It’s all very well knowing how much sleep your baby will need in theory but what do you actually DO when putting your baby to bed and when do you do it?
I’m going to talk you through it one step at a time!
Before I start, I want you to have a quick think about your house and the environment in which your baby will be sleeping. Let’s make sure that you’ve covered all bases to make it as calm and relaxing for your baby as possible. Remember your baby will need to drown out the world and you’ll need to help him do that.
Just take a look around – would you like to sleep there? Is it a good environment to support your sleep goals? If not, see what you can do to change it. (What I mean here is do you have an enormous TV screen in the same room where you will settle the baby? Are there any load road noises that might disturb you? Is it cold and draughty?)
At the very least, make sure you have black out curtains. And make sure the temperature of your house is a consistent 20 degrees throughout. While I’m writing this, it is snowing outside and absolutely freezing. I’ve noticed that it is a very Scottish thing to heat one room up, usually the main living area, but to leave the bedrooms stone cold. Imagine if you have a toasty warm baby all snuggled up after a feed, only to be popped into a freezing bed in a freezing room! Now is the time to sort that out! I keep my studio warm for all of my newborn baby photography sessions and it really works.
THE NEWBORN ROUTINE
For an over 8lb baby
(REMEMBER all these timings are approximate and just as a guide. If your baby is under 8lbs, adjust the sleep time accordingly from up to 4 hours to 2-3 hours – your baby will likely have an additional nap per day.)
6am – Wake up and change
Your baby will wake up in the morning around this time. You can now expect her to be awake for 1.5 hours.
Cuddle and spend time with your baby but don’t feed immediately. Instead change her nappy and try to keep her calm and secure.
6.15am – First feed
After 15 mins of awake time, it is time to feed. If you are breastfeeding give at least 45-minutes of boob making sure it is fully drained. You might find that your baby starts to doze off again during this feed and you might have to work a bit to keep her awake. Tickle her chin, tickle her feet, get a cold wipe and use it – in general make her less comfortable to keep her awake. It’s important that this feed really satisfies her.
Wind your baby (this is something that Dad can do) for 5 minutes or so.
7am - Play time
Your baby has now been awake for an hour. If your baby filled her nappy, give her another change, pop her into a new outfit – all the time, keeping your eye on the clock (you don’t want to go over 1.5 hours of awake time).
Playing/cuddle time (again, over to Dad) for about 20 minutes. Towards the end of this time check nappy, clean and add nappy cream, and pop your newborn into her swaddle.
7.25am – Top up feed
Give your baby a top-up feed from the opposite breast (not the one that you previously drained). If you are bottle-feeding, this will be another 20-30mls. You should expect your baby to fall asleep during the feed, at which point you pick her up. Go to her Moses basket, which should already be in a warm, dark room and put on some white noise.
7.30am – Sleep time
You can now expect your newborn to sleep for approximately 4 hours. (This will be 2 hours, if she is under 8lbs in weight, or 1 hour if she is under 6lbs.)
Top tip: Put a load of washing on!
11.30am – Repeat the awake routine
Repeat the above, which should take you to 1pm.
1pm – Sleep time
This is a 4-hour sleep time. (Again, 2 or 1 hours for smaller babies.)
5pm – Wake up and cuddle
When your baby wakes, give her 15 mins of cuddle time. This is the perfect time for Daddy to get involved and he can hold her while you get everything for the nighttime routine organised – clothes, swaddle, lotions and potions.
5.15pm - Feed
This will be the last big 45-minute feed of the day. Keep her going, don’t let her stop for a nap or doze off. You would expect your baby to cluster feed at this time, and you should allow her to take as much as she wants as this is what will get her through as much of the night as possible. Remember that you can’t spoil a newborn with food, and this definitely isn’t the time to think about restricting her feeds. Towards the end of this feed, Dad should earn some bonus points and run the bath.
