Newborn Sleep: Developmental Insights

by Brood

 
This post was written by Sleep Consultant & Expert, Desiree Russell.

 

If you’re a new (or experienced) parent, you know that people LOVE to give you advice on – well, everything – and especially about sleep. Parenting new babies is life-altering and challenging enough, even without the deluge of advice and information. Whether it’s unsolicited advice, confusing tips, or conflicting information — this can leave you feeling overwhelmed, as if you’re doing everything wrong, or anticipating issues if you don’t “fix” certain “bad habits”. These conversations (or 3am Google deep dives) typically lead to the same place; apps, charts and of course, sleep training. In today’s world it’s hard to avoid a quick fix in the hopes of more control and even perhaps the promise of a sleep schedule, but often it leads parents to feeling even more stressed-out. The real secret is… there is no secret! Parenting can be really hard, and being exhausted isn’t fun, and sleep training might not feel like the right fit for you. Finding what works for you, your family, and your baby is KEY. Remember, you’ve been making decisions for your baby for months now, leaning on your community — every family makes choices right for them. You know your baby, so you got this! 

In my practice, as a sleep consultant, I focus on the fundamentals of healthy sleep habits – and understanding what, why and how your baby can achieve better sleep, while maintaining secure attachment. Let’s dig into what those are!

Sleep Aides

How many times have you heard, read, or felt like maybe what you’re doing is a “bad habits”? These so-called bad habits are actually quite the opposite and tend to work well for a reason – they are biological soothing mechanisms your baby is responding to. Such as: rocking and nursing your baby to sleep, contact or motion naps, and safe co-sleeping can be supportive (especially when other manners of sleep are more exhausting or draining for you!).

All of these things are great as long as they are working for you. If they aren’t (due to being taxing on your body, relationships, or other demands), or you’re finding you need a change to better support yourself and your family, it’s okay to make some shifts and adjustments that align with your parenting style. 

As we explore new skills and techniques – guess what, that last funny nap of the day isn’t the time to practise new (and potentially tough) sleep skills, but it might be the perfect time to wear your baby while you eat, or go for a walk. The very early mornings (4 – 6 am) are when your baby’s drive for sleep is lowest, which means it’s also not a great time to ask to try out new sleep skills. I encourage you to use the above methods (rocking, contact naps, etc) at times of day you feel resourced enough, and that you expect babe to be desiring more hands-on soothing. 

Routine 

Having a solid bedtime routine lets your baby know what to expect, and creates smoother transitions to sleep and rest — here’s the process I find works well for babies beginning around 6 – 8 weeks of age:

  1. A big and long feed, that isn’t rushed
  2. Playtime – which can look like talking, singing and dancing or  looking at contrast cards and reading books
  3. Body care time – whether that’s a bath or a warm cloth wipe down and a little oil massage (adjust based on what you can manage!)
  4. Then, arriving to your bedroom with low lights and a sound machine – now is time for a last little “night cap” feed, snuggle and bed

How you choose to get your baby to sleep is up to you, and needs to work with your parenting style and choices. In the early days, focus on slowly building this bedtime routine into your evenings. Of note: the timing of this routine will not be a set time (yet!), instead, it will vary based on your infant’s needs and sleep cues (in infancy generally between 8 – 10 pm, slowly moving closer to 8 pm, and then eventually landing between 6.30 – 7.30 pm).

Timing

As much as we can talk about sleep aids and routines – if we don’t mention awake windows and overtiredness, we are missing a big piece of the puzzle! If your baby’s sleep and wake windows are too long or too short, their sleep will suffer and can feel like everything is falling apart (many first-time parents will look at an overtired baby, and think that their baby wants to stay awake and party – when really, it’s quite the opposite!).

The most important thing to note, is that most strategies and method that aim to improve sleep – won’t be effective if your timing (wake windows) is off. Baby’s sleep itself tends to only be 5% of the problem – how we understand and manage awake windows is the largest factor in setting them up for optimal sleep.

How do I read sleep cues?

As always, every baby is different, but here are some good examples of common cues that show up when a baby is getting tired.

  • Skin discolouration
  • Red patches on baby’s face, eyebrows or eyes
  • A dazed or glazed over look
  • Quick movements or startling easily
  • Fussiness that subsides and turns to very quiet and calm (usually followed by the glazed over look)

Click here for Brood’s “R.E.M Cycles & Your Newborn” guide.

How can I pay attention to awake windows?

Newborns (up to 6 – 8 weeks old) have relatively short wake windows – as little as 30 minutes long (upwards to an hour), leaving just enough time for a feed and a diaper change, before going back to sleep. Every baby is different, pay attention to the cues above to ensure you’re reading them correctly – generally speaking, your newborn should not be awake for hours at a time. Click here for Brood’s handy “Ideal Wake Window” guide.

All awake windows are not created equally

A baby’s first wake window is usually the shortest, with the second window being 15 to 20 minutes longer than the first. All the way to the last wake window being the longest.

Wake windows change with age

As with many things in the first few months of parenting, you’ll feel like you just got the hang of something (yes! hoorah!) and then all of a sudden, a change occurs and you’re right back on the learning curve. To help you out, click here for Brood’s “Ideal Nap Amounts” graphic.

As a general rule of thumb, infants (newborns up to 6 weeks old) have an on-demand sleep and feeding schedule, waking to eat every 2.5 or so hours (day and night!) – to ensure an appropriate and safe caloric intake.

Now, you may have heard the dreaded term “sleep regressions”, what’s that about?

A regression (needing more parental assistance to sleep, sleeping for shorter periods or time, or less often) tends to be a developmental milestone for your baby – that can be coupled with dropping a nap (meaning, less daytime sleeping!). To prepare better for your baby’s developmental milestones and leaps, we suggest downloading the Wonder Weeks App! For more tips for newborn learning and development, click here.

These are just some of the ways you can find a better sleeping pattern for you and your baby. We know that things are constantly changing and evolving, not only for our babies but for us too. Finding an approach to sleep that works for you and your family is what’s important, and we hope you’ve been able to get a good sense of what attachment-centered sleep looks like. 

If you’re interested in learning more about my approach and philosophy, visit me here.

Get to know your author!

I’m Desiree Russell, an attachment centred Sleep Coach. I thrive on supporting parents to learn how to implement realistic and achievable goals—I want to educate you so you feel more confident and comfortable supporting your little one through their sleep journey! I’ve been working with families for over 20 years, and utilise my education in NeuroScience, Hypnotherapy, Psychology and strong intuition to create multifaceted strategies that are unique to every family I work with. 

My care is focused on encouraging families to build healthy, manageable, and age appropriate sleep habits from day 1 — that can be carried throughout the different ages and stages as their little ones grow and change. Please visit my website or follow me on instagram to learn more.

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