Baby Sleep Schedule: Benefits of a Wake, Eat, Play, Sleep Routine
As a busy night nanny in Denver, I have the immense privilege of working with newborns day in and day out. With this privilege I am learned some incredible techniques regarding infant sleep and sleep schedules. By establishing healthy sleep habits from the beginning, extinction methods of cry-it-out are avoidable. Starting around six weeks of age, babies’ behavior begins to be affected by the actions of their parents and caregivers. This includes their routines and habits around sleep.
Most parents eagerly look forward to the day they can have some predictability in their lives once again. It is natural to crave routine and time we can count on to take care of ourselves, our relationship with our spouse, our household and our businesses.
We’ve found that often the best way to achieve predictability and time for the important things outside of baby rearing for parents is to implement a “wake, eat, play, sleep” schedule. This kind of schedule creates a routine for parents and baby sleep schedule that encourages self soothing and independence in babies as well as strong bonds with their moms and dads. Rather than falling asleep at the breast or bottle consistently, babies learn to fall asleep on their own by developing a more flexible association with sleep. Additionally, giving a baby time to digest their meal before placing them flat on their back to be still and sleep can help with reflux and colic-like symptoms.
Even though it takes six to eight weeks for newborns to become infants and emerge from the “disorganized sleep” phase, there are practices parents can implement right away to begin the process of sleep training. It’s important to clarify here that the term, “sleep training” in this regard does not mean night weaning before a baby is developmentally ready.
The most effective thing a new parent can do is to closely watch their baby not only for their hunger cues, but also their tired cues. When the intention is to create a sleep schedule that allows for a baby to fall asleep after being placed in their crib drowsy but awake, we need to watch carefully for early signs of tiredness so as not to miss the window. An overtired baby is harder to get to sleep. Signs of tiredness can include drooping eyes, less interest in faces and toys, ear rubbing, and eye rubbing. Late signs of tiredness include fussing and crankiness, eye rubbing, and crying.
A newborn baby often has no trouble finding sleep, sleeping anywhere and after short periods of wakefulness for up to eighteen hours a day. They can sleep through loud noises and in lots of environments. That being said, know that they may sometimes fall asleep while bottle feeding or nursing in the beginning, and it isn’t the end of the world. Note when they are really eating and if they are only lightly sucking like they would a pacifier. If their sucking slows, weakens, and they are not swallowing, it is okay to remove them from the source before they fall asleep to be burped, soothed, and placed down for a nap.
Parents can also practice “the pause” when they hear their baby stir or make light noises while they are napping or during night sleep. Note if there are hunger cues: are their fists clenched, are they rooting, opening and closing their mouths, or smacking their lips? A newborn will eat frequently, roughly every two hours with their longest stretch being four hours in between feedings. As they progress in age, the time between these feedings lengthens. It’s important to be able to differentiate when an infant needs adult intervention for getting comfortable, and when they are simply having an arousal between sleep cycles and can practice going back to sleep. Pausing before rushing to pick the baby up or immediately feed them every time they seem to be coming out of sleep gives them the opportunity to learn to bridge sleep cycles on their own.
Being this present and focused with a newborn or infant 24/7 is challenging for modern parents. There are many responsibilities we still must attend to after we bring home a baby, which is why the help of a professional is so valuable in the home to learn baby’s cues and take the extra time to let them learn the skill of sleeping, gradually unassisted. Ask us how our night nannies and postpartum doulas can help you meet your sleep goals. Denver has tons of options for night nurses and helping your baby sleep through the night. You don't have to suffer alone. <3