A newborn baby sleep plan: What is it, and why do you need one?
Sleep is essential to function, especially when taking care of a newborn baby. Maybe you’re pregnant and wondering if you’ll ever sleep again.
The answer is yes, and sooner than you think- if you prioritize it.
So what does prioritizing sleep look like?
We will get into it so you know how to make a sleep plan and what you need to do so.
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Learn about sleep training
Before you develop your sleep plan, read about baby sleep.
There’s plenty of books and articles on the internet on this topic. You can even take a class on this to really prepare you.
My go-to for sleep tips is always Cara at TakingCaraBabies. I have learned so much from her just through her Instagram account, @TakingCaraBabies.
Cara also offers classes and coaching on baby sleep. Her courses can be taken before the baby comes or after your baby has arrived. She is a wealth of valuable information on baby sleep!
My three babies, my three baby sleep plans
When I was pregnant with my oldest, I knew that I wanted to prioritize sleep. I knew people who really struggled with sleep for their babies, and thus themselves. I knew how much sleep was important for me to function- even before having kids. I knew that by making sleep a priority, I would be able to be a better and happier mother to my baby. So I set out to make a plan for sleep for my unborn baby.
I considered different aspects of a new baby’s sleep. I thought about what I had seen my friends go through with their babies. I thought about my own preferences and goals.
I was going to have twelve weeks of maternity leave. I knew I needed to have my baby in her crib and sleeping mostly through the night by the time I returned to work. I would be returning to my full time job as an elementary school teacher, which is both physically and mentally demanding. I would be nursing and pumping, also physically demanding. I would be doing a 45-60 minute commute each way, and providing for my little baby when I got home. All demanding things, and I just knew it would never work if I wasn’t able to sleep through the night.
My goal was to have my baby in her crib by eight weeks so she would be used to it, and hopefully begin sleeping through the night around that time.
I knew that I did not want to cosleep with my baby. It can be extremely unsafe if done incorrectly. And I also just didn’t want my baby in bed with me. We put a chair in our room with a little table next to it. I planned to use this for nursing at night, rather than feeding in bed.
I planned to begin doing naps in the crib when my baby was a couple weeks old, to get her used to it.
So how did it go? Well the first few weeks were a blur, or “the two week fog,” as I sometimes call it. We stuck to our plan. The baby was never in bed with us, but slept in the bassinet. At a few weeks old, we began doing at least one nap in her crib, and then slowly began doing all her naps there. At six weeks, my husband had a nasty stomach bug, and shut himself in our room alone, so myself and our little baby wouldn’t get sick. This unplanned event meant that our baby would be spending her first night in the crib, in her own room. She did great and never returned to the bassinet!
Around this time, she was typically sleeping about eight hours a night! Of course there were some nights she would get up, maybe once or twice a week or so. But pretty soon, she was sleeping ten and then twelve to thirteen hours a night! I couldn’t believe it.
She was a happy, healthy baby that slept. How had I been so lucky? I knew there was definitely some luck as part of the equation, but I also made it a point for this to happen. I had met my goal, weeks ahead of schedule! While going back to work was extremely difficult in and of itself, at least I was getting to sleep each night.
The second time around did not go nearly as smoothly, and I’ll tell you why. I was planning to stick to the same plan, since it worked so well before. However, our son’s bedroom was not ready when I was ready to move him into it. For several reasons, including, but not limited to, a tornado, his room was just not ready. And neither was his crib. He stayed in the bassinet much longer than I would have liked. When he was around three months old, he was beginning to grow out of the bassinet. I put together the crib in a spare bedroom, which we used like an attic, full of storage. I made a safe space for the crib, and he began sleeping in there. This helped some, but not enough.
There were a couple problems with this set up. I think the biggest problem was that he was only in there to sleep. There wasn’t space to read, do tummy time, or even to get dressed. He cried whenever we walked into the room, knowing that he would be alone, and didn’t love the space.
The other problem was that there was way too much light coming in from the windows. We had learned the importance of room-darkening blinds. But we weren’t planning to put them up for such a temporary period of time. We made it work, but it was a struggle. He would wake up several times at night. It wasn’t great.
At four months old, I learned I was pregnant again. I knew I had to do something to get his sleep in order for me to survive the first trimester exhaustion. While having a four month old. And a two year old. You can read more about how that went here.
So that brings me to my third baby. After having a great sleep experience with my first, and a not ideal experience with my second, I knew I could make it work with my third. I’d learned plenty about how to teach babies to sleep through the night.
The Baby Sleep Basics
For sleep, there’s certain things that must be accomplished with your baby during the day.
Your baby has to have consumed enough calories to be satisfied enough to sleep. This usually means a feeding between naps. It also means that your baby should be fed all the necessary ounces between her first wake up in the morning and her final bedtime. If your baby is a feeding or more short, then she will almost certainly wake up in the middle of the night. It takes time to move all feedings to daytime. But this is a goal to work towards.
Your baby needs to exert enough energy to be tired enough to sleep. For babies, this is really simple. This could be tummy time. It could be a walk outside, or even just sitting outside with them. It could be an interaction with a sibling or parent. With my babies, I always try to do something with them, even for a couple minutes during their wake windows.
Your baby needs regular naps to sleep well at night. This has been such an important lesson for me. Days my babies haven’t napped well, are nights they haven’t slept well. This seems counterintuitive. You would think if they skip a nap, then they would be more tired and would sleep better at night. I’m sure out there, this might be true for some babies, but it has never been true for mine. Good, solid naps, lead to good, solid nights.
This brings me to wake windows.
What are wake windows?
Wake windows are simply the time your baby is awake between naps. Below you will find recommended wake windows, based on age, from TakingCaraBabies.com. I have used this table time and time again.
During a typical wake window, I do the following: change diaper, feed baby, intentionally interact and provide some stimulation (tummy time, outside, etc), change diaper, swaddle, read book, nap. It’s wild how much there really isn’t a whole lot of extra time with babies, once you consider the amount of time they sleep, and how long it takes them to eat.
Sticking to wake windows really helps your baby to nap the proper amount, so that they are ready for their nights.
Transition from parents’ room to the nursery
An important part of my newborn sleep plan was to transition my baby from the bassinet to the crib around six weeks old, or so. Please be aware, this is not what is recommended from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP recommends the baby to sleep in the same room as the parents until at least six months, but ideally until twelve months, to help reduce SIDS. Here is an interesting article from a Harvard doctor weighing the pros and cons of that idea.
Be assured, I take every other precaution. SIDS is constantly in the back of my head, as I’m sure it is for any other mother. But for me, there’s a line where I have to be able to function. Like I said, I do take all other precautions. Nothing is in the crib. The room is right next to mine, and I keep both doors open so I can hear the baby. (At least for the first couple of months. Because really, the door should be closed in case of a house fire….the things we mothers have to think about!) The baby is safely swaddled. Also, pacifiers tend to lessen the likelihood of SIDS, so that helps give me peace of mind. I also go in and stare at my baby throughout the night to make sure he’s breathing. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this!)
Personally, I sleep really horribly when the baby is sleeping in my room. Of course during the first two to four weeks, no one is really sleeping well. I hear every little sound, and jump up to give a bink so he doesn’t totally wake up. But then sometimes getting out of bed makes enough noise to really wake the baby. Meanwhile, my husband works a demanding job, and I hate the idea of the baby or myself preventing him from sleeping. All of it just stresses me out completely. This is why I make the move to the nursery early on.
When it comes to transitioning your baby from your room to the baby’s room, think about what is right for you and your family. Consider all of the recommendations. Talk with your pediatrician. Follow your intuition.
The Newborn Sleep Plan
My newborn sleep plan for my third baby went like this.
Goal: Sleep overnight in the crib by eight weeks. At eight weeks I’d like him sleeping mostly through the night with no more than two wake-ups for feedings.
First two weeks: Survive. Baby sleeps in the bassinet in our room at night. Keep baby laying flat. Use pacifier and swaddle. Do nighttime feedings in the chair, rather than bed.
Two weeks old: Start doing at least one nap in the crib a day. Use room-darkening blinds and sound machine when sleeping in the nursery.
Four weeks old: Start having all, or most, naps in the nursery. Start tracking sleep times, to help decide best times for naps and bedtime.
Six to eight weeks old: Start baby in the crib at nighttime. Think about doing a dream feed around 10pm, to avoid a waking in the middle of the night.
With our third, the plan went well! He began sleeping overnight in his crib at seven weeks old. At the time, he was getting up about once a night, most of the time. This gradually has changed. At seven months old, he typically sleeps through the night. Occasionally, he will go through spurts where he will wake up once during the night. But as long as I go to bed at a reasonable time, I am definitely able to get quality sleep.
Of course every baby and every situation is different. But I have to believe that if you give true thought to how you are going to train your baby to sleep, then you are in a much better position for success.