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Are You Making these Baby Sleep Mistakes?

November 2, 2011 |  by  |  0-3 Months, 3-6 Months, featured, naps, new mom, newborn
Image of newborn baby lying on hand

Giving birth is a big deal. Even an easy birth leaves most Moms feeling like wet cat food. Your house is probably full of meddling relatives and your living room is awash in baby blankets and burp cloths. Baby care and feeding is significantly less straight-forward than it seemed in that New Baby class you took a few months ago. And you are so fatigued that you get winded opening the fridge.

Your plate is probably pretty full so I don’t want to send you into panic mode about newborn baby sleep (hint: newborn=0-3 months), but here are some common potholes for babies you want to avoid. Actually everything here applies to babies from birth to 6 months.

10 Common Newborn Baby Sleep Mistakes

01

Keeping Baby Awake Too Long

Most new parents are confused by how long their newborn baby should be awake because so many believe that they’ll simply fall asleep when they need sleep (some will, most won’t). Truthfully most newborn babies can only stay awake about an hour. For the first few weeks your newborn baby may only be able to stay wake for 30-40 minutes. Even if your baby SEEMS content to stay awake for longer periods of time it is in your and your baby’s best interest to help her sleep more frequently. Overtired babies cry more and sleep poorly at night so managing sleep throughout the day is a great way to make the first few months a happier time for everybody.

02

Keeping Baby Awake During the Day

Most newborns are surprisingly awake at night. Horrifyingly this “playtime” often happens between 1:00 am – 4:00 am when no civilized parent has any interest in playing (and the TV selection is limited to infomercials and Who’s the Boss). It is a commonly held myth that keeping baby awake during the day will solve this problem (this is the “tire them out so they sleep better” theory). This is patently untrue. Keeping baby awake during the day will simply make baby more tired and potentially exacerbate your night party problem. What will fix it?

Time.

When baby is up at night keep the lights dim and activity to a minimum. No loud, blinky, bouncy toys. Most babies will organically sort out this day-night sleep reversal by ~6 weeks of age.

03

Trying to “Fix” Baby’s Sleep

I love it when families take their children’s sleep seriously. I really do. However while there are many things about newborn sleep that parent my not love (awake at night, short naps, frequent feedings, etc.) part of being the parent of a newborn is accepting that for now, baby is driving the sleep bus. Trying to force a schedule, getting frustrated with cat naps, feeling anxious about how much your baby sleeps, etc. are all loosing strategies when you have a newborn. Which leads me to…

04

Forcing the Crib

About 0% of newborn babies will sleep happily in a crib. I know you just spent $1000 on that delightful Pottery Barn crib and can’t wait to see your little peanut sleeping in it. But you and your peanut will be much happier and will get a lot more sleep if you accept that most babies aren’t sleeping in the crib until sometime between 2-6 months of age (and sometimes later). For a newborn, the crib is huge and flat which is pretty much the opposite of what they are used to. Where do they sleep? In co-sleepers, with Mom, in car seats, or my personal recommendation, in a swing.

05

Letting Baby Cry it Out

Listen tired peeps, there are definitely times and circumstances where CIO is the answer. This is not one of those times.

06

Worrying About Sleeping Through the Night

Your newborn baby might be sleeping through the night at 8 weeks. Or it may be 8 months. You may get a lucky night where she sleeps all night and then be horrified when it never happens again. I know how tired you are. For a year and a half I would fantasize about leaving my baby home with my husband so I could go to a hotel and sleep blissfully uninterrupted for AS. LONG. AS. I. WANTED. Newborn sleep bounces around like an angry snake. You’ll have hideous nights. Wonderful nights. And you’ll never know what you’re going to get. Don’t worry about it. It won’t be like this forever.

07

Not Accepting Help

I see MANY couples who have convinced themselves that there is only one parent who has the skills to care for baby during the night. This is ridiculousness. If your partner can’t care for baby at night then show them how. Put them through baby boot camp. Whatever you have to do to enable them to take some night parenting duties off your shoulders. If you’re nursing and feel like it HAS to be you, start working on getting baby to take a bottle (it doesn’t get any easier as they get older so best to introduce this now). Let Dad take 1 feeding a night while you get some uninterrupted sleep in the guest room. Don’t allow yourself to be the sole baby zen master in the house.

08

Not Sleeping When Baby Sleeps

After a few weeks you’ll probably notice that there are general times of day when your baby is more likely to sleep in larger chunks. One of the first good chunks to develop is when they go to bed at night (generally after being awake for a longer period of time). So if you aren’t going to bed when your baby does, you’re missing out on the biggest window of uninterrupted sleep you’re likely to get all day. I know the house is a mess, you haven’t showered in a week, and the grass in your yard is so high that your neighbor’s 5 year old got lost in there. Forgetaboutit. Go to bed.

