Getting Newborn Babies to Sleep Longer Stretches at Night (0-12 Weeks)

Last Updated Nov 11, 2018.

I sooooo often have mamas calling me in desperation in the newborn stage, which is exactly why I created my Newborn Sleep Program. Families need help in that first, brief, portion of their baby’s life but there is a lot of contradictory information out there. Further, I acutely recall that when I had my first child people would tell me, “Don’t worry, things get so much better after week 12.”  They may as well have said after year 12, because that’s how it felt to hear that I’d need to endure another several weeks of the newborn stage.  So, without further ado, here is a sneak peek of some of my best newborn sleep tips for the first 12 weeks of life.

  1. Have realistic expectations.

I feel the need to put this at the top.  Let’s remember, newborns are busy learning how to keep their bodies at the right temperature and HOW TO BREATHE, so give them, and yourself, a little break when it comes to expectations.  Before I gave birth, I read a certain popular baby sleep book that made me feel like if I did A + B, then my 8-week-old should definitely be doing C. If she wasn’t doing C, it was because I was doing something wrong.  That’s crap. If your newborn isn’t sleeping well DO NOT SWEAT IT!  Please. Just don’t. Even if you’re doing everything you’re supposed to there are a myriad of other factors at play.  Over half of all newborns suffer from painful reflux, others lack the gut bacteria to properly digest many of the trace amounts of common foods found in breast milk and thus have excruciating gas, and many are just unhappy being newborns.  (This is just a personal theory here, but I SWEAR some children just hate being helpless newborns. I don’t blame them. Being a baby sucks sometimes.) Anyway, do your best then just let the rest go.

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  1. Set up a proper sleeping environment.

This will matter more and more as baby gets past the 6-week mark.  Set up a room for your baby to sleep for naps and bedtime. The sooner your baby starts to associate darkness and loud white noise with sleep, the easier his or her life will be.  People always worry their baby will become addicted to or dependent on darkness and white noise and then won’t be able to sleep without it. Newsflash, adults have sleep preferences too! I don’t like to sleep in planes, trains, or automobiles—I prefer sleeping in my bed, with my pillow, etc.  Many adults swear they sleep just fine through any errant noise, but studies show that constant pink (what we think of as white) noise helps the brain go into more stable levels of sleep. You can also just not use white noise or darkness and then see how that goes. Most (not necessarily all) babies sleep better with loud white noise and as-dark-as-possible darkness. This is a post about how to get your kiddo to sleep better, after all…

  1. Do not let your baby sleep longer than 2 hours at a time from 7 am to 7 pm.

This has got to be the single most effective thing you can do encourage your newborn to have longer stretches at night.  Granted, this will literally be impossible to accomplish for most babies before 4 to 6 weeks. When those new newborns want to sleep, try as you might, they will not wake up.  But, as soon as you see that you’re able to wake them up a bit, do so! Take off their clothes, expose them to the cooler air, take them outside/expose them to sunlight, put them in a baby tub filled with lukewarm water.  Simply put, do anything you can to wake them up if they’ve been asleep for longer than 2 hours.

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  1. Keep wake times to a minimum.

Wake times matter much less after the age of about 4 to 5 months, but they mean everything to a newborn.  Keep those newborns awake for about 50 to 60 minutes (including feeding and changing time if they’re awake during the feeding) and then start to get them ready for a nap by swaddling them, taking them to their room, and actively trying to get them down for a nap. Ideal wake times range depending on the age of your newborn and time of day, but in a nutshell, the younger they are, the less time they’ll be able to stay comfortably awake (ie. 30-60 mins), and as they get older awake time can stretch to as long as 90 minutes.

  1. Perfect your swaddle technique.

I can’t tell you how many parents tell me their kid hates the swaddle. But nothing could be further from the truth.  In my experience, while there are a few babies that truly hate the swaddle, most parents mistake their child’s fussing for hate.  Try to implement use of the swaddle for naps and at bedtime. Try it for several weeks before writing it off.

  1. Feed your baby every 2.5 to 3.5 hours during the day.

If possible, try to establish a cycle where your baby wakes up and eats immediately (while staying as awake as humanly possible), remains awake to complete the 60 minutes of wake time, sleeps for some amount of time, then wakes again and eats. This is a great way to ensure your kiddo gets as many calories during the day as possible, and hopefully sleeps longer stretches at night.

And there you have it mamas.  I hope these quick tips help. And if you’d like more like this — sign up for my free newsletter for the free bedroom guide and regular tips! And use the coupon code NewbornBlog10 at checkout for 10% off The Newborn Sleep Program.

By |2018-11-11T20:31:30+00:00August 19th, 2014|Categories: Getting Baby to Sleep Longer, Newborn, Sleep Training, Swaddling|Tags: |27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Sigita August 19, 2014 at 8:33 am - Reply

    Thank you Natalie! What do you recommend in terms of swaddling during the summer on hot days? It’s pretty warm in our apartment I can’t imagine bundling her during the day. Thanks!!

    • Natalie August 19, 2014 at 1:49 pm - Reply

      Hi Sigta,

      If it’s especially warm a diaper and a very, very thin muslin swaddle should be okay. Always, always make it as cool as possible in the babies room as they’re worse off sleeping in a room that’s too warm over a room that’s too cold.

  2. Jen August 19, 2014 at 9:55 am - Reply

    I’m doing all of these things and my 12 week old’s nighttime sleep is getting worse, not better. 🙁

  3. Natalie August 19, 2014 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    Hi Jen,

    Remember my first point?? There will be lots of babies that simply are not great at sleeping regardless of what you do. What’s important to keep in mind is that while things may get worse, they CAN get better, too! Just hold tight until about month four, then tackle full blown sleep training then.

  4. Anna August 20, 2014 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    You have no idea how helpful this is. It’s exactly what I needed to read with my 4-week old! He has great 3-4 hour stretches from midnight to 10 a.m. with that hour feeding in the middle of the night, but 8 p.m. to midnight is KILLING ME!

    Overall, I can’t complain too much. He’s actually a really good sleeper. Probably because he eats like a 3-4 month old… That’s a different blog post though.

  5. Natalie August 20, 2014 at 10:41 pm - Reply

    Hi Anna,

    Those first days/weeks are crazy!! Just hang in there and SURVIVE!!! 😉

  6. Lisa August 21, 2014 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    I think my 6 week old son has his day and night flipped. How do I correct it?

    • Natalie August 21, 2014 at 5:08 pm - Reply

      Hi Lisa,

      If you follow what you see above – forcing him to wake every 2 hours during the day and keep him awake for an hour – it shouldn’t take too long before his days and nights are flipped properly 🙂

  7. Jennifer September 10, 2014 at 6:18 am - Reply

    My 8 week old take pretty much only 40 minute naps during the day. How can I achieve the 2.5 to 3 hour cycle if I keep her up only am hour and then feeding her right when she wake up? Another question I have is that I have been going in to rock her after she wants up to try to extend the naps. Am I creating some bad habits for down the road? Thanks for your help. I really appreciate your blog.

    • Natalie September 11, 2014 at 9:52 am - Reply

      In regards to how to stretch her cycle, first you could spend the 15-20 minutes after she wakes early from her nap trying to get her to fall back to sleep. You can try giving her the paci, or holding her in her dark room for a few minutes and see if she’ll go back down. Then, once you get her “up”, you can wait to feed her for about 15 minutes, then she’s on a 2 hr 15 minute cycle, and that’s just fine. The real goal is simply not to feed her to sleep – it doesn’t matter all that much how often you feed her as long as you’re not nursing her to sleep.

      In regards to rocking her, I think you need to do the best you can 🙂 It’s always best to try to extend her naps other ways, perhaps using the paci or the swing, but she’s still a newborn, so don’t stress that much about it.

  8. nancy October 8, 2014 at 11:08 pm - Reply

    can you start sleep training a 8 week old? she seems ti be sleeping less than before

    • Natalie March 2, 2015 at 10:48 am - Reply

      Hi Nancy,

      Technically you *can* start to train an 8 week old to fall asleep unassisted, but, it’s very hard and often requires a lot of emotional support. It’s more than okay to wait until closer to 14-16 weeks of age since at that time your baby will be better able tor regulate their daytime sleep into more substantive naps.

  9. Kay December 21, 2014 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    Hi Natalie~
    I have a 8 wk old and was wondering if we should keep it dark with white noise even for naps.
    Thank you!

    • Natalie March 2, 2015 at 10:49 am - Reply

      Hi Kay,

      Yes!! Definitely darkness and white noise for ALL sleep periods.

  10. Debbie April 7, 2015 at 11:14 am - Reply

    Hi Natalie,

    Great website, what a wonderful resource! Have been sleep training my almost 8 week old since 6 weeks. If wake times are correct, he can go down with minimal to moderate fussing. Sometimes his naps are 1.5hr, sometimes 45minutes. If he wakes up after 45 minutes from a nap is it advisable to help him get back to sleep via rocking/paci, or will helping him undo and make him unlearn what he has accomplished so far in sleep training? Thank you!

  11. Debbie April 7, 2015 at 11:22 am - Reply

    Forgot to include: Will helping him back to sleep after a short nap create a habit of waking after 45 minutes? Thank you!

  12. Clementine April 7, 2015 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    What’s your advice if you can’t get the baby to nap in the crib? Ours will nap only in the soft carrier or if lying with me post-nursing. Even if he is in deep sleep, he wakes up within 5-10 minutes of being transferred to the crib. 🙁 Makes it hard to get anything done.

    • Natalie April 9, 2015 at 3:12 pm - Reply

      Hi Clementine,

      It purely depends on the age. If your baby is over the age of 14-16 weeks feel free to explore some different sleep training options and get started. Make a plan for yourself starting with bedtime then throughout the whole night and next day. That will help him start to learn to fall asleep unassisted.

  13. Sarah June 2, 2015 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    My 8 week old will not nap in his crib. I’ve tried and he screams bloody murder. I go in and shush him ever couple of minutes but nothing is working. He won’t sleep unless on me 🙁 help!

  14. Geena April 13, 2016 at 10:39 am - Reply

    Hi Natalie, should the 2.5-3 hours in between feeding be from the BEGINNINGofbone feeding to the beginning of next? My 8 week takes 45min to eat and additional 30-40min to fall asleep and he cat naps. So then essentially I’m feeding him every hour from his last feeding ended. Can you kindly clarify? Thank you!

    • Natalie April 13, 2016 at 10:57 am - Reply

      Geena yes, 2.5-3 hrs from the START of one feeding until the START of the next feeding. Now, in your case you can go up to 3.5 hrs if that works better for you, but 2.5-3 hrs is the sweet spot for a lot of babies.

  15. Linda Nguyen October 29, 2016 at 6:47 am - Reply

    My son is 4 weeks old and can only fall asleep after nursing him . He has only one stretch of long sleep from 10-2pm but is up to feed every hour after that and also struggles to stay asleep before 10pm as well. He struggles with day time a sleeping as well unless he is held sleeping on my chest or if we are in car seat moving. Whenever we put him down in crib, swing andthing, he wakes himself up (startles) and cries. But I can’t get him to like his swaddle either which I know would help him, he screams his head off, night time sleep is kind of possible by the love to dream swaddle that has his hands up . Its so hard. Any suggestions or pointers?

  16. menaa116 March 16, 2018 at 11:37 am - Reply

    Hi Natalie. I’m a new member here! I have an 8 week old and since we have brought her home from the hospital, she shouldn’t sleep in her halo bassinet. We put her in a dock a tot in our bed and have taken all precautions to make it safe. She sleeps fine in it, but I don’t! I’m constantly checking on her. Also, I’m starting to freak out about her getting use to this so last night I tried to put her in her bassinet and she didn’t sleep at all! From 11-4am I tried and tried. I finally gave in and put her back in the dock a tot and she fell asleep. I’m literally lethargic and need to start sleeping more. I’m going crazy. Please help! Any advice on transitioning her!?

    • Natalie Willes March 19, 2018 at 1:47 pm - Reply

      Hi menaa116! So glad you found me! And so sorry you’re so tired! Have you checked out my Newborn Sleep Program yet (under my Pricing tab)? It’s packed full with all of my newborn sleep tips and tools to get better sleep for baby at night and during the day. <3

  17. Lindsay Smith May 30, 2018 at 6:23 am - Reply

    How do I get my eight week old to go longer than two hours betwwwn feeds at night?

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