There are many questions that I began asking once my daughter had come along. How often does a newborn need to feed? How many wet nappies is normal? Is my baby’s poo colour normal? But no question was more pressing than finding out how to get sleep with a newborn. As I mentioned in my previous post ‘Expectations VS Reality – What to Expect as A New Dad‘, there are quite a few changes that occur when you become a father, but the most challenging change I found was adjusting to the new sleep pattern that a newborn entails. This was such a challenge that I found myself Googling for answers a few times a day in the first few weeks. I don’t know if I ever found a single answer that worked, but I tried a lot of strategies that were recommended and my wife and I were lucky enough to find some semblance of normal sleep after the first 7 – 8 months. Hopefully through reading my journey, it will help you with yours.
Please keep in mind that the strategies we trialed may not be in line with the best practice that is recommended out there. Please consider your own circumstances and needs, and discuss with your child health nurse or other relevant medical professional if you are having consistent sleep difficulties with your baby.
Our Daughters Sleep Patterns
To start off with, we chose to bottle-feed our daughter, so our experience will be different if baby is breast fed. I was also lucky enough to have 1 month off work to help out with caring for our daughter. Before I give you an idea about my daughters sleep patterns, please remember that every child is different. Each baby is born with their own uniqueness, so some may sleep well and others not so well. It is the classic argument of ‘Nature VS Nurture’, but arguably no one side is better than the other. Reality is, it is a mixture of both and when you find the right mix, you find what will work for you and your family. The below information is not trying to ‘show off’ or imply that these strategies will work for all babies, it is just an example of our experience, to help you figure out how to get sleep with a newborn.
So our Daughter in the first 6-8 weeks had a sleep/wake pattern of approximately 2-3hours asleep and 1-2hrs awake. Pretty standard from what I’ve read and was told by the pediatrician and midwives. She would sleep in the bassinet either in our room at nighttime, or in the living area during the day.
After the first 2 months, we transitioned her day sleeps into her own room, and nighttime sleeps were still in our room. Daytime sleeps were beginning to shorten to about 1.5hrs in length, and nighttime sleeps were more consistently every 3 hours.
At the 3-month mark, we transitioned our daughter out of our bedroom at night and into her own bedroom. Sleep length still stayed a fairly consistent 1.5hrs during the day with day time awake hours usually about 2 hours in length. Bedtime was between 6pm and 6:30pm, and our daughter at this stage would normally sleep solidly until about 11pm/midnight, and then wake every 2-3hrs after.
By the 6-month mark, our daughter was napping between 2-3 times a day, usually 45min to 1hr naps, and at nighttime she would wake between 2-3 times between 6:30pm and 5am. She was an early riser and would rarely sleep past 5am.
And now at the 10-month mark, our daughter has been able to sleep through 11-12 hours, but will generally stir at night once or twice for her dummy, and naps twice during the day for between 45 minutes to 1.5 hours each nap.
How My Wife And I Managed Sleep Duties
Another factor to consider is how my wife and I had split up sleep duties over the last 10 months, because this plays a huge role whether the strategies you trial are going to be useful or not. Prior to having our daughter, I was always a morning person, generally waking up around 5-5:30am, and my wife was more of a night person preferring to sleep in. I also generally function better on less sleep than my wife. The way we managed sleep duties has changed as our daughter has gotten older, but in general we take shifts during nighttime so each of us could get a solid portion of sleep. If one of us was more exhausted or unwell, then the other would take over for that night, but in general we’ve tried to keep sleep duties (and all other duties) as close to a 50/50 split as possible.
Sleep Strategies Galore
Great so now you have a bit of an idea of what our situation looked like. Time for everything we attempted to help get some semblance of normal sleep back! I have split all the different strategies we tried into different categories.
- White noise. This was recommended in almost everything we read, everything we watched and by many of the parents we spoke to. We had a white-noise maker gifted to us, and I found a white noise video on YouTube as a backup.
- Red light. We had read that keeping the room dark was the way to go. But then if we needed to go assist our daughter, we couldn’t see anything! So we found some recommendations for using red light as a way to help with sleep (which also helped us to see at nighttime!)
- Scented steam. I can’t remember what scent was specifically recommended but this was supposed to help with a more restful night.
- Keeping the sleep locations consistent. So up until 3 months old, she slept either in our room or the lounge room in her bassinet. 3 months on she slept only in her room in her crib.
- Keeping quiet in the house.
- Sleeping bags. We tried swaddling in the first month but found it too difficult to do at nighttime with lack of sleep.
- Trying to put her down to sleep rather than hold her. This was challenging to do, especially in the first few months but where possible we would hold and rock her until she was calm and drowsy/almost asleep, and then place her back in the crib. We would sometimes have to repeat this over and over again until either she slept, or we gave in and held her!
