There is a minefield of information about babies out there and the issue of sleep is no different. In this article we look at the first stage of sleep training, how to get a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 week old baby to sleep. 

Would you like to create an independent sleeper? One who is able to sleep through the night and resettle themselves as soon as they’re able?

This is the first article in a series of articles to help you on your journey, with information gleaned from many years of experience with newborns.

The Basics of Sleep Training

Let me be clear to begin with that I am making the assumption that your baby was a good birth weight and they don’t have any health issues. If your baby is little or has any other complications, then you need to focus on that before you think about getting them to sleep longer. 

Sleeping is not something that can be considered independent of other parts of a newborn’s routine. The relationship between eating and sleeping (and later on stimulation) is very closely linked.

Sleep promotes sleep.

I wholeheartedly agree with this statement.  If your baby is not getting enough sleep during the day, they will typically not sleep well at night and vice versa.

I like to think of sleep as a gift – it is definitely a gift for parents, but it is also a gift for your child.

By helping them to learn to settle themselves and to get good full night’s sleep you are giving them an excellent base for their health, growth, energy and development.

How do I Settle My Newborn Baby for Sleep?

A typical newborn is asleep more than they are awake.

I find that in the first four weeks or so, they will go off to sleep about an hour or so after they wake up. Don’t be surprised if you feel like your baby has just woken up and is ready to go back to bed.

The early days are very important for creating a secure attachment to your infant. I encourage cuddles and touch as much as possible when they are feeding, being changed and generally awake with occasional times of sleeping on you.

If your baby is happy to go down to sleep into their own bed, then you should encourage that too.

When they are more unsettled, use that time to offer cuddles or touch – I do find that babies who sleep all day long in their beds often look for touch in the night, so there is definitely a balance to be found here.

To help to establish good sleep habits in newborns, I start with subdued lighting in the room they are sleeping in during the day (darker if they will not settle) and complete darkness at night.  I’m a big fan of swaddling with arms in and reasonably firmly so that they feel secure, this stops the Moro reflex which makes them jump.

How do I Get My 2 Week – 6 Week old Baby to Sleep?

At this age they are pretty much being offered a feed each time they wake day and night.

I would implement a gentle structure from around 2-3 weeks of 2.5-3 hourly feeding between 7am-10/11pm. These would be full feeds (not snacking). This helps with keeping your baby comfortable as the time in between feeds allows for digestion to take place.

If they are not happily sleeping on their own between feeds, I would use a wrap to carry them in during the day.

I love the Moby Wrap, but there are many options out there that keep the baby upright and warm and they usually happily go 2.5 hours+ from the beginning of the last feed. If not, feed them. I do not like babies crying for food – you won’t either!

By 3-4 weeks your baby may be going longer between feeds – even if only 15 minutes more at a time, so that they are learning that just because they are awake, it doesn’t mean they need food.

Aim for a flexible 3 hourly schedule between the hours of 7am-10/11pm.

If they are hungry but not crying, I would use the wrap, swaddling with a cuddle, a dummy or my clean little finger pad to the roof of the mouth (nail kept short for such an occasion), patting, rocking/singing – pretty much anything to get them to get to 3 hours without crying.

As they get older, waking them and having nappy off time and using talking and interaction will work better than trying to keep them asleep.

Using a dummy is very much a personal decision. If it is just to keep baby calm before the next feed and to settle, but not be asleep with, I’ve found it is very easy to take away again. I find it a very useful tool for establishing a routine.

Cluster feeding a breastfed newborn in the evening is normal. It is exhausting for mum, but it is just a phase. If it is getting overwhelming for you, you could consider expressing in the morning when supply is plentiful and offering a top up after a full breastfeed in the evening.

Within a few weeks if not days, you should find that your baby will only start to wake once in the night at around 2/3am.

This is because the majority of the calories they need are being consumed during the day. Once they are in this kind of pattern for more than 3 nights, I do not go back to feeding them before that time. (Until the next phase – which I explain in the next article – Getting baby to sleep 6-12 Weeks).

Preventing Overfeeding Baby

1. Attaching the baby to the breast and allowing them to suck for as long as they want to without taking a break (this means that they are comfortable and not wriggling, it also means not sleeping) then lifting to burp.

2. Attaching again to the same side until they come off, and then burping and changing the nappy.  This should wake them if they are a little sleepy.

3. Offer the same breast again to see if they want any more milk. If they are happy and in a ‘milk stupor’ then they are satiated and the feed is finished.

  •  NB: this is after your milk has come in and you have a good supply to offer – initially in hospital you should take the advice that is being offered to you, and feeding on demand for 10 or so days to establish a good supply.
  • The current recommendation is that only one breast is used per feed. If your baby is still not satiated after the above, you can go ahead and offer the other side (NB: you start the next feed on the same side that you finished on in this instance).

How Do I Soothe an Overtired Baby?

Feed (see defining a feed, above), burp, swaddle, a cuddle over shoulder for a minute or so to relax them plus burp, settle in bed (repeat where necessary). 

The most obvious thing I would say about settling a newborn is that you can only settle a baby that is comfortable.

A baby with discomfort is quite rightly going to want your help, warmth and cuddles. Note that their tummies are immature while they are so young, and foods/supplements coming through the breast milk can have an impact on their comfort levels. If you are formula feeding, it also can take several weeks for a newborn’s tummy to get used to their milk.

For a baby that is fed and changed and just won’t stop crying, I would swaddle, tuck them into my neck over my shoulder in an upright position, hold them firmly and bounce.

This can be on a Swiss ball, toes, or using your knees for the movement. It mimics the movement from the womb and always, always works (still usually a noisy process) if the person doing it is relaxed and calm. I do this in a darkened room.

Read on to find out about Getting Baby to Sleep – 6 – 12 Weeks, or start learning now about Getting Baby to Sleep – 6-12 Months. Or for more expert advice and sleeping tips, check out our Sleep section.

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Jayne has over 18 years experience in caring for children and has worked in both New Zealand and the UK. She has a vast range of expertise and can offer help and advice if you are struggling with your children. You can read more about Jayne on her website- Everything But The Stork. Jayne writes regular columns for Kiwi Families and will also answer your questions about babies and children

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What a great article, a very helpful reminder of some key things to help with settling a newborn. Thanks, am looking forward to the ‘waking only once a night’ to feed ; )

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