Worried about your newborn not sleeping enough during the day or at night (unless he’s held)? Learn 9 effective tips to try when your baby won’t sleep—a must-read for first-time moms!
I thought I knew it all.
I scoured parenting books, browsed through websites, attended childcare and CPR classes. Prepared myself for diaper changes and breastfeeding. I even knew I wouldn’t know everything, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to learn all I could. I was ready to have this baby!
Except I wasn’t. Not in a way that anyone who has yet to have a child of her own will ever know until the day she becomes a mother.
The biggest culprit? Sleep deprivation.
As a first-time mom, I found myself with a baby who wanted to be held 24/7. He’d easily fall asleep when he was in my arms, but woke up screaming as soon as he was laid down. This affected his naps throughout the day, and inevitably led to difficult evenings.
And thus, the vicious cycle continued: the lack of sleep only led to more restless sleep.
I knew that newborns don’t have a set sleeping routine just yet, but I was concerned he wasn’t getting enough sleep. Even if he wouldn’t cry, he’d open his eyes the minute I set him down, or would fall asleep briefly only to wake up a few minutes later.
How to cope with your newborn not sleeping
If you’re reading this, I’m sure you can relate.
Perhaps your newborn seems to sleep 10 minutes at a time during the day. Nothing seems to be helping—he’s simply fussy and won’t sleep. You’re not sure what the issue is, or whether you should be concerned. Never mind that your newborn fighting sleep has left you feeling miserable and exhausted.
Rest assured, friend, this is all likely normal. Reach out to your pediatrician if you’re concerned, as she can reassure you that all is fine or point you in the direction of the right resources.
But if all checks out okay, you can still do plenty to cope with your newborn not sleeping. First-time moms have to learn on the job, and sometimes we simply don’t know what to do or the techniques to try.
Even with a sleep-fighting newborn, I learned several tactics that helped him sleep much better. No, it wasn’t a full 12 hours of sleep at night just yet, but it sure beat holding him all day during the newborn stage. Take a look at these tips—I hope they work for you, too:
1. Free up your arms
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Just because your baby cries when he’s not being held, doesn’t mean you have to hold him all day. During the newborn stage, I relied on all sorts of baby gear just to free up my arms. An extra 30 minutes added to my baby’s nap often saved my sanity.
Sure, your newborn may cry each time you put him down in the crib, but try different ways to help him sleep.
For instance, wear him in a baby wrap. This not only keeps him close and snug to you, but frees up your arms to do other things. Or put him in a swing. The back-and-forth motion of a swing can lull your baby to sleep and keep your arms free as well.
2. Hold your newborn until he’s (completely) asleep
Frustrated when you put your baby down asleep, only for him to wake up the minute his head hits the mattress? Try putting him down when he’s completely asleep.
How can you tell? One way is to go by the clock. The first 15-20 minutes after he falls asleep is still active sleep, where he can easily wake up. Another trick is to lift his arm and let go. If he moves and stirs, then he’s still in active sleep, but if his arm is limp and flops down, then he’s likely in deep sleep.
3. Let your newborn try to fall asleep
After spending several minutes holding my baby to sleep, I felt so defeated when he’d open his eyes the minute I set him down. He wasn’t crying, but he wasn’t asleep either. I then felt compelled to scoop him up and hold him to sleep once again, hoping that this time he’d stay asleep.
I later learned that it’s fine to put your baby down awake, even after he had been asleep in your arms.
When I had my twins a few years later, I no longer scooped them back up if they happened to open their eyes after I’d just put them down. Instead, I allowed them to keep lying down, even with their eyes open. And what do you know… often they eventually fell asleep.
In fact, try putting him down drowsy but awake for each nap and bedtime to give him a chance to fall asleep on his own. If he cries or can’t sleep, then yes, scoop him back up and hold him until he’s completely asleep. But at least give him that chance, each and every time, to fall asleep independently.
