Are you struggling with getting your newborn to sleep? Do you constantly google “how to get my baby to sleep longer” or “why won’t my baby sleep?” Did you know there are mistakes you could be making now that are sabotaging your baby’s (and your own) sleep? Read below to find out what to do when your newborn won’t sleep at night and how to fix it!
With my first baby, I made just about every newborn sleep mistake I could possibly make. As a result, I had an absolutely terrible time getting her to sleep for MONTHS. By the time she hit the four month sleep regression (a.k.a. Nature’s way to make sure you don’t have a second child anytime soon), she was a mess and so was I.
I read everything I possibly could about newborn sleep. Most of what I learned was too little too late, but I am working hard to avoid making the same mistakes with my second baby. I’m thankful to say so far, so good!
I want to share with you what I’ve learned to do when your newborn won’t sleep at night
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Newborn Sleep Mistake #1: Not Swaddling
Newborns are so sleepy, your baby probably falls asleep in your arms quite often. Plunking him/her down in the crib seems pretty easy, right? Plus they look so cute all stretched out. Well, if you are not swaddling your baby, they may wake themselves up just a few minutes after they are laid down.
Your baby has just spent nine months in comfy cozy cramped quarters. Replicating this with a swaddle will help your baby sleep longer.
Babies are born with a startle reflex (you’ve probably noticed your newborn throws their arms and legs out wide when there is a loud noise) that can wake them up while asleep. The swaddle confines their movement which means the startle reflex is less likely to wake them up.
Instead of using a blanket to swaddle your baby, try a velcro swaddle to ensure they don’t wiggle their way out while sleeping. We used these ones with both our babes as newborns.
If it’s winter, you could try throwing your swaddle in the dryer for a few minutes to give baby a warm and cozy sleep environment. A nurse recommended this to us at the hospital and it was a must-do for our January baby.
Swaddles can be used for the first two to five months. You’ll want to stop swaddling baby when they learn to roll over. Read more about how to stop swaddling baby here.
Newborn Sleep Mistake #2: Not Using White Noise
You probably are thinking babies will sleep best in absolute silence, right? Actually babies like a constant, noisy environment. If your newborn won’t sleep at night, a quiet environment could be the culprit.
Again, you want to replicate the environment of the womb as much as possible to encourage newborn sleep. White noise is a great way to replicate the whooshing sound of mommy’s blood circulating.
You can buy a white noise machine, or if you have an old phone or tablet hanging around, just download an app and use that instead. I have an oldddddddd iPad (like, the original version) that barely functions, but is a perfect white noise maker.
Newborn Sleep Mistake #3: Co-sleeping
When your newborn won’t sleep at night, you may be tempted to pull them into bed with you.
I hesitate to call this a mistake because many parents make a purposeful, well thought-out decision to co-sleep and ensure that the bed being shared is as low risk as possible (see safe sleep recommendations here).
These are not the co-sleepers to which I am referring.
I am talking about those of us who have a baby that just won’t seem to settle without a warm body. As an act of desperation, you move the baby into bed with you (or worse, sleep on the couch or rocking chair, which can actually be more dangerous than safe bed-sharing).
In the middle of the night, you probably haven’t planned to have the proper precautions in place.
If you decide to co-sleep, it should be a decision made in advance so you can ensure that your bed is as safe as possible. Here are Dr. Sears’ recommendations on safe co-sleeping.
Also worth considering:
If you are co-sleeping just to get through a tricky sleep period, are you prepared for a potentially difficult transition when you want baby to go back to sleeping in the crib, or will you continue to co-sleep for the months/years to come?
Newborn Sleep Mistake #4: Napping in Dark Room
If your newborn won’t sleep at night, it would be because they have their days and nights mixed up. Babies often are confused about this (you may remember them partying all night long in your womb).
It takes a few weeks for circadian rhythms (the internal clock that tells you to feel awake in the daytime and sleepy at night) to develop and for babies to differentiate between day and night.
Letting your baby sleep in pitch black room during the day can slow them from differentiating between day and night. Let some light in the room during nap time and keep the room very dark at bedtime.
Newborn Sleep Mistake #5: Sleeping While Moving
Experts say that sleeping while moving (i.e. in a swing, stroller or car) is not as restful as sleeping in a quiet, still place. Try laying baby down in their crib or bassinet for naps if possible.
If babe is having a really tough time sleeping, don’t be afraid to use the swing or whatever other movement works for you. You don’t want to fall into the trap of an overtired baby. Better to get some sleep and try again for the next nap. Keep giving the crib/bassinet a try every now and then so they don’t get used to ONLY napping in the swing.
With my first, I would do one nap in the swing, so I could get some things done (and not lose my mind) and then do the rest of the naps in the crib, which took a little more effort to get her down. After a few months, we transitioned to naps only in the crib.
Newborn Sleep Mistake #6: Bassinet vs. Crib
If you’ve ever laid a newborn in a crib, you can’t help but marvel at how small they seem and how gigantic the crib is! A bassinet is a great way to keep baby cozy during the first few weeks as they are getting used to life in our great big world. Use a bassinet like this to keep your baby at arm’s reach, so you don’t even have to get out of bed to soothe them when they fuss.
