Rigid sleep schedules where you wake a baby to start the day or from naps, can often set families up to fail. That’s because rigid schedules, where 9 am means nap time every day, make the assumption that we can control how long your newborn will sleep for and it’s rare at this stage that you can do that.
For example, if you’re on a fixed schedule and your baby only slept 1 hour instead of the planned 2 hours that your schedule had written down, you’ll have self doubt if you should stick to your “schedule” or put down for a nap early because she’s visibly tired. Having those feelings of self doubt is not a great way to spend your day or your first few months of motherhood. We want you to feel confident!
In my private consultations and online classes, I teach a “flexible schedule.” This is based on the idea that babies of certain ages have “awake times” for which they can comfortably stay awake. Surpassing that awake time can make it harder to get a baby to fall asleep, and then stay asleep. The idea with a flexible schedule is that every time your baby wakes up, you project out to when the next nap will likely fall. You can use a combination of sleepy cues and the clock to help guide you.
From birth to 3-months old can comfortably stay awake between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours. The 45 minute time is usually after waking up for the day. If your 1-month old woke up at 7 am and had a feed, she’s likely ready to go back down around 8 am.
The first nap of the day tends to be the longest at this age. It’s often referred to as an extension of night time sleep. This will change around 4 months of age. The remainder of your baby’s naps may vary significantly from day to day in terms of length.
Depending on how much you are feeding at night, most newborns wake up somewhere between 6:30 and 7:30 am for their biggest feed of the day. The morning feed.
Knowing the first nap will be the longest nap, this is a great time for Mom to also have a nap. It can seem strange not to get up and start your day with your partner, but you’ve got a tiny human to be responsible for and you need all the rest you can get. So take it whenever you can - morning nap is the best place to snag some more sleep.
Throughout the day your newborn’s nap lengths may vary. We would love your baby to nap for at least 45 minutes, which is 1 daytime sleep cycle. Babies who wake up before that time often appear to be unrested and fussy. If your baby wakes up before that time, or wakes up at 45 minutes crying, she likely needs to sleep longer and you could try and help her back into sleep. This is called a “nap extension.”
Your afternoon naps may range anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours! There is large variation in nap patterns and length from child to child at this age. You might not get a long afternoon nap, which is why you need to grab that sleep for yourself in the morning.
Should I wake my newborn to feed?
Your second goal in terms of sleep at this age is to develop ways to help your baby sleep that aren’t physical exhausting for you. It’s great if you can expose your baby to a variety of sleep conditions at this age.
The best thing you can practice is helping your baby fall asleep from calm but awake in her crib or bassinet. This is your long goal. Your short-term goals are staying well rested, but your long goal is getting her to sleep in her crib or bassinet as she gets older. Many parents enjoy co-sleeping, but it can be hard to maintain once your LO is mobile. A crib can be helpful. While those first few weeks to months, sleeping on you can feel magical, it can be hard to maintain once she’s older and heavier.
Most babies experience the “witching hour” where they are fussy and often cluster feeding from 6-9 pm. While uncomfortable for parents, this is very normal.
You’ll want to try and get your baby down for the night by 9 pm. And then you’ll want to get yourself to sleep as soon as possible.
What is a dreamfeed?
Dreamfeeds can be useful to help align your child’s first stretch of sleep, which tends to be the longest, with your stretch of sleep.
We used to get my daughter down for the night at 9 pm, and then I would wait until 9:45 or 10 pm and then do a dreamfeed. I would pick her up while she was sleeping and gently tickle her lips to get her to latch. This can be accomplished with a bottle as well. During a dreamfeed babies are often semi awake but very drowsy and usually feed well. Then you would attempt to burp, you might not hear one and that’s okay, and put her back down. Then you would high tail it to sleep! Trying to align her longest stretch of sleep with yours.
There’s nothing worse than settling into sleep, only to be woken up in 1 hour, to a baby that needs to be fed. The dreamfeed is a strategy to help avoid that.
Similarly if you wake up in the night and you need to pee, if it’s been an appropriate time since her last feed, there’s nothing wrong with doing a dreamfeed then to align your stretches of sleep.
Some people might feel that dreamfeeding is unnatural. And to some extent that is true. We are manipulating sleep with feeding times.
However, there are so many things that aren’t actually that natural in parenting. Breastfeeding, while the instinct as natural, definitely involved a learning curve. Getting your baby to sleep, not always that natural either.
When should I stop swaddling?
You’ll want to stop swaddling as soon as your baby shows signs of rolling. Rolling in a swaddle could pose a risk to the health of your child. Most kids don’t roll until 4-5 months of age but there are always outliers. The purpose of the swaddle is to decrease the “startle response” or Moro Reflex which disappears anywhere from 2-3 months of age.
We live in a modern age and there are strategies that may seem fabricated but that can be really helpful to protect our mothers. You are an important person too in this Mom Baby equation. Keeping a little human alive, well-fed and rested is a huge responsibility, but it doesn’t mean that your needs aren’t important as well. For the dynamic to be healthy and working well, both units need to be having their needs met and sleep is a huge factor in that equation.
If you’re looking to learn more about helping your newborn sleep you can check out my online class “Bundles of Sleep: How to Gift Your Newborn the LOVE of Sleep.” This is a no tears approach to learning what your baby’s sleep needs are by age, setting up healthy sleep habits, and becoming a sleep detective!
About the Author: Dr. Sarah Mitchell
A chiropractor by training, Dr. Sarah Mitchell found her true passion when her own son just would not sleep. Now she empowers tired parents to teach their little ones to sleep as a sleep consultant at Helping Babies Sleep. She offers DIY online classes, virtual consultations and home visits for expecting parents and children up to 3.5 years of age.
Looking for more information on sleep for both you and your baby as a new mom? We think you'll like these articles:
- How Much Sleep Does My Newborn Need?
- How Can I Improve My Sleep With a Newborn?
- How to Transition Mother and Baby During the Fourth Trimester
- Postpartum Confinement: Understanding the Importance of Self-Care and Nutrition
Be sure to follow us @lovemajka and tell us about your experiences putting your newborn (and yourself!!) to sleep! Tag us in your cute sleepy pics #lovemajka #fuelingmotherhood