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Newborn sleep? No need to worry.

Here is where I talk you out of newborn sleep training. Unless:

  1. You are losing your mind, and PPD or PPA is inhibiting your ability to bond or function.
  2. Or you are ready for the compassionate incremental approach of my Newborn Sleep Solutions. It is slow and it is more about attunement than “sleep training”

Sleep can only take place in a regulated nervous system. And you are your newborn’s regulatory system.

Unless you are experiencing #1 – there is no hurry.

Sadly, this industry of “child sleep consultants” that I and a handful of others pioneered is not helping parents relax into this beginning phase of family life. Classic sleep “training” is infused with fear and urgency. As if there is some magic window, and if we miss it, we are screwed. This is not true. 

Bringing your newborn home could be our most exciting and rewarding experience. Everything is new, and as they once said – there is no owner’s manual. The truth is, there are many manuals, and the information is conflicting and confusing.

I recommend giving yourself over to this time, soaking it up, and being present. Spend the first few months getting to know your baby and establishing a secure bond that will deepen over a lifetime. Our children are our opportunity to have the best relationship we will ever know in this lifetime. 

What supports bonding? Listening and getting to know your unique baby.

Here is what to look for when discerning if your baby has come into this world with a minimal ability to “self-soothe.” Although self-soothing is a co-created event, some nervous systems can do it a little earlier than others. 

  1. Does your baby go from fully asleep to fully awake and crying intensely? Does your baby cry intensely every time you put him/her down? This is common for this stage. This is a sign that your newborn’s nervous system needs your regulation and soothing. If your baby only sleeps on you – let your baby sleep on you. Hold your baby and let your baby’s nervous system develop more before you attempt anything even close to “traditional sleep training” or CIO. This nervous system can learn incrementally over time, but be prepared for a slow crawl to autonomous sleep for this newbie. This baby needs to build the nervous system in the loving hold of your physical presence and soothing. 
  2. Does your baby go from fully asleep to quiet wakefulness, then transition to grunting and complaining before the cry winds up and becomes intense? This is also common, showing that the nervous system has more ability to self-soothe. Even this can be handled carefully, and I recommend an incremental and attuned approach. 
  3. Is your baby highly sensitive to the sensory environment? What sense is the most sensitive? This world is too loud and too bright for some new brains. Is your baby one of these? Do unexpected noises startle your baby, and after this startle, it takes a while to calm down, even with your soothing? Is the startle reflex a hair trigger with your baby?

One thing helps with all of the above: time. Your soothing presence and more brain growth/organizing are what your baby needs. From the above, you will notice how sensitive your baby is to the environment, which will inform your following choices and responses with your baby. 

It all starts with listening. Listen to your baby—deep listening and observing your baby’s cues and communication. You cannot be too responsive at this stage. 

Don’t forget your own needs. Don’t forget your own nervous system. What are your non-negotiable needs that support you being resourced?

 

Babies know how to sleep. They just need to learn how to do it on a new planet, with their senses fully exposed to this new environment.

It’s a lot. 

What helps at this stage of family life with your newborn? 

#1  – Get support. We were never meant to do this alone; the couple is an isolated unit, and this transition to a family would be better if you had support. Some couples can fully support one another and the newborn in these early phases. It depends on your work situation and how you share household responsibilities and finances. Some couples think this through before having children, and some are forced to talk it through after the fact of this new life staring us in the face and demanding our providing and protection.  

#2 – Surrender to the fourth trimester – The womb with a view – Treat the next 3-4 months as if your baby is still gestating. This is called the exterogestational period, and what your baby needs is your complete attentiveness and a calm and peaceful environment to grow and organize the brain. We should probably gestate for at least a year as elephants do, but we were determined bipeds, and here we are. This is the most needy time of human existence. Birth and death are the most needy transitions a human ever experiences, and the brain and reflexes adapt to meet this experience in similar and beautiful ways. 

Newborn Baby Sleep Facts:

  • Newborn sleep is erratic and irregular.
  • Trying to track an inherently incomprehensible and unpredictable pattern is a distraction at best and a waste of time at most. 
  • Your newborn baby is changing rapidly, and no rhythm or routine can fully take hold – YET!
  • Trying to wrangle this immature nervous system into a sleeping or eating schedule and discerning magic wake windows can feel like an exercise in frustration and futility. It can work for some, but if it doesn’t, it is not you or your baby – it is the natural awakening/organizing of a new brain.
  • Even if you could track it – everything will change. 
  • The newborn sleeps often, wakes often, eats often, and poops often.
  • The average amount of sleep a newborn needs in 24 hours is 14 – 16.5 hours.
  • Your newborn baby will wake up many times throughout the night for food.
  • Naps happen frequently and can last anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours. Trying to wrangle magic wake windows and putting this new human on a schedule doesn’t work for all of them. 
  • Naps happen everywhere and anytime, and it is OK for your baby to doze off in a safe play space. However, crashing on a trip to Target will have a limited run. 
  • Newborns get exhausted and overstimulated easily and then refuse a nap. Or refuse several naps. Or scream when they are overtried and overstimulated. 
  • Your newborn is exhausted and refuses to sleep.  
  • Fitting the newborn’s needs into a sibling’s schedule can be difficult. Some babies can handle it and for some it is very disregulating. 

What to do about it:

  • Slow down. Relax. Rest. Recover. 
  • Your baby’s nervous system is attuning to yours, and the more you slow down, the more a calm nervous system will help the baby. 
  • Put down the tracking apps and get to know your baby. This first stage of infancy is a magical time. It is miraculous to be fully present to an awakening human. The first smile, the first laugh, opens your heart and changes your experience of the world. 
  • Create a calm and restful physical environment. Consider sensory stimulation and notice how easy it is to overstimulate the newborn. Overtired and overstimulation are the same thing at this age. 
  • If you experience a lot of crying in the afternoon and a refusal to nap, consider overstimulation the main culprit.   
  • Create a calm and peaceful emotional environment. 

This is not the time to think about sleep training,

but it is never too early to think about sleep learning.

It is essential to know that babies learn everything through their associations. As babies develop and their brain wakes to the world around them, every sense (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) is tuning into the environment and teaching them what they will come to know about their world.

Think about the world from your baby’s perspective. What is your baby learning to associate with sleep?

Here are some common newborn baby sleep associations that become unsustainable. You get to choose how long you are capable of the following associations that can lead to early habit formation. 

  • My baby can only fall asleep nursing
  • My baby can only nap if she is sleeping on me.
  • My baby can only sleep in a swing, car seat, or carrier.
  • My baby does not want to sleep on his back.
  • My baby cries every time I put him down, sleepy but awake.
  • I can’t even put my baby down when she is sound asleep. Her eyes fly open, and she begins to cry.

Habit is something we get better at.

Early habits are formed in relationships; therefore, we have a part in creating them with our children at every stage of development. This is excellent news since we can also create new habits within our relationships with your babies/toddlers/children. We will change what we are doing many times over the years. Our children will have opinions and feelings about the changes. This relational opportunity will plant seeds of resilience and agency in them. These seeds will grow into a child/person with a strong sense of self. 

There will be tears. Mom Soothing Baby

It can help to remember that your baby doesn’t know he feels crappy because he is sleepy. He just knows he feels crappy, and you are the one who is supposed to fix it. So the question is – when do I begin NOT fixing every crappy feeling my child is having? And when is it OK for my child to learn that feeling crappy is part of being human? Development is inherently full of opportunities. Our children do not have to apprehend this truth all at once. They do so over time, in age-appropriate ways, with our help and support. 

At every stage, there is something to learn about this because, at every stage of relationship development (and all development and growth happen in relationships in the early years of family life), we are never perfectly attuned and in sync, nor should we be. We are only human, and humans, even healthy, attached and securely bonded humans, are in constant motion. We are constantly going in and out of attunement, in sync and out of sync with our beloveds—even our beloved babies. We are matched and mismatched, and the percentage is surprising. The percentage we need to be in sync and attuned to be good enough is very surprising. 

In the first few months, we want to be as attuned and in sync as we can. Then, we slowly let the reality of our humanness come through since this is what builds resilience and agency. We don’t want our babies to be overly self-regulating or overly reliant on other-regulation. We solve this black-or-white, this or that possibility through balancing co-regulation and self-regulation with and for the baby. 

Human Development is Innately Unfragile

https://compassionatesleepsolutions.com/2016/01/infant-self-soothing-they-are-not-as-fragile-as-you-think/

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