09

Not Using Sleep Aids

Parents will also express their concerns about baby getting “addicted” or becoming “dependent” upon sleep aids (swaddling, white noise, pacifiers, swings, etc.). So their solution is to not use them and thus avoid sending their baby to White Noise Anonymous to deal with their sleep aid addiction. If your baby is under 6 months old, sleep aids are your friend. Embrace them. I promise you, your kid will be out of the swaddle by kindergarten.

10

Comparing Your Baby to THEIR Baby

In every new baby playgroup there is the blessed child who starts sleeping through the night at 4 weeks and takes huge chunky naps during the day. You will look at this well rested, recently showered parent and start to feel like you must have failed in some significant way. You haven’t, they just got lucky. About 33% of babies are “easy” – they are easily soothed, fall asleep easily, sleep longer with less frequent night wakings, etc. It’s just the way of the world. Your baby will get there too. Eventually

If you haven’t already checked it out, Baby Sleep: What is Normal is also a really great resource on how much sleep babies need by age.

So did I miss any? Feel free to share any stumbles you’ve had. I promise you, you aren’t the only one!
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{Photo credit: Emery Co Photo}


96 Comments


  1. I am having trouble with my 3 week old. He is my second baby and my first one (using all your tricks) slept great! This babe however is up wanting to eat every hour and most days refuses to nap even with the help of swaddle, white noise, pacifier, AND swing!! He will sometimes pass out for ten minutes and then right back up (at bedtime he will often do a 2.5 hour stretch but thats it). He sleeps great in my arms, the carseat, etc. Help!!

    • Sounds like your little dude has a bad case of FOMO 😉

      It’s hard to make grand generalizations in the first few weeks because for some of us the first few weeks just suck super bad and the only REAL advice is – do what you need to (that’s save obvs) and get through it. Things tend to improve around 6 weeks.

      It’s OK if he naps on your lap for now as long as you’re awake. So it maybe that for the next few weeks “putting him down” for naps is impossible.

      Good luck and I hope this phase is a short one!

  2. I should add that I always try to put him down for naps before he has been awake too long but usually by the time he falls asleep he has been up far too long and the overtiredness probably contributes to the issue!

  3. Firstly, this website is really ‘precious’ for us parents. Just that I found it only yesterday! I wish I had somehow stumbled upon this website earlier…

    My little 4 and 1/2 month old sonny is neither a great napper nor does he go to sleep on his own. Every nap/sleep is a struggle be it day or night. I try every method I know of – swaddling, swinging, rocking, nursing to sleep. Some days nothing works and he just cries and cries and cries. It’s just painful and heartbreaking to see him like this 🙁 I don’t know what to do.

  4. Hi!
    How are you ? Your website is so great. So many helpful tips. I have couple questions. My baby is a month and 10 days old. For the past week or so she tends to wake up around 4 am and will not go back to sleep until 7. Also she does seem to want to sleep between 10 and 4 pm now a day. Is she not getting enough feeding? It seems she does not fall into deep sleep mode. She Is easily startle or cried a bit then fall back to sleep, please help me. This is my first baby and I don’t know what to do. Thank you for all your help .

  5. Hi, Thanks for posting the information about “baby sleep and modern parents” syndrome, it is very valuable information. I have also heard concerns about the stress these newborns are suffering from for being kept awake 3 to 4 hrs in the afternoons, hoping that “they will sleep longer” at night. The unknown as to how this stress might impact the infant’s development, physically, emotionally or mentally could be a concern especially with children who have predisposition to certain medical, emotional or behavioural illnesses. Do you have any information about this? I appreciate your input.

  6. i also love the idea that night is for the adults. liv goes to bed early, too (by 7) and if we want to go out, the sitter comes around 7:15. the sitter doesn’t have to do anything, except for be here if livi wakes up or needs anything, and we can go have fun or just enjoy the night togetherwhat time does your daughter wake up in the morning?and that gives me hope about “the pause” later on! i’ll definitely be better at the whole sleep thing next go around

  7. Is is okay for baby to sleep in car seat through night? She’s not liking her bassinet.

    • If you had asked me 5 years ago I would have said, “Yes if it works – go for it!”

      But I don’t say that now. More recent research suggests that sleeping in carseats leads to schlumping and measurably decreases babies oxygen intake. So no, I wