This is the fourth part of our guide for new parents and how to take care of your newborn baby. This section focuses on baby sleep and routine as your baby reaches 2 to 8 weeks old.
After those first couple of weeks, things will begin to feel a little less ‘new’ as you gradually settle into your new role as a parent. Here’s how to prepare for the next 2 to 8 weeks of your newborn baby’s life.
The next steps are creating a ‘toolkit’ of techniques for the future. The first two weeks are a time of recovery and adjustment to parenthood, so although it may have felt that there was no pattern or real structure to your days and nights, be reassured that you have learned a lot already - as has your baby. By now they are feeling less startled by the outside world and with your loving guidance, are developing a sense of security within it.
How to help your newborn baby sleep at night
How much sleep does my baby need at 2-8 weeks old?
Baby sleep - or lack of it - is a big preoccupation for many parents, so the 2-8 week period is the optimum time to start establishing good sleep habits!
As mentioned previously, your baby has no concept of ‘day and night’. Your baby is highly unlikely to develop this unless you take the lead, providing the consistency and conditions to enable this by understanding some fundamental principles:
1. Recognising that babies up to 3 months require 16 to 18 hours sleep in every 24 hour period.
2. Up to 3-months-old, their ‘awake span’ between naps is between 60 to 90 minutes, sometimes less. From about 2 weeks, your baby will enjoy short periods of activity time with you smiling, talking, singing and walking around after a feed and before a nap.
3. In this critical period, visual acuity is developing steadily and your baby will enjoy looking out of a window, at bright, moving objects in a room, or on an activity mat or a baby chair. Their attention span is brief, however, so any longer than 5 to 10 minutes on each activity can overwhelm them. Be prepared to rotate activities!
4. An overtired baby is much harder to settle! To prevent your baby getting overtired, watch out for the ‘sleepy clues’ and ‘windows of opportunity’ to settle.
5. Your baby does not yet comprehend that a crib is the place to sleep. Up until now, your baby has been curled up on their side inside of you, and being placed on their back to sleep is completely alien to them. They certainly don’t understand the fact that lying on their back is the safest sleeping position for them!
Given the above, it becomes easier to recognise that parents need to ‘take the lead' and lovingly introduce good independent sleeping practice.
Your newborn baby’s bedtime routine
As your baby has been feeding day and night, the boundaries between daytime and nighttime have become a little blurry. By now, you probably are starting to miss relaxing in the evening, so 2 weeks is the perfect time to start settling your baby into a bedtime routine, gently introducing them to the divide between daytime and nighttime. Take note: the actual time of starting this process is less important than the process itself.
Around 6-9pm, start to ease your baby into ‘night mode.’ Leave your daytime spaces, abundant in light, noise, activity, cooking and smells, and move into the quieter ‘night space.’ This can be the bedroom or bathroom.
Once in your ‘night space’, allow things to quieten down by using lower lighting and a soft voice. If you have started bathing your baby, this can become part of your baby’s bedtime routine, either bathing them each night or just once or twice a week, afterwards giving your baby a gentle massage with a moisturising baby product. On non-bath nights, you could opt for a massage, changing your newborn into a ‘night time’ babygrow afterwards. It is the overall ambience, sequence and familiarity of the event that is the key.
Tip: aim to do this when your baby is not hungry or overtired, for instance when your baby has been awake for about half an hour after their evening nap. It can help to offer your baby a ‘split feed’, feeding them for a short while before bathing them and then, when bedtime preparations are complete, taking them into the dimly lit bedroom and singing a few rhymes or reading a short story. While reading to your baby may seem premature, snuggling with them and reading a short ‘board book’ will help your baby to recognise the familiar sequences that lead up to bedtime. This process can be applied to pre-nap times as well.
Take your time with the last feed of the day, allowing your baby to take all they want. Wind, and when they are relaxed and quiet, begin to settle them into the crib.
Establish a bedtime routine with your baby
The following settling guidelines are the same for day naps and bedtime.
Swaddle your baby
This can be done before or after a feed. Swaddling replicates the conditions of the womb, helping to soothe your baby as they wind down for the night.
Use white noise
If you choose to use white noise to accompany your baby to sleep, offer a few ‘sleepy time’ phrases for your baby to learn and recognise.
Rock your baby back and forth
If your baby is unsettled, allow your baby to rest on you, rocking back and forth swiftly but smoothly while you hold them. Only move back and forth about 4-5 cm at a time.
Pat your baby’s back
If your baby appears to require further soothing, rhythmically and gently pat their bottom, at about 80-100 pats per minute, at the same time. While doing this, you can use a ‘shh, shh’ sound for a soothing effect.
When you feel your baby is beginning to relax, place them into the crib ready to rest. Some babies settle better if your hand remains on them for a short while until they are drifting off, or sometimes longer until they are in a deeper sleep. For very unsettled babies, consider using a pacifier if the other interventions haven’t proven effective.
If your baby is still struggling to fall asleep, ask yourself these four questions as to why your baby might not be sleeping.
For more on how to get your newborn baby to sleep through the night, myTamarin's virtual newborn support sleep consultant Dawn Tame offers her top tips in the video below.
Learning which bedtime routine works best for you and your baby
In these early weeks, you will begin to get to know your baby, recognising whether they can settle with minimum intervention, or require extra attention to soothe them to sleep. The trick is to offer the right conditions that enable them to get to sleep in the crib without them falling asleep on you beforehand.
Finally, it is important to recognise that some babies will make a bit of noise while settling down for the night, so don’t intervene at the first whimper! An intermittent grumble is to be expected; you will only need to intervene when the baby begins to cry. When this happens, repeat the settling steps outlined above to send them back to sleep.
The key to settling your baby into a sleep routine is a combination of consistency and recognising your baby’s temperament, tailoring their bedtime routine to suit them and their behaviour. Inevitably, some days will require more work than others, but by following these steps you’ll find your baby will quickly settle into a sleep routine with ease, restoring an element of peace to your evenings.
Looking for newborn support or a night nanny to help you through the first few weeks after birth? Get in touch with us at email@example.com or sign up today to find the best postnatal support for you.
This blog is the fourth in our ‘A New Parents' Guide to Baby Sleep and Routine’ series.
A new parents' guide to baby sleep and routine for 6-12 month old babiesRead post
A new parents' guide on baby sleep and routine in the first two weeksRead post
With the clocks going forward an hour in the UK at the end of March, here's our guide on how to make sure you and your children don't lose any sleep.Read post