- Trying to hold and rock her to calm/drowsy rather than feeding her.
- Trying to rock her in the crib to help her soothe and sleep, rather than holding and rocking her.
- Avoiding going out during her nap times, or timing the drive to occur during her nap time so she would sleep during the car ride.
- We looked at some sleep/feed routines that we found online or that other parents had been recommended.
Some of these strategies we believe have helped us get back to normal sleep, some we just didn’t find useful, and some we kept doing but don’t think they were actually too useful.
The Outcomes Of Our Strategies
- White noise. We still use the white noise to help our daughter sleep, and we have noticed that she seems to be relaxed during the day when she hears it.
- Sleeping bags. Our daughter can now sleep without a sleeping bag for her naps, but she will always sleep better when she is in a sleeping bag.
- Consistent sleep locations. Particularly from 3 months onward, having our daughter sleep in her room we found that she began to sleep better.
- Trying to put her down drowsy rather than hold her to sleep. This was a long, gradual process and involved a lot of steps, but we essentially started with rocking to sleep, then rocking to calm/drowsy, then rocking in the crib until asleep, then rocking in the crib until drowsy, and then finally leaving her in the crib to soothe herself.
- Driving during her nap times, and not staying out when it was baby’s sleep time.
What didn’t work:
- Specific sleep time routines. We tried sticking to specific recommendations on baby’s sleep times and feed times, but found this too challenging to implement. Some strategies recommended we used (see above), but sticking to a specific sleep/wake schedule we did not find helpful. We probably in total attempted 2-3 different sleep time routine recommendations.
What we kept doing, but probably wasn’t helping
- Red light. We’ve kept doing this strategy because it’s helped us if we need to go in to help our daughter, but I don’t think it has actually helped her sleep much.
- Scented steam. Our daughter has slept fine with and without the steam. However, when our daughter was sleeping in our room, the steam did help my wife and I sleep better! So maybe I would recommend this for you parents!
- Keeping quiet. Other than avoiding loud, startling noises, keeping quiet didn’t really assist our daughter to sleep better.
Consistency Was Key
My wife and I often reflect on everything we tried to help get our daughter to have a good sleep pattern, and many times we think ‘maybe she was always going to sleep well, regardless of what we did’. However, what I know from the research into behaviour change and newborn sleep patterns, is that at least some part of what we did has contributed to our daughter sleeping the way she does. And so sometimes I think maybe then it isn’t specifically what strategy we tried, it was more about what strategy we consistently tried, and kept persevering with even when at the time it seemed so pointless. When writing the list of strategies we tried, I realised that most of the strategies we maintained were those that were easy to keep applying day in, day out. The sleep routines that we had attempted were too challenging for us to use, they didn’t fit into our daughters patterns and ultimately we just weren’t invested in trying this strategy long term. I think if we had stuck it out, we probably would have had an outcome.
The only strategy that wasn’t too easy to apply was trying to avoid rocking her to sleep all the time. And in reality we were probably only successful with this strategy about 50% of the time. But once again, I think the fact that we kept doing it played some part in helping our daughter sleep. And although this wasn’t an easy strategy to do (especially at 2am in the morning), my wife and I were motivated to keep using this strategy to achieve our goal of getting our daughter to sleep independently.
Sleep Easy – You’ll Get There
So my take away lesson from this experience is:
- Pick any strategy that you are willing to apply, and stick with it. Even when it seems completely pointless, you never know, it may actually be working.
- Understand your baby’s patterns. Probably the most important lesson I learned, this may take some time initially, but I found that trying to use strategies without adjusting them to your baby’s temperament, personality and sleep patterns meant that we wouldn’t achieve success, and ultimately feel quite disheartened.
- Keep your goal in the back of your mind to see you through. If you have a clear goal, then you have a clear reason for trying these strategies.
- Only do what you feel comfortable with. You may notice that I didn’t put controlled crying on there. I attempted ONCE for 30 seconds, and couldn’t deal with it. Some people can, and if that’s you then try it. But I couldn’t and didn’t want to. You’ve got to be OK with whatever you are doing.
So every baby is different, every parent is different, and every experience is different. Sure we had a good outcome with our daughters sleep routine, but I know that if we did the exact same thing again with another child, that it probably wouldn’t work. And so the same can be said for other parents out there. Listen to other peoples strategies, read up on what is recommended, and then apply those strategies that fit in with what you are comfortable with and able to do everyday. And then keep doing it, even when it seems pointless. Because eventually, you will get your sleep routine back, and even if the strategies were completely useless, you’ll feel better doing something along the way.
As always, information and advice in this article is of a general nature, and doesn’t consider your personal circumstances. Please seek out professional advice if you require support specific to your needs.