Now, some of you will have probably landed here because you think I’m totally bonkers! Or you’re cross with me! Or, because you are intending to set up healthy sleep habits from the start and/or are investigating different sleep training methods out of curiosity.
Table of Contents
BEFORE we start, yes the title seems “interesting”. Sleep train a newborn? Is that even possible?! What is she going on about?!
For me, the definition of “sleep training” means working on sleep. When we work on sleep, we look holistically at both day and night sleep.
We take a look at all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, the sleep environment, routine (or just how long a baby has been awake if they’re a newborn), and how the baby falls asleep. We’re mindful of the family, how they are bearing up, siblings, work pressures, feeding struggles, developmental progress and other things.
I really dislike the way the phrase “sleep training” has become synonymous with just one sleep training method. Cry it out.
So, for those gobsmacked by the title and thought I was suggesting using the cry it out method with a newborn…. don’t worry, you won’t find that here. Please do read on!
Can you sleep train a newborn?
Yes! We can introduce some gentle, thought through strategies to help our little ones sleep. Think more ‘healthy sleep habits’ rather than using a strict sleep training method here though!
Sadly I can’t guarantee you a good night’s sleep with a newborn… so perhaps cross off the ‘sleep through the night’ goal on your checklist.
However, I can help to start you down the path of helping baby to fall asleep and stay asleep over the longer term.
What do I need to know before I sleep train my newborn?
What do you want to achieve? We need to set age-appropriate goals. The following is considered NORMAL for newborn sleep:
- multiple night wakings
- multiple night feeds
- multiple naps
- highly variable nap lengths (10 minutes to 3 hours)
- late ‘bedtime’
So, if you’re set on your baby sleeping through the night, then I’m afraid you’re not going to find those answers here (if I had them I would be very rich!). On a side note, some babies just do! Pretty sure those parent’s wont be reading their either!
However we’ll continue to focus on what we can control, e.g. bedtime routines, introducing healthy sleeping habits, slowly shifting bedtime earlier.
Potentially we’ll also be able to look at using a gentle sleep training method to see if we can help baby to fall asleep in more than just one way.
Having a range of methods where your baby can fall asleep, for example, rocking, feeding, patting, walking, in a pram and also in their cot with just a heavy hand or you nearby can help prevent strong sleep associations further down the line. There’s not just one thing that helps them fall sleep, there’s multiple.
When you’ve got a baby who can fall asleep in multiple ways, when they’re a little older you can start sleep training by slowly reducing the amount of time you use a method that involves a lot of assistance, e.g. gradually feeding to sleep less, then rocking less, then patting less. They do a little more and you do a little less. Gradually, over time. They probably won’t notice.
Why is sleep important for babies?
Sleep is vital for EVERY system in our body!
However infant sleep is also known as ‘polyphasic’. Lots of phases with lots of wakings. This is entirely normal. Only really by the time your baby reaches 3-4 months of age do we start to see more of a ‘pattern’ emerging with distinct sleep periods, and when they reach 3 (ish) years of age their bodies will become ‘biphasic’ like adults, one period awake, followed by one period asleep.
Until your child is about 3 years of age, they’re likely to spend more time sleeping than awake!
Sleep is the absolute foundation of good health, and for children, good development. Working on sleep can mean making tiny, but positive changes. Even small steps, but in the right direction, will turn your little one into a strong and independent sleeper when they’re ready.
7 easy ways to sleep train a newborn
Looking to begin sleep training? So, the development of good sleep habits takes time, but from all my years of experience, sleep training babies and children, I’ve summarised my newborn sleep advice into 7 easy sleep training tips:
- Start developing a peaceful bedtime routine
- Introduce gentle sleep cues
- Craft a simple daytime routine
- Take opportunities to practice falling asleep independently
- Keen an eye on sleep schedules (wake windows)
- Perfect that sleep environment
- Watch and wait (don’t rush to help)
1) How to establish a bedtime routine
If you’ve read any of my other blogs you’ll see I bang on about a good bedtime routine quite a bit! Even at a young age, it helps to make a slow, steady and importantly, predictable transition between day and night. Going from a room full of friends and family to being put down in a cot and expected to sleep is going from hero to zero!
Just like adults, we need a short period to unwind, slow our heart rate, attach some healthy sleep cues and get comfy before falling asleep (nap or night).
Whilst you don’t have to bath every night, you may wash, pop on some lullabies, feed, change their nappy, into a clean sleep suit and swaddle/sleeping bag and then begin to support them to fall asleep.
It helps if you can move into a dim lit room for the last part of the routine, slowly shutting off the sights and sounds of the environment and removing all the noises and the stimulation.
A consistent bedtime routine will stay with your baby throughout their childhood. Think about your own nighttime routine, I bet that’s been the same for years!!
2) Introducing sleep cues
Probably sounds more complicated than it should be!
For me, my sleepy cue is my pillow. When my head hits it, that’s it, I’m closing my eyes. If someone removed my pillow, I’d be pretty cross (it’s also why babies get pretty cross when we remove their sleep crutches!)
For our babies, sleepy cues can be a particular nursery rhyme, the sound of the white noise being turned on, the sleeping bag, a parent shushing, or a little baby massage.
What you say is equally important, especially as these words will probably stay with your little one until they’re a much older child! It can be “night night little one, love you, sleep tight”. Whatever feels right to you.
After a few nights of working on introducing some easy, but predictable baby’s sleep cues, they will start to feel familiar for the whole family! The bedtime routine becomes more of a bedtime ritual.
3) Craft a simple daytime routine
I’ll be honest with you, yes, the idea of a ‘routine’ or ‘sleep schedule’ with a newborn can feel a little daunting, or even impossible! They sleep (often), they eat, and they look around in a ore and curiosity, then they sleep again!
Hence, the only newborn routine I could ever recommend is just that – Eat, Play, Sleep! I’m not going to explain each step, well, they’re rather straightforward! But following a simple structure like Eat Play Sleep does have a few advantages:
1) Most humans like some sort of structure and definition to their day. It helps with expectation management and transitions. If this is your first baby, then transitioning from a daily work routine to life with a newborn can throw us somewhat. So even getting a little structure back can help things feel more ‘normal’ in the newborn chaos.
2) This helps to structure feeds too. With the view that baby will be feeding after their nap, rather than before it. Usually meaning that baby will be more awake, taking a good feed until they’re full and not falling asleep whilst being fed (breast/chest/bottle) and we can then help baby learn lots of other ways to fall asleep – not just feeding to sleep.
3) It builds in one of the most important aspects of infant development – PLAY! For a newborn, play may be a simple kick around on a mat, running their fingers over textures, just staring at your face and committing it to memory! This may only be for a minute or two in the early stages before they fall back to sleep, but we build on it as their wake windows start to increase.
TOP TIP! You may want to dedicate some of the play time to being in baby’s room whilst awake. Whether that’s the room you share at the moment or their eventual nursery. This really helps to develop a sense of familiarity (and safety) within their sleep space.
4) Take opportunities that exist!
Most of the time your little one will fall asleep on you. Contact naps are pretty frequent at this age and absolutely PLEASE enjoy those newborn snuggles for as long as you can (before they grow old enough to start poking you in the face and pulling at your lips).
If your little one is calm, has had a nice feed and change and it’s getting close to their nap time then why not try and put your baby in their cot or side sleeper. You can always lie next to them so they are reassured by your presence. If they remain happy just see what happens.
You never know, they may just drift off. If so – celebrate (or take the opportunity for a much needed shower, cup of tea – or a nap yourself!). If they don’t drift off and fall asleep then that’s fine! It’s still a great learning experience and an opportunity to become familiar with their own sleep space.
Try to put your baby down again the next day. It’ll feel that little bit more familiar and at some point over the next week or so, they may just start to fall asleep independently.
5) Consider wake windows (rather than a ‘by the clock’ schedule)
I really try and dissuade my clients with young babies from aiming for a ‘by the clock’ schedule. Newborn sleep is so variable, they may nap for just 10 minutes, or even for hours.
You can feel like you’re chasing your tail with a written schedule, so here’s where wake windows come in.
- You can expect a newborn to be awake for about 30 minutes!
- At 1 month between 45-90 minutes
- At 2 months between 75 minutes – 1.75 hours
- At 3 months between 1.25-2 hours
Keeping an eye on how long your baby has been awake helps you settle them back down to their next nap when they’re naturally ready for their next sleep. It can help prevent situations where you’re trying to settle them where they’re overtired or underttired and falling asleep is much harder.
