Worried about your newborn not sleeping enough during the day or at night (unless they’re held)? Learn 9 effective tips to try when your baby won’t sleep.
I thought I knew it all.
I read parenting books, browsed through websites, and attended CPR and childcare classes. I 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 can ever know until the day she becomes a parent.
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 daytime and inevitably led to difficult evenings.
The vicious sleep cycle continued: the lack of sleep only led to more restlessness.
I knew that newborns don’t have a set sleeping routine yet, but I was concerned he wasn’t getting much 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 sleeps 10 minutes at a time during the day. Nothing seems to be helping—she’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 point you to the right resources.
But if all checks out okay, you can still do plenty to cope with your newborn not sleeping. First-time parents 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 learn good sleep habits. No, it wasn’t a full 12 hours of nighttime sleep yet, but it sure beat holding him all day. 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 she’s not being held, that doesn’t mean you have to hold her all day. During the newborn stage, I relied on all sorts of baby gear 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 her down in the crib or bassinet, but try different ways to help her sleep.
For instance, wear her in a baby wrap like this one that I used. This not only keeps her close and snug to you, but frees up your arms to do other things. Or put her in a swing—the back-and-forth motion of a swing can lull her to sleep and keep your arms free as well.
If you’re out and about, she might fall asleep in the stroller or car seat which, while not ideal, can give her much-needed sleep.
Free resource: Did you know her awake time just might be affecting how well she sleeps? Get One Mistake You’re Making with Your Baby’s Awake Time—at no cost to you! Don’t make the same mistakes I did—help her fall asleep with this one simple trick! You’ll also get my newsletters, which parents say they LOVE:
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2. Hold your newborn until they’re (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.
Try putting your newborn down drowsy but awake for each nap and bedtime to give her a chance to fall asleep on her own. If she cries or can’t sleep, then yes, scoop her back up to comfort her. But at least give her that chance to fall asleep independently.
As I say in my ebook, How to Get Your Baby to Sleep:
“When laid down awake, babies have a better chance of learning to fall asleep on their own. They never get these opportunities when we do the work for them. By giving them a chance to experience falling asleep, they’ll rely less on external sleep aids like rocking, nursing, or being held in someone’s arms to fall asleep.”
4. Swaddle your newborn
Many newborn 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 in a startle reflex.
Whichever swaddle you choose, go for the “pre-made” ones like these, 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 newborn is shrieking and in tears, but it just might help her stay asleep when she stirs.
You see, infants sleep in cycles, which is why you might find that yours wakes up at the same intervals, typically after 30 or 45 minutes. When you know she’s entering light sleep, insert a pacifier into her mouth so that she starts sucking once again.
And if she already has a pacifier in her mouth, give it a little “tug” before it falls out and startles her awake. The tug can trigger her to suck even harder and encourage her to sleep another cycle.
6. Use white noise
Loud noise doesn’t make for good sleep, but neither does complete silence where any little sound is likely to startle your newborn awake. Instead, use white noise to muffle sudden sounds and provide a familiar environment like 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 the Yogasleep Dohm that we use.
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 his awake time between naps—the younger the baby, the shorter the wake time.
Stay attuned to sleep cues, or simply watch the clock and make sure he isn’t awake too long. Ninety minutes at a time is the max, with wake times as short as 30-45 minutes.
8. Play the same music each time
I’ve found that playing calming music or lullabies 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 my baby into pajamas, before reading a few books and nursing for the night. You might even combine it with a baby massage to help your little one relax even more.
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 allows the breast milk or formula to digest down to his tummy, or for a burp to pass gas caught inside.
If he’s formula-fed, experiment with different brands and types of formula—a simple change can also do the trick.
It’s rough when it feels like your baby’s sleep pattern is all over the place. But remember: this is the season you’re in and, like all seasons, it comes and goes. 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 and meet your baby’s needs. Use baby gear to free up your arms so you don’t feel glued to your baby 24/7. Or simply hold her to sleep—for a good 15-20 minutes—before putting her down. If she happens to open her eyes when you do, allow her a chance to fall asleep on her own.
Pacifiers, swaddles, and white noise can help her fall—and stay—asleep longer. Don’t keep her awake too long or she might be overtired, setting up a vicious cycle of fitful sleep. Add music to your sleep schedule to signal the coming of sleep.
And finally, keep her upright after feedings, or even during sleep, to prevent digestive issues.
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 parent to a newborn can.
Get more tips:
- 11 Ways to Cope with Newborn Sleep Deprivation
- 5 Reasons Your Newborn Wakes Up Screaming
- 12 Things to Do When Your Newborn Fights Sleep
- How to Survive the First Weeks with a Newborn and Toddler
- Burping a Newborn After Breastfeeding: Necessary or Not?
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