of the wake window so they are (hopefully) asleep when the window expires.
Where should my newborn sleep?
And while ultimately, you’ll want to create a very dark sleeping space for your child, a newborn’s circadian rhythm is underdeveloped at birth and for the first 6 weeks or so of life, having them nap in a bassinet next to you in the well-lit living room throughout the day works just fine. Having a dark sleep environment for overnight sleep is important from the start, however, especially for newborns who have their days and nights mixed up a bit after birth.
We also know that many newborns will fall asleep on their parents, in a baby carrier, or while out for a walk in the stroller. This isn’t a “bad sleep habit” at this age, but be sure this sleep is alwayssupervised for safety and you’ll want to try and steer away from these sleep habits as your baby grows out of the newborn phase to avoid creating strong sleep associations or dependencies on these “sleep props.”
How do I get my newborn to sleep?
This, my friends, is the million dollar question! While many newborns are generally sleepy, and newborns spend about 16-20 hours a day sleeping, it doesn’t always come easy.
Newborns have an immature nervous system, so helping them to avoid overtiredness and overstimulation is key. Missing the ideal sleep window and receiving too many sensory inputs, can both cause your babies immature nervous system stress and cause your baby to be unable to fall asleep.
Best tips to avoid overtiredness and overstimulation or help your baby calm their nervous system so that they can find sleep:
● Pay attention to that 45-60 minute ideal wake window.
● Use a white noise machine during your newborn’s naps and overnight sleep. Theconstant noise can not only block out environmental noises that may alarm your baby, but can recreate some of the constant noise that they heard inside the womb.
● Using The Ollie World swaddle helps to calm the nervous system of an overstimulated baby. Some babies may fight getting swaddled, especially if they are already overstimulated, but often will calm once the swaddle is on. Try walking around with your baby, or even going outside, once they are swaddled to encourage them to calm even more
○ Bonus tip: Many parents also wonder if they’re baby is too hot or too cold under their swaddle, and what they should wear underneath, but The Ollie World has solved this mystery for us. Try their new Dailies, the perfect moisture wicking and comfortable onesie for wearing under their swaddle. Combined, this makes the perfect sleep attire!
How do I create healthy sleep habits from the start?
So, parents don’t always ask this question up front the first time around, because we don’t know what we don’t know in this parenting gig, right? I know I sure didn’t. But you actually can avoid sleeping problems that many parents of children ages 4 months, 6 months, or even 36 months old face by focusing on sleep from the start.
Focusing on the ideal awake time, the proper sleep environment, and helping your baby learn to calm their nervous system (all discussed above) are great first steps to healthy sleep.
From there, though, you can start to encourage your baby to learn to fall asleep all by themselves. Putting them down for a nap or bedtime awake and giving them some space and opportunity to try and go from awake or consciousness into sleep, all by themselves. This is not Cry It Out, though your baby may fuss or cry a little bit as they learn to fall asleep all by themselves. Good sleep is a skill, just like tying your shoes or riding or bike, and sometimes it’s hard to learn new skills. And that’s ok! Wait a couple of minutes and then pick your newborn up and walk around the room until they are calm again. Then, repeat this process until they are able to fall asleep in their bed by themselves.
Then, when they wake in the night, give them a few minutes before you tend to them. As your baby grows to the point that they don’t need to be fed at every single waking in the night, this will be a helpful strategy to consolidate sleep and eliminate non-feed wakings, encouraging them to put themselves back to sleep if and when they have a partial or full arousal as they transition through sleep cycles (*if they’re hungry, you’ll know it, mama!).
With practice, your baby will get better and better at sleep!
Sleep is incredibly important for your baby’s growth and development, but also for your physical, mental, and emotional health as a parent. Teaching your child healthy sleep skills is a gift that will last a lifetime, but you don’t have to do it alone.
Hillary Giglio is a Pediatric Sleep Specialist and Family Coach working with expecting parents all the way through parents of elementary school aged children, to help them solve their sleeping problems once and for all through gentle, age-appropriate, customized sleep plans and personalized follow up support. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, or receive her free guide, “5 Proven Steps to Getting Your Child to Sleep Through the Night,” here.