Ah, the hazy newborn days! That fourth trimester can be a blur and newborn sleep can be erratic. How can you set yourself up for success with naps?
First, I want to start by saying that I always want to encourage moms during the newborn period to find a balance that works for you. Decide on your balance of knowledge of sleep and trying to put good habits in place with following baby’s lead and preserving your own sanity! Also, remember that every baby is different. What works for one may be different for another. Some babies due to temperament and circumstance tend to be easier when it comes to sleep. Some babies need a little more help to find a good rhythm and get enough sleep.
I’ve come to realize that for some moms, having a structure or a framework for infant sleep is a lifesaver. For other moms, it’s a stressor. If it’s a stressor, just do what works for you and gets you and baby the most sleep until you decide to change something! There is no “right” or “wrong” as long as you’re following safe sleep guidelines and you and baby are getting adequate rest.
For moms that do well with a framework, this is what you can expect regarding naps for your newborn:
- A mix of long naps and short naps are common. Some naps may be hours, some may be 20 minutes.
- An appropriate wake time for a newborn is 45-60 minutes. I recommend spending their 40 minutes awake offering a feeding, a good burp, some activity, face to face with mom or dad, tummy time or a quick little outing outside for a change of scenery. Around 40 minutes or so since they woke from their last nap, it’s time to change diaper, swaddle, turn on white noise, and offer a nap.
- If baby is struggling with sleeping in a bassinet or crib, a stroller nap or a nap in the carrier is a great alternative to avoid getting overtired (a sweet newborn snuggle nap is a great choice as well!)
- A range of 14-18 hours of sleep per 24 hour day is normal.
- Baby may have “days and nights mixed up” at the beginning, and this is fairly common!
- It is normal to have anywhere from 4-6 naps per day in those first couple months.
Here are my best tips for great naps and good sleep during the newborn period:
If your newborn tends to take longer naps, make sure you cap nap at two hours so you can offer a feeding. Yes, this is one of those times when it IS okay to wake a sleeping baby! The more baby eats during the day, the less they’ll wake with a hungry tummy at night.
- Cap total daytime nap sleep for baby at 5-6 hours max, so that baby will spend more of their “sleep budget” at night! This will also help you correct if baby has “days and nights mixed up.”
- If your baby has taken 2-3 short (under 45 minutes) naps in a row, it might be a good time to assist for a nap by using a carrier or rocking and holding for a nice longer nap.
- Environment is so important. Snuggled in a cozy swaddle in a dark room with decently loud white noise is the closest thing to a womb-like environment you can provide, which will help sleep quality.
- You can begin to very flexibly practice putting baby down awake at the first nap of the day to see if they can settle themselves to sleep. If baby gets upset or begins to seem overtired, there is no pressure. Just pick baby up and put them to sleep how you usually do! This flexible practice can really help to lay a good independent sleep foundation for the future.
The transition from more often, fragmented naps during the day to a 4-nap schedule happens when a few things begin to occur:
- Naps begin to consolidate (become longer). Some babies have fairly consolidated naps from the beginning, which may mean they take four naps regularly from the beginning.
- Wake times get a bit longer. They will go from 45 minutes to 90-105 minutes in the first three months.
- Night wakings may stretch out a bit.
- Bedtime starts shifting forward, from 8-10pm to more like 7-8pm.
- This transition usually happens naturally as a function of wake times and naps lengthening and pushing out the excess, unlike other transitions later in a child’s life that may need to happen more intentionally.
- Most babies are on 4 naps consistently by around three months of age. This is a great age to start noticing patterns during the day, and begin to take advantage of that earlier bedtime!
To read Part II in our "Nap Transition Series," click here.
AUTHOR: Katelyn Thompson is a certified pediatric sleep consultant, owner of Sweet Pea Sleep. She lives in Georgia with her two little boys and her realtor husband. She believes that a well-rested family is a happier and healthier family, and is on a mission to help families get the rest they need in a way that fits their personal family dynamics.