Keep in mind that if you do choose to use a bassinet, you will have to make the transition to the crib in a few months (we’re currently making this transition now). You may want to have baby sleep in the crib every so often during nap time so they associate the crib with sleep.
We used this playpen/bassinet combo, which worked perfectly for both our girls. Bonus: it also has a change table attachment for those middle of the night diaper changes!
Newborn Sleep Mistake #7: Putting Baby Down Already Asleep
This is sooooo tempting, right? Do a little rocking and shushing and lay baby down when they are out cold. It seems easy, but you’re doing yourself and baby a disservice in the long run.
Putting baby down drowsy, but awake, will help them to learn how to fall asleep by themselves. Babies are more likely to be able to fall asleep on their own as a newborn than waiting until they are three or four months and much more alert. Do yourself a favor and start doing this immediately so your baby will already have practice settling by themselves when they get a little older and sleep gets trickier.
If you are totally sleep deprived and just want to get the baby to sleep ASAP so you can get some sleep as well, I hear you (exhausted mommy right here!). Try putting your baby down drowsy but awake at bedtime, but do what you need to do after night wakings. That way baby has some practice at falling asleep, but you get your rest (well, as much rest as possible) in the middle of the night.
Newborn Sleep Mistake #8: Nursing to Sleep
You may have heard that the reason why your newborn won’t sleep at night if because you nurse him/her to sleep.
There is nothing really WRONG with nursing to sleep (and often it’s inevitable with a newborn), but be aware that if you do it every single time, your baby will form a sleep association and learn to depend on nursing in order to fall asleep.
This means putting baby to sleep will be your job for each and every nap and bedtime. It will be hard to leave the baby with a babysitter and your husband or partner will not be able to help much with bedtime (I totally did this with my first baby and it became very stressful because no one could help me get the baby to sleep).
Try nursing your baby as soon as they wake up from a nap instead of waiting until just before nap time begins. Leave some time between your last nursing session and bedtime.
Of course, nursing to sleep is a great secret weapon to pull out during really fussy times if none of your other strategies work. Just don’t do it every single time unless you’re prepared to continue indefinitely or have a difficult habit to break as your baby grows.
Newborn Sleep Mistake #9: Not Playing the Waiting Game
As a new mom, I leaped at the first sound of my baby stirring, rushing in to help calm her down immediately. Wrong move!
Babies make all kinds of noises in their sleep and may even cry out without waking themselves. By rushing in to intervene, you may actually be waking your sleeping baby.
Even if your babe is in the midst of waking up, they may very well put themselves back to sleep after briefly stirring. By intervening too early, you may be training your baby that they need you to help them go back to sleep instead of learning to soothe themselves.
Instead of rushing at the first peep, try to be patient for as long as you’re comfortable. See if your baby is able to go back to sleep by themselves.
You’ll be able to tell when baby is fully awake and needing you. At this point, of course you should comfort them. Cry-it-out sleep training is not recommended for newborns and you can’t spoil a baby at this age by picking them up when they cry.
Newborn Sleep Mistake #10: Expecting Long Periods of Sleep
Your one, two or three week old baby probably takes mega naps, probably waking only to eat and maybe have a quick snuggle before going back to dreamland. However, as baby grows, they become more alert and those long naps are a thing of the past.
Instead, your one or two month old baby may only cat nap, taking 30 minute naps at a time. You may be wondering where your nap-loving babe has gone, or desperately trying to get them to sleep more.
Unfortunately, from one to four months (or longer), catnaps are developmentally appropriate and totally normal. Babies this young often have trouble self soothing after their first sleep cycle and instead, wake up. You may feel frustrated or worried about these short naps, but try to be patient. Once baby is a little older (between 4-6 months), they should start to sleep in longer stretches.
Whatever you do, don’t keep your baby up in hopes of really tiring them out so they’ll have a better sleep later. Then your newborn really won’t sleep at night. Overtired babies have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep. Keep naps on track, whatever you do.
Newborn Sleep Mistake #11: Stressing About Sleep
This is a tough one! It’s hard not to get a little obsessive when your newborn won’t sleep at night. I used to get SUPER concerned and agitated when my first baby wouldn’t fall asleep on time or woke up early.
Try not to stress toooo much about your baby’s sleep. Your baby is going to do what they want to do, and you cannot control it. I’m a control freak and this was a haaaaaard lesson for me to learn. You cannot control a baby.
If your baby is a hardcore catnapper, you may just have to ride out a three month-long wave of catnaps. Sometimes it’s just best to accept that’s the way it’s going to be for a while, instead of trying to fight a baby back to sleep. They will grow up and sleep more. Your baby will not go to college still needing to be rocked or sleep in a swing. These days (and nights) seem long, but they really do go by in a flash!
Ok mamas, there you have it, 11 solutions for when your newborn won’t sleep at night. While some of these mistakes can make things easier in the short term, laying down good sleep habits from day one will make things easier in the long run (because, believe me, if you don’t, the four month sleep regression will be a doozy!). Good luck and may long naps be with you!
What’s your biggest struggle with baby sleep? What’s your go-to solution when your newborn won’t sleep at night? Leave a comment below!