6pm – Bath time
The routine for this awake time is the same as previously, but you need to swap playing time for a bath. Give yourself half an hour for the bath-time/bedtime routine. That’s quite a big ask – there is a lot to fit in!
Many people love this time of the day with their baby and it isn’t unusual for it to go on for a while, sometimes stretching the awake time to 2 hours or more. Bear in mind that your newborn will be extremely tired and if you keep her awake and stimulated for too long, you might regret it and undo all the good work you’ve done for the previous 48 hours. (If she gets too tired and starts screaming, it will be very difficult to bring it back under control.) Better to stick to the 1.5 hours and see if you can squeeze a bath into that time.
(Top tip 1: Ask Dad to cuddle your baby when she wakes up at 5pm. Use these 15 minutes to prepare the bath and pop a towel on a warm radiator. Also get a nappy, nightclothes and swaddle ready. Then you will be good to go when the time comes.
Top tip 2: Get Dad to tidy up! He can empty the bath, hang the towel up, throw nappies away etc while you are doing the last feed.)
6.15pm – Change and massage
Wrap your bathed baby into the lovely warm towel and take her into the room where she will sleep, making sure it is dark, warm and cosy. If you need a bit of light, use the light from the hall or a dim table lamp. Put the baby, still in the towel, onto the changing mat – this way she won’t be bothered by the temperature difference of a cold mat.
Using a spot of oil that you’ve warmed in your hands, give your baby a quick massage. (I recommend doing an online baby massage class before your baby gets here so you can soothe her). Then put her into nightclothes and a swaddle.
6.25pm – Top up feed
This is time for the last top up feed before bed. There shouldn’t be any crying at this point – your baby shouldn’t have anything to cry about as she won’t be overtired, will be fully fed, and will feel calm and relaxed in a lovely relaxing environment.
6.30pm – Sleep time
Your baby will have fallen asleep in your arms, at which point you need to lay her in her Moses basket and turn the monitor on. She should sleep for approximately 4 hours.
10.30pm – Feed and sleep
When your baby starts to stir, this is the time for another big feed. (Don’t wait until your baby is crying, instead look for the head swishing from side to side as a cue.) Carefully lift your baby, keep her in the swaddle and don’t turn the lights on. Keep the room as dark and relaxing as possible with no distractions and give a long feed. If she poos during this time, undo the swaddle from the bottom and quickly change her nappy. Run the wipes under warm water (or keep them on a radiator at night) so that the cold doesn’t startle your baby awake. We want to keep her dreamy.
As soon as the feed is over, lay your baby (who is probably already sleeping) back into the Moses basket where she should sleep until about 2 or 3 o’clock.
2-3am – Feed and sleep
Repeat as above and put her back to sleep until approximately 6am in the morning. At which point, you’ll need to start all over again!!
As mentioned before, these timings are just a guide and you might find that the number of hours that your baby sleeps varies a little. The part that shouldn’t vary, and which I strongly advise you to stick to, is the amount of time that your baby is awake. If you allow, or even encourage, your baby to stay awake too long, you will find she is overstimulated and this is very hard to come back from and can greatly affect the rest of her sleep for the next 48 hours. So if Granny wants to wake her up to have a cuddle, you will be the one paying for it at 2am in the morning!
You can expect this cycle to go on for at least two months. Then as they get older (regardless of their weight), the awake times will get longer during the day and the amount they will sleep during the night will get longer. This will happen naturally, but you need to watch out for the cues that your baby will give you.
When my daughter was a baby, I got a coloured A3 sheet of paper and clearly wrote her schedule down in big letters for everyone to see. I stuck this onto the wall so you couldn’t miss it. The idea was that everyone knew what was supposed to be happening. If Mum needs a nap and Dad takes over, he knows exactly what to do without needing the check the whole time…or having to wake Mum up to find out. It also vastly reduces the possibility of mucking the whole system up. It is important to update the schedule as your baby grows.