4. Swaddle your newborn
Many babies sleep much better when they’re swaddled since it reminds them of the familiar snug environment of your womb. Plus, swaddling also prevents them from startling themselves awake when their arms flail and jerk on their own.
The Love to Dream swaddle allows your baby’s arms to position themselves upward, while the SwaddleMe keeps his arms down by his sides. Whichever swaddle you choose, go for the “pre-made” ones, rather than creating one from a blanket. You’ll have fewer steps to contend with when putting your baby to sleep.
5. Use a pacifier (and the pacifier “tug”)
A pacifier may not always work if your baby is shrieking and in tears, but it just might help your baby stay asleep when he stirs.
You see, babies sleep in cycles, which is why you’ll often find that yours wakes up at the same intervals, typically after 30 or 45 minutes. When you know your baby is entering light sleep, insert a pacifier into his mouth so that he starts sucking once again.
And if he already has a pacifier in his mouth, give it a little “tug” before it falls out and startles him awake. The tug will trigger him to suck even harder and perhaps encourage him to sleep another cycle.
6. Use white noise
Loud, raucous noise doesn’t make for good sleep, but neither does complete silence where any little sound is likely to startle your baby awake. Instead, use white noise to muffle sudden sounds and provide a familiar environment similar to the sounds he heard in the womb.
You can create white noise through a fan or heater, a white noise app, or even a white noise machine like these:
7. Have shorter intervals between naps
As a first-time mom, I figured babies just fell asleep whenever they were tired. I didn’t pay attention to how long my baby had been awake, assuming that the more tired he was, the sleepier he’d be.
Except feeling overtired could contribute to your newborn not sleeping, starting an endless cycle that never seems to go away.
What to do? Shorten your baby’s awake time between naps—the younger the baby, the shorter the wake time.
Do you struggle with getting your newborn to sleep? His awake time just might be affecting how well he sleeps. Join my newsletter and get my handout—at no cost to you—and discover one mistake you may be making with your baby’s awake time.
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8. Play the same music each time
I’ve found that playing calming music set the scene and established a “trigger” that the bedtime routine would soon start.
First, I’d play a few minutes of music—the same kind each time—to signal that sleep was on its way. After music, I’d then bathe and change him into pajamas, before reading a few books and nursing for the night.
9. Keep your newborn upright
Do you put your baby down to sleep after feeding? He might be crying because of digestion issues, like reflux or gas.
Instead of laying him down right after, keep him upright after feedings, even for as little as five minutes. This will allow his food to digest all the way down to his tummy, or for a burp to pass gas caught inside.
You can also add a crib wedge below his sheets so that he’s still at an incline even when he’s laid down in the crib:
It’s so rough when it feels like you’ve tried everything to help your newborn not sleeping. But remember: this is the season you’re in. And like all seasons, it’ll come and go. Accepting your present moment—instead of fighting or rushing out of it—is often the best way to save your sanity and stay calm.
And apply the tips you learned in this article. Use baby gear to free up your arms so you don’t feel glued to your baby 24/7. Or simply hold your baby to sleep—for a good 15-20 minutes—before putting him down. If he happens to open his eyes when you do, allow him a chance to fall asleep on his own.
Pacifiers, swaddles, and white noise can help your newborn fall—and stay—asleep longer. Don’t keep him awake too long or he’ll be overtired, setting up a vicious cycle of fitful sleep. Add music to your bedtime routine to signal the coming of sleep.
And finally, keep him upright after feedings, or even during sleep, to prevent digestive issues.
Remember, mama: you’re doing your best. You’re not doing anything “wrong”—you’re simply learning on the job, as we all are. Because all the parenting books and childcare classes can only prepare you so much compared to the way being a mother to a newborn can.
Get more tips:
- 13 Ways to Cope with Newborn Sleep Deprivation
- Top 5 Reasons Your Newborn Wakes Up Screaming
- 12 Things to Do When Your Newborn Keeps Fighting Sleep
- How to Survive the First Few Weeks with a Newborn and Toddler
- Burping a Newborn After Breastfeeding: Necessary or Not?
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