Your newborn has been nice and cozy in its warm and dark home for about nine months now. Their entire life has been sheltered from daylight and their little internal clock is practically non-existent. They can’t differentiate between night and day yet so it is up to their caretakers to help them learn the routine of the great big world outside mommy. Doing this can be quite challenging, but there is light at the end of the tunnel for a tired mom and her little bundle of joy!
There are several ways in which you can help them learn to differentiate between day and night. The first is setting a routine for day and a routine for night. Changing the way you handle feedings, naps, diaper changes, and awake periods during the night can help baby fall into a pattern. After all, sleeping on a schedule is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to them, so they need a little help.
Newborns need about 15-18 hours of sleep in a typical 24-hour period. As they get older, this sleep time will continue to decrease, but for now, trying to help them learn different sleep patterns will pave the way for sleep scheduling. During the day, aim to keep them in as much natural lighting as possible. Spending time outside is a wonderful way to help them adjust and is beneficial to both mother and infant. For feedings during the day, avoid dark rooms and try to stay in naturally well-lit places. While they are awake, talk to them and allow them to be a part of your busy day. This will help them to establish that day is a more active time than night.
During the night, they will still likely be needing to feed every two hours. Like the required amount of sleep, night feedings will slowly start to drop down until you can enjoy a full night of sleep for both baby and mom as they get older. While it might take some time to drop those night time feedings, a way to help them is to make them completely different from day time feedings. It is helpful to pick a time close to an evening feed so they start with a full tummy.
About 20-30 minutes before “bedtime,” start doing some things that help them wind down from the day. A warm bath, reading books (you can never start too early!), a walk in the stroller are all good ways of winding down. Pick your own wind down activities and try to stick to them. Before you know it, your baby will be able to anticipate these wind down times and know that they signal the end of their day.
After wind down, pick a set bedtime for both you and baby. Gather everything you need for the night and get it set up in your room/nursery. Find a soft night light or lamp to use during this time and avoid bright lights and too much activity. When the time comes for the first feeding after “bedtime” stay in your designated room and only use your soft light. As soon as you are done with feeding and diaper change, turn off the lights and try to get them to go to sleep again. Repeat until morning then begin your daytime routine.
Don’t get discouraged if this takes several weeks for them to adjust to the day/night schedule. It is completely normal for them to need some time to learn these new habits. Once they are formed and the night/day time has been established, both of you will start to fall into a pattern allowing for longer stretches as night. You will find certain things that help you adapt to motherhood and all the joys it brings. Keep up the good work, mom! Sleep is just around the corner!