Does your newborn fuss and cry at night when you put them down? Are you desperate for an hour to yourself, baby-free, to sleep soundly?
Sleep is one of the biggest struggles new moms face during those first few weeks, and newborns don’t make it easy.
If your newborn won’t sleep alone and demands to be held, cuddled, and rocked all through the night, it can be hard for you to continue functioning. Patience is critical with newborns in every aspect, and nighttime is no different.
So what’s the secret to handling a fussy newborn? How can you get some shuteye by yourself?
Safe Sleeping For Newborns
Sharing a bed with your baby can be detrimental for various reasons. One is that co-sleeping may be one of the leading causes of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome — better known as SIDS. SIDS is what happens when an infant under the age of 1 dies from unknown causes.
Practicing safe sleep practices, including encouraging your baby to sleep alone, is vital in the prevention of SIDS (1).
When Newborns Sleep The Night
Many factors come into figuring out when your baby will be ready to sleep through the night. Whether they are bottle-fed or breast-fed, the kind of sleeper you’ve chosen, your baby’s personality, will all play a factor.
Every baby is different — some will start sleeping longer earlier, whereas others take their sweet time. Any mother with multiple children can probably confirm this, as sleep patterns even vary between siblings!
However, don’t be too discouraged. By six months, most babies will be sleeping for long stretches during the night. Having a bedtime routine can help speed this process up (2).
Why Won’t Newborns Sleep Alone?
Newborns can’t communicate their needs or understand the world around them yet — you’re all they know and want. Hungry and tired might be the two default settings of any newborn baby! Despite this, your little one is a complex little bundle!
There are many different reasons why newborns like being held and rocked to sleep.
Fortunately, understanding why a newborn won’t lay down on their own can be relatively easy to figure out, when you know what to look for.
A few different reasons that a newborn may be unable to sleep alone could be:
- Their internal clock: A baby’s internal clock doesn’t begin to develop until about 12 weeks of age, so trying to get a newborn to understand when to sleep and when to be awake is hard. If they napped during the day, too close to bedtime, it could be that they aren’t ready for bed, even if the clock says otherwise (3).
- Exhaustion: Alternatively, if your baby is overtired and hasn’t slept enough, or is exhausted, they may have trouble falling asleep.
- Hunger: Breastfeeding moms often feel like they’re feeding constantly, but your baby’s needy behavior could be a result of a bad latch preventing them from getting enough milk. If your baby is hungry, they may be too uncomfortable to get to sleep.
- Overfed: Tummy aches, acid reflux, and being too full can all be reasons why your baby needs to be close to you at bedtime. This is more common for bottle-fed babies.
- Need stimulation: In the womb, a baby is kept warm and secure in a safe and secure environment. They have your heartbeat to keep them company. Placing a baby alone in a big crib can be a shock, and they may need your stimulation to become comfortable.
Understanding your baby’s need for your closeness, and their inability to sleep alone is a matter of practicing patience and understanding. With trial and error, you can work towards better understanding your baby and their needs.
Helping Your Baby Sleep Alone
Once you’ve determined the likely reasons your baby is stuck to you like glue at night, you can start trying to fix the problem.
Some of the issues are easy to handle. If your baby is overfeeding or taking naps too close to bedtime, all you have to do is adjust their feeding and sleeping schedule to — hopefully — see improvement.
We know it’s hard when they reach out their bitty arms and cry for attention, while all you want is to close your eyes for a few hours. If adjusting their various schedules doesn’t work, it might be time to start looking into sleep training or self-soothing techniques.
What Is Sleep Training?
Sleep training refers to the practice of creating a bedtime routine designed to help your baby work on a 24-hour clock, the same way adults and children do. This can help them recognize when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to be awake.
Sleep training can begin as soon as 4 months old when a baby is beginning to sleep for longer periods and is not as reliant on constant feeding (4).
When To Introduce A Bedtime Routine
Before beginning sleep training, you’ll want to work on a bedtime routine first.
Routines are great for everyone — babies and parents alike. It never hurts to start working on a bedtime routine, as long as you remember that babies only start developing the ability to follow one around 6-8 weeks (5).
You can start sooner, even as soon as a newborn! Just be prepared for the routine to be broken frequently for 1-2 hour feedings, cuddling sessions, and other speedbumps.
Creating an early routine is more of a loose practice to get yourself, your family, and eventually, your baby into the habit.
Implementing A Bedtime Routine
Babies sleep a lot — almost constantly — in their newborn stage. They wake for food, comfort, and diaper changes, and then it’s back to dreamland.
As we’ve said, implementing a bedtime routine early won’t affect your newborn immediately, but it can do some good for you as a mom to try out which steps work for you and which don’t. It’s also a great way to test your theories on why your baby has trouble sleeping alone.
There are a few steps to establishing a bedtime routine.
1. Document when baby sleeps
Before rushing into deciding the exact time you want for bedtime, pay attention to your baby and the natural sleep cycle they’re following.
For newborns, this can be pretty sporadic, but you may notice a pattern in their sleep and when they stay down for the longest. Work with these times, and document them as they change, too.
2. Take baby steps
Don’t overload yourself and your baby with ten things you have to do before bed each night, especially when your little one is a newborn.
They likely won’t sleep for more than 3 hours anyway, so take your time and keep it simple. Bring in something new every few days as you feel it’s needed. Don’t be afraid to adjust!
3. Lay them down early
This move takes practice. Before your baby hits a deep sleep, lay them in their sleeper while they’re drowsy and slightly aware. Starting young will help them familiarize with falling asleep alone, and if they’re tired enough, they won’t start crying for your attention.
4. Make naptime routine
Not everything you do before bedtime can be done in the day, but some rituals can! If you enjoy massaging your baby lightly before they sleep, make this a practice before naps, too.
Associating some activities exclusively with sleep can help send a signal to your baby that it’s time to wind down.
5. Be adaptable
Knowing what kind of a sleeper your newborn will be as they grow is impossible, so your routine may need some editorial changes as your baby grows. Before they’re 4 months old, be flexible to their needs.
It’s hard to know exactly what your baby will respond to when they’re older, so wait until they’ve become better at sleeping in general before you start enforcing a bedtime routine.
When To Rest Easy
Newborns sleep a lot, but somehow that doesn’t always translate to your schedule. It becomes even more difficult when they depend on you to drift off.
While your baby may crave your touch for sleep for many different reasons, the best way to help foster self-soothing and sleeping independently is to begin them on a bedtime routine and stick to it.