Helping your newborn baby sleep well

August 3, 2022

Over the past 10 years I have had more and more families contact me for support with newborn babies, or even before baby is due. This is usually because they struggled with their first baby and want to avoid the same with their second. The beauty of starting from the beginning is you avoid the need for sleep training later down the line. It also means you have less sleepless nights overall (it’s almost impossible to avoid them completely) and you can enjoy your maternity leave.

In the first few weeks most parents do what they can to get by. This includes feeding to sleep, contact naps, baby sleeping on you after feeds and lots and lots of cuddles. I am not saying this is wrong or you should deprive yourself of those lovely cuddles or skin to skin, but there are things you can do, alongside those lovely cuddles, to prepare baby for good, safe, independent sleep moving forward.

The 4th trimester is a time when babies transition to the new world and this can absolutely mean teaching them sleep habits that suit you as a family. If you want a baby that can sleep in a pram while you eat lunch, settles well in their cot, is adaptable and can settle easily for anyone then this is the easiest time to make that possible.

Newborn advice can be so varied and confusing, so here is some clarification on how you can help your baby sleep well from the beginning:

  • Newborn babies CAN learn to sleep independently: Any aged baby can learn to sleep however you teach them. If you teach them to sleep with rocking, or patting, or feeding, or cuddles they will. Equally, if you practice them sleeping on their back in a cot then they will also learn that. There are things you can do to facilitate this in the first few weeks, no matter what they say.
  • Feeding on demand: can absolutely be ‘feed when your baby is hungry’, but you do not need to use the breast or bottle every time your baby cries. Remember their sleeping and feeding signals are pretty much identical in the early days so rooting, crying, sucking, lip smacking etc. can all be tired signs too. If your baby has fed in the last couple of hours get them to sleep without a feed. This makes a huge difference to their routine and makes it more manageable. If you feed every time your baby cries this can result in baby constantly needing feeding and falling into feeding to sleep.
  • Separating feeding and sleep: If your baby is always feeding to sleep they will find it very difficult to go to sleep and remain asleep without you. Aim for the EASA routine – Eat Activity Sleep Activity – so that you have a little awake time either side of feeding. If your baby is sleepy after a feed then wake them, change their nappy and have a little awake time before getting them to sleep without feeding.
  • Sleepy cuddles are good: BUT hold your baby in a position that is similar to them being in their cot, e.g. on their back. If your baby sleeps on your chest and on their tummy they will find it impossible to sleep on their back, in their cot. Opt for them sleeping in the crook of your arm on their back or on your knee on a pillow on their back, or lying on your knees on their back. You can absolutely have skin to skin but with baby on their back rather than tummy.
  • Avoid using a sling: If you are going out then use the pram or car seat. In the home use a baby bouncer. If you use a sling your baby will need this to sleep – it is less than ideal needing to walk up and down with your baby in a sling at 3am.
  • Practice your baby going to sleep on a hard-ish surface, on their back, from the start. This could be their crib or a sleepyhead or pillow on your knees or next to you on a sofa or a baby bouncer with a little bounce. You may help them with a head stroke, little bounce, rock or wiggle but try and practice from early on. When you do it incorporate a mini bed time routine – little sentence you say, swaddle or wrap, music or white noise.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell well-meaning relatives that you don’t want your baby cuddled, rocked, or held to sleep on them. When you see your baby is tired then ask them to pop them down or give them to you so that you can practice one of the above methods to get them to sleep. Be confident in what you are doing – just because a baby cries it doesn’t mean ‘they are hungry’.

Putting in some gentle habits that are similar to sleeping in their cot, on their back will mean less habits to reverse later on. By setting in place a good routine from day one and avoiding bad habits such as rocking or feeding to sleep, your baby can and will learn to self-settle. If your baby learns this vital skill from day one, there will be no need for sleep training later on.

If you need more help with your newborn baby’s sleep, my ‘How to help your newborn baby sleep well’ course is perfect for you. You can find our more, here: https://yummybabygroup.kartra.com/page/DUz31

Kat worked with me to help get her newborn baby, Bonnie, sleeping well from the newborn stage:

“I wanted to start implementing Hannah’s advice for my daughter at the newborn stage to eliminate creating bad habits from the beginning. I was starting to create one and could already see myself not getting out of it (this happened with my first). Having a baby is an emotional rollercoaster and personally I would always second guess myself and basically have no idea what I was doing (even the second time round) and always read conflicting advice online or from other people on what to do. 

Hannah’s advice is so helpful and accosted all areas from feeding time to sleep! Her soft approach is consistent and I find I cry a lot less because her knowledge that she passes to me is so reassuring.

Hannah’s approach is gentle and sets your baby in the right direction to be a great sleeper.”