How to Survive the First Month at Night with a Newborn

The first month with a newborn can be very difficult. Not the days so much because newborns often sleep the entire day. As long as his diaper is clean, he is a good temperature, and he doesn't feel alone, a newborn can be fairly easy and even boring.

But the nights can be extremely difficult. All three of my sons had their nights and days mixed up which is called circadian rhythm sleep disorder and took a full month to get it right. These tips assume your baby is not sick and not having indigestion (farting and bubbles in the stomach & intestines).

Here are five ways to keep your sanity during this difficult period:

1) Test different combinations to put your baby to sleep

Combinations of pajama styles + pajama fabrics + hat + swaddling style + room factors + incline can make all the difference. I was very successful in testing a different recipe of these each night until I found the one which encouraged longer sleeping stretches. Here are some factors to to consider:

Pajama style: bodysuit, onesie, nightgown, sleepsack. Try both long sleeve and short sleeve.

Pajama fabrics: cotton, polyester. Try heavy and light fabrics. Try really cozy/warm fabrics and airy/cool fabrics.

Hat: on/off.

Swaddling style: No swaddle, swaddle with arms inside, swaddle with arms outside.

Room factors: Ceiling fan on/off, white noise on/off, humidifier on/off, music on/off, cooler or warmer air temperature, baby in your room or his own room. At 3-4 weeks you will start to see your baby more sensitive to the room lighting and sounds. He used to sleep soundly through the TV blasting and the lights on but eventually he will stir or not fall asleep at all. This is the indicator to move him to his own room for night sleeping.

Incline: flat/slight/bold. This helps if your baby is slightly uncomfortable because of a night cough or indigestion.

2) Put a silly hat on the baby

Make yourself smile every time you trudge over to pick him up. It will make you feel less grumpy and waken you up a bit. You don't want to pick up the baby angry and it's easy to feel that way if you are only getting 45 minutes of sleep each stretch. Ensure there aren't any long strings or safety concerns with the hat you choose. I use a lime green frog face hat which works every time. I'm instantly cooled when I see it even at 3am for the third time that night.

3) Smile knowing the effects of your breastfeeding

Not everyone breastfeeds but if you do, bask in the extra feedings. You burn 20 calories for every ounce of breastmilk produced. With the average newborn drinking 2-3 ounces of breastmilk per feeding, you just burned 40-60 extra calories from that nighttime feeding!

Additionally breastfeeding encourages uterine contractions. While these can be painful, it is your body's way of shrinking your belly back down to size and cleaning out the inside of the uterus. Each extra feeding is another opportunity for a smaller belly in the morning. 

It's a pain to get up but at least it's helping you get back down to your regular figure!

4) Keep a nightlight on 

Newborns make all kinds of strange noises. You'll hear sneezes, groans, squeaks, gags, and more. It will likely alarm you in the beginning. Newborns also stir a lot. Rather than put on a light each time you want to check on your baby, keep a nightlight on so that you can easily see him and assess him. This will help you more quickly get back to sleep.

5) Have realistic expectations

It is unrealistic to expect your newborn to "sleep through the night" for 8 hours. His little stomach is too little to keep him full that long and he lacks the maturity to comfort himself when he wakes up. Set realistic expectations of what your newborn can handle in the night and try to maximize the sleep stretches.

In my experience, a:

  • 1-3 week old can sleep up to 4 consecutive hours
  • 3-4+ week old can sleep 5-5.5 consecutive hours
  • 3 month old can sleep 7-8 consecutive hours

Don't be frustrated by expecting too much from your newborn. Try to get the most you can at each stage.

Some babies are better sleepers than others by nature. Keep trying different approaches until you see longer stretches. Don't get angry; get smart and try something new.

Good luck!