How to help establish healthy habits for your Newborn

Teaching your baby healthy sleep habits doesn’t have to start when she’s reached a certain age or milestone.

Although babies at different developmental stages will have very different sleeping habits and patterns, introducing healthy sleep hygiene from the start, is a great way to help ensure long term sleep health and establish a strong foundation for sleep.

This is why we recommend adopting these 10 sleep habits with your child from birth. And don’t worry, if your baby is older, you can still incorporate these habits into your current routine.

1)     Use light and darkness to your advantage. In the first few months of life, your baby won’t quite be able to tell the difference between day and night. So, exposing your baby to light first thing in the morning and throughout the day will help her make this distinction and help drive her circadian rhythm. Natural sunlight will also keep your baby alert and stimulated throughout the day which is important for development.  

Darkness is equally as important. Your baby’s room should be dark for all naps and bedtime, signaling to her body that it is time to sleep. In the evening you can start dimming the lights in the house about 2 hours before bedtime to prepare your baby for the transition to sleep.

2)     Develop a routine. Even when your baby is a newborn you can start thinking about a routine that will help her learn when sleep is coming. Although a newborn’s sleeping patterns can be erratic and unpredictable, a bedtime routine is still beneficial at any age.

When your child is younger the routine will likely include more rocking and helping to settle, where-as an older baby might fall asleep more independently.

Some ideas for a routine are: bath, books, rocking, swaddling, infant massage, and singing. Of course, you can decide what works best for your family and your baby.

3)     Eliminate exposure to blue lights and electronics before bed. This is true at ANY age, because lights from screens easily suppress melatonin-our sleepy hormone, and it happens fairly quickly. This is why it is best to turn off the tv and any other electronics at least 2 hours before bedtime.

4)     Keep your baby’s sleep environment consistent. When your baby is first born, it might seem like she will fall asleep anywhere and everywhere and it will be tempting to let her do so.  While napping on-the-go is somewhat inevitable for the first couple months, I always encourage sleep to happen in your baby’s own sleep environment.

So, whether that is in a bassinet in your room or a crib in her room, teaching her to sleep in the same environment consistently will help avoid difficult transitions later and encourage longer sleep stretches without distraction. It is also safest to nap your baby on a firm surface (such as a bassinet or crib), rather than allowing her to take naps in areas that weren’t designed for sleep.

5)     Encourage healthy sleep “props”. Many parents worry that the use of a pacifier or other sleep objects creates a habit that is difficult to break later on. But I highly encourage the use of sleep objects as long as they don’t become the only thing that will get your child to sleep.

A pacifier, white noise machine, lovey, small blanket, or swaddle/sleep sack are all great sleep promoting objects. Many babies will naturally transition out of using one or more of these items as they get older and if they don’t you can help them do so using various methods.

6)     Honor sleepy signs and cues. Most babies will show clear signs that they are ready for sleep as early as 6 weeks.  You can start following appropriate awake windows for your baby’s age immediately which will help avoid over-tiredness, but sometimes listening to your baby is all you need to do.

When your baby is yawning, becoming fussy, and overall seems less alert, these are all signs that your child is ready for sleep soon and it is important to put her down quickly to avoid missing that sleep window.

7)     Make sure your baby’s environment is promoting of sleep from the start. One of the reasons on-the-go sleep or sleeping in different environments each day isn’t a great idea, is because it can be overstimulating and distracting for your baby. But some parents don’t realize that their baby’s room or dedicated sleep environment is also distracting.

The area that your baby is sleeping should be free of distraction, which includes toys, lights, artwork, and colors. It is best to have minimal objects in the room and neutral colors to eliminate overstimulation. Room temperature is also key as you don’t want your baby waking because she is too cold or too hot.

The recommended room temperature for your baby is between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit.

8)     Learn how to respond to your baby’s different sounds and movements. As a new Mama we are very in tune with every sound and stir our baby makes, and it can be hard to ignore any slight movement or peep. But remember it is very common for your baby to go in and out of sleep cycles and as she does this, she will likely make many noises that sound like fussing or grunting.

Because this will happen consistently there is no need to rush by her bedside each time you hear her, and it is important to help her establish some independence, so she has the opportunity to fall back asleep. If your baby starts to cry or become upset that is a different story and I do encourage tending to her if that is the case.

9)     Cycle through soothing methods with your baby. One of the most common sleep challenges I see with older babies, is that they have developed a reliance on one way to fall asleep and stay asleep. While some of these habits might be unavoidable in the beginning, you can be mindful of this by cycling through different methods of soothing with your baby, instead of reverting to ONE way to get her to sleep.

Basically, you want to teach your child that there are many ways to fall asleep. So, this might mean one night you rock her until she’s sleepy and then next night you soothe her without picking up. I encourage parents to use Dr. Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s which can be used all at once, or intermittently.

The 5 S’s

Shushing

Sucking

Swaddling

Side or Stomach position (only while soothing, not for sleep)

Swing (only while soothing, not for sleep)

10)  Bond with your baby at bedtime. Studies have shown that an emotionally secure child is more likely to sleep well than a child who is anxious or unsettled. And while your newborn is not going to be experiencing anxiety or stress the way we do, it is a great practice to use bedtime as a time to bond with your child.

This is something you can carry on as your child becomes older, helping him to relax and become ready for sleep by spending that one on one time connecting and being close so he can fall into dreamland without a worry in the world.