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Newborn Sleep Schedules: How To Establish Flexible Routines

Whether you’re in the final stretch of pregnancy or already have your newborn nestled in your arms, one concern often looms large: sleep. Whether you are a new parent or this isn’t your first rodeo with parenting, chances are you’re here hoping to find a way to shorten or avoid the sleep deprivation that comes with a newborn, and you’ve heard that sleep schedules are the key.  While a strict newborn sleep schedule won’t be effective, this blog will help you understand newborn sleep and offer insights and tips to help you create a flexible routine.

Understanding Newborn Sleep Patterns

Newborns require a lot of sleep to support their rapid growth and brain development. Sleep needs for newborns can vary widely, ranging from 11-19 hours per 24 hours. On average, newborns sleep for around 14-17 hours a day, but it’s important to note that their sleep is not yet consolidated into longer stretches at night and doesn’t follow a strict schedule. Their tiny stomachs also require frequent feeding throughout the day and night, which is another reason for their short sleep duration.

Establishing a Flexible Routine

While it’s not realistic to put your newborn on a strict sleep schedule in the early months, you can establish a flexible routine that can add structure to your day. For example, you may start the day with a diaper change and a fresh outfit, then feed, and then have some sensory stimulation —which could be as simple as just going outside for some fresh air, or sitting with your baby near a window so they can see the contrast of light and dark from shadows. In this way, you’re adding some structure to the time your baby is awake, and creating a routine that your newborn will begin to recognize.

Recognizing Sleep Cues

Most newborns will show sleep cues about every 60-90 minutes. Watching your baby and the clock can give you a better chance of catching their sleep cues before they’re too tired and therefore harder to settle. As you are getting to know your newborn you will start to recognize their sleep cues. Some babies show more obvious sleep cues than others, but in general, look for red eyelids or eyebrows, yawning, staring off into space, and slowing movements. These are all early cues that your newborn is ready for sleep. Fussiness and crying are also sleep cues, but they are considered to be late sleep cues, and sometimes waiting for late sleep cues can make it harder for your newborn to settle to sleep as they may have become overtired.

Daytime Sleep for Newborns

Newborns may sleep anywhere they find comfort during the day, however, they generally sleep best in contact with their caregivers. Don’t worry about creating bad habits by letting your baby sleep on you during the day. However, ensure you follow safe sleep practices when putting your baby down to sleep at night. For more tips on sleep tips for newborns, check our detailed blog.

When Can I Put My Newborn on a Sleep Schedule?

In the early months, attempting to impose a strict sleep schedule will only lead to frustration. Newborn sleep patterns are highly individualized, and there is no one-size-fits-all schedule. Around the 3-4 month mark, you’ll notice more predictable sleep and feeding patterns emerging. For now, focus on recognizing your baby’s sleep cues every hour or so and gradually build a flexible routine that works for both of you.

Navigating Your Newborn's Sleep with Batelle Beginnings

As experienced parents and sleep educators, we understand the challenges and uncertainties surrounding newborn sleep. While every family’s journey is unique, sometimes support can make all the difference. This is why we developed Batelle Beginnings, an accessible app-based program designed for parents in the final trimester of pregnancy up to the first 3 months postpartum.

Through the Batelle Beginnings app, you’ll have lifetime access to customized educational lessons, and unlimited messaging with our newborn experts via chat for 30 days. Whether you’re a first-time parent or an experienced parenting veteran, our app empowers you to confidently navigate your newborn’s early days, offering guidance on sleep schedules and a wealth of knowledge on common newborn challenges.

This article was written by Batelle – team of sleep experts, lactation consultants, therapists, doulas, and early education specialists.   

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