6) Perfect that sleep environment!
I always start here with my clients when looking at some simple changes and positive steps in the right direction. Easy ticks in the right boxes and move on.
1) Darkness. This is so critical to how we function as humans! It serves as a sleepy cue in its own right (almost all of you will close the curtains before bed). Darkness also helps the body to produce the hormone melatonin – which helps us sleep). Invest in some good blackout blinds.
2) Whttps://childsleepspecialist.co.uk/blog/music-for-better-baby-sleep/hite noise. Now, this is also a good sleepy cue, but it helps drown out those other household noises (siblings too!) or environmental noises such as the traffic outside. White noise should be loud and consistent for the whole duration of the nap or bedtime.
3) Temperature. Being cold is a common factor in night waking, and being too hot raises the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Investing in a good sleeping bag with clear TOG ratings will help ensure your baby doesn’t get too hot or cold and importantly they don’t come off (loose blankets are a risk with newborns). Aim for the room to be 18-20 degrees and get a nursery thermometer.
7) Watch and wait!
Newborn sleep is admittedly a little weird! They can transition between active sleep and quiet sleep. They don’t have the distinct sleep stages of an adult – this development occurs at the dreaded 4 month regression! During active sleep they can look quite strange! All sorts of amazing facial expressions can occur! Also they can shimmy, shuffle and look like they’re awake when they’re not!
If your newborn is awake in the middle of the night and having a little whinge, whine, moan, groan or other noise then take a minute or two to stand back and hold off. See what happens. If they wake fully and baby’s crying loudly, for sure, get them up, check their nappy, offer a feed. But otherwise don’t rush.
Allowing them time in their sleep space helps to familiarise themselves with that environment. If they’re happy, then spending some time there (happily) is great – hey, you may even be able to shower!
At nighttime, it also offers the opportunity for them to fall back to sleep unaided. Even if it’s just once a week!
Newborn sleep training methods are all about offering opportunities to practice.
The more opportunities we offer, the more practice they get, and we all know practice makes perfect (especially with child sleep)!
How long does it take to sleep train a newborn?
This has absolutely no set answer at all. In fact there are so many variables at play that it is totally impossible to predict!
It’s a long game. There is no newborn sleep training technique that you can use where you can put your baby down and they stay asleep until morning! (Some newborn babies do sleep through the night, although most babies certainly do not – some lucky parents out there – eh?)
Taking the opportunities that present themselves, accepting that everything we do is just practice, and staying cool calm and confident when it’s all going wrong (appreciate that’s easier said than done!) and making sure you’re following all the recommended sleep environment and SIDS guidelines will help set your little one up to be a fabulous sleeper.
When can I use a more structured sleep training method?
Many parents tend to start thinking about a gentle sleep training method or using other approaches such as controlled crying closer to the 6 month mark. They’d be aiming to help teach independent sleep skills and how to self soothe – this can be done with a variety of sleep training techniques.
For me, gentle sleep training methods such as the chair method or habit stacking can be as gradual and responsive as you like and some families may be ready to consider these from about 4 months onwards. If you’re stepping away, then it’s only for a few minutes and we’d really be limiting periods where your baby cries.
For other methods that involve periods of letting your baby cry like the Ferber method (controlled crying) most start sleep training around 6 months.
Check out my ultimate guide to sleep training.
When should I consider using a certified sleep consultant?
Want to make the process of sleep training easier?
Confused with all the common sleep training methods?
Unsure whether to use a gentle method?
Unsure whether you’re ready for sleep training?
Find it hard to leave the room?
Is your baby unable to self soothe?
Unsure whether you’ve got a safe sleep environment?
Unsure whether baby’s age is preventing baby to sleep longer stretches or connect sleep cycles?
Making changes to your baby’s sleep can be hard. If you want to support your baby learn how to stay asleep for longer stretches without the need for cry it out cio then you may wish to reach out and have a chat.
Infant sleep training can be a bit of a minefield and I’m here to help make your sleep training journey a little easier.
Get in touch!
Please reach out. If it’s tough right now, I can help.