There are many reasons to lay a healthy sleep foundation from birth for your new baby. Some parents are eager to start right away because they already know the critical role sleep plays for themselves and their children. Others want to choose a different path for their second or third child and know the best choice for their family is to use healthy and safe sleep habits from birth. Here are a few aspects to focus on with your newborn:
1. Safe Sleep: The ABCs of safe sleep may be easy to remember, however, they are anything but easy to follow when you're exhausted with a fussy newborn. I always recommend using a bare, safe sleep place (crib, bassinet, or play yard), and laying your baby down on their back in a swaddle or sleep sack with a pacifier. When safe sleep habits are used from the beginning your little one adjusts easily to the comfort of safe sleep.
2. Consistent Sleep Space: Once your little one has organized their days and nights (typically around 6-8 weeks) it's a good idea to begin using a consistent sleeping place. This doesn't mean you can't still hold your baby for some naps but using the same spot for nights and at least one nap early on will help your child associate their crib/bassinet/play yard with sleep.
3. Conducive Sleep Environment: I always tell parents the optimal sleep environment is Cool, Dark, and Boring. It sounds silly, but their sleep environment makes a big difference in the quality of sleep they receive.
Temperature: Keep your child's sleep space around 68-72 degrees
Dark: Use blackout curtains or shades at naps and bedtime and cover any white or blue lights in the room
Sound: White noise can be helpful for newborns to adjust to the outside world, being in the womb is noisy, it can be jarring for little babies to sleep in complete silence. White noise can also be a great "cue" that it is time to sleep.
4. Bedtime/Nap Routine: Babies and children thrive off of rhythms and routines; predictability is incredibly soothing to them. You can never start a bedtime routine too young, after 8ish weeks is a great time to add on a short nap routine as well. These are excellent cues to your little one that it's time to sleep.
5. Sleepy Cues: Typically, a newborn's sleep is anything but predictable; sometimes they'll sleep for 2 hours and other times only 20 minutes. Instead of only relying on wake windows, I recommend learning your new baby's sleepy cues. Some examples of babies' sleepy cues are blank stares, reddish eyebrows, pulling on-ears, yawning, moving their head back and forth, and an increase in irritability. Once you see your little one displaying their sleepy cues, it's time to start their nap routine.
6. Partial Arousal: Babies are notoriously noisy sleepers and it can be challenging to discern a true night waking or end of a nap from your little one transitioning from one sleep cycle to the next cycle. It can be easy to want to intervene after they grunt, wine, or cry, but try to give your little one a few minutes and see if they return to sleep on their own. Sometimes too much intervention can end up waking a baby when they weren't fully awake in the first place. Did you know we all partially awake between sleep cycles?
7. Drowsy, but Awake: Once your baby is 8 weeks old (adjusted age) you can begin laying them down after their nap routine drowsy and allow them the space to learn to fall asleep independently. You can start with just one nap a day, I usually recommend the first nap, and once they get the hang of it you can add another. It's all practice at this stage so if your little one gets worked up, do not hesitate to assist them to sleep and try again another time.
These are some strategies to focus on with your new baby, but remember that between birth and 16 weeks it's all just practice. At this stage focus on establishing feedings, bonding as a family, and getting as much rest as you can. If you're rarely having luck with drowsy, but awake or your little one is only napping in your arms, it's okay! Celebrate the little wins as they come and reach out for support when you need it.