Your newborn has been nice and cozy in its warm and dark home for about nine months. Their entire life has been sheltered from daylight, and their little internal clock is practically non-existent. They can’t differentiate between night and day, so it is up to their caretakers to help them learn the routine of the great big world outside mommy and set a healthy sleep schedule.
There are several ways you can help them learn to differentiate between day and night. The first is setting a separate routine for day and night. Changing the way you handle feedings, naps, diaper changes, and night wakeups can help the baby fall into a pattern. Sleeping on a schedule is a skill that doesn’t come naturally, so they need a little help.
Newborns need about 15-18 hours of sleep in a typical 24-hour period. As they get older, this sleep time will continue to decrease, but for now, trying to help them learn different sleep patterns will pave the way for sleep schedules. During the day, aim to keep them in as much natural lighting as possible. For feedings during the day, avoid dark rooms and stay in naturally well-lit places. Spending time outside is a beautiful way to help them adjust and is beneficial to both mother and infant. While they are awake, talk to them and allow them to be a part of your busy day. This will help them establish that day is a more active time than night.
As the required amount of sleep, night feedings will slowly drop down until you can enjoy a whole night of sleep for both baby and mom as they get older. They will still likely need to feed every two hours during the night. While it might take some time to drop those nighttime feedings, a way to help them is to make them completely different from daytime feedings. It is helpful to pick a time close to an evening feed, so they start with a full tummy.
About 20-30 minutes before “bedtime,” start doing some things that help them wind down from the day. A warm bath, reading books, and a walk in the stroller are excellent ways of winding down. Pick your wind-down activities and stick to them. Before you know it, your baby will be able to anticipate these wind-down times.
After wind down, pick a set bedtime for you and the baby. Gather everything you need for the night and get it up in your room/nursery. Find a soft night light or lamp to use during this time and avoid bright lights and too much activity. When the time comes for the first feeding after “bedtime,” stay in your designated room and only use your soft light. As soon as you are done with feeding and diaper change, turn off the lights and try to get them to sleep again. Repeat until morning, then begin your daytime routine.
Don’t get discouraged if this takes several weeks for them to adjust to the day/night schedule. It is usual for them to need some time to learn these new habits. Once they are formed and the night/day time has been established, both mommy & baby will start to fall into a pattern allowing for longer stretches at night. You will find certain things that help you adapt to motherhood and all the joys it brings. Keep up the good work, mom! Sleep is just around the corner!