A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Rockabye baby: 5 tips to help your newborn sleep

Once you bring your new baby home, they will have a few daily habits ­– eat, sleep and poop. Sleep can be one of the most important things for you and baby during those first few months of life. Pediatrician Dr. Nicole Giles says newborn sleep is quite variable but in general, a newborn infant will sleep 16-17 hours a day.

Photo of a baby sleeping

If you are struggling to keep your newborn sleeping, establish a bedtime routine that works for you and your family.

“Infants tend to sleep two to four hours at a time,” Giles said. “It is common for infants to have day-night reversal in the first several weeks of life with longer periods of wakefulness at night, which can be difficult for parents.”

If you are struggling with getting your newborn to sleep, Giles shares some tips for restful nights.

Wake vs. sleep environment

As Giles said, some infants have day and night reversed. A way to transition their sleep back to a normal routine is to reinforce the environment around them.

During the day, lights should be on with typical daytime activities. Naps should be reserved for quiet, darker spaces in the infant’s room. This is similar to at night, when you also have the area quiet and dark.

“When a child awakens at night, parents should feed the infant, change their diaper and place them back to sleep without additional commotion,” she said. “The quieter nights can be, the sooner the infant learns that nights are for sleeping.”

Build a sleep routine

Giles also encourages establishing bedtime routine early on, even as early as a few weeks of life.

Parents can create their own routine with things like a warm bath, bedtime reading, a feeding and background music, and then place your baby to sleep.

“This helps a child associate this routine with going to sleep and may help them fall asleep faster,” she said.

When a child is a few weeks or months old, they may need more help falling asleep by being held and rocked. However, as your child ages, you can start placing them while awake, but drowsy, in their crib so they learn to fall asleep on their own. This may happen around eight to 10 weeks, but each child is different. Giles said parents should follow their child’s cues.

“Sound” asleep

If you still seem to be struggling to keep your baby to sleep, various strategies and tools are available to help them learn to fall asleep on their own.

Sound machines and sound apps can be helpful for a child to fall asleep. Sounds also can help block out background noise as other family members are awake in the home.

“Parents should be mindful to monitor the volume of the sound, but they are safe to use,” Giles said.

Safety first

Overall, Giles encourages a safe sleep environment for your newborn.

“Infants should be placed on their back on a firm sleep surface like a mattress with fitted sheet,” she said. “No additional pillows, blankets, toys or stuffed animals should accompany their sleeping space.”

She also said car seats, strollers and swings are not recommended as routine sleeping environments.

Parents need sleep, too

Last but not least, try to get some sleep yourself. Ask other family members, friends or other caretakers to help with your baby for an afternoon or evening so you and your significant other can rest.

“There is nothing harder than trying to get a fussy infant to sleep when parents are over-tired themselves,” Giles said.

Parents are more than welcome to contact their pediatrician for tips as well to help with infant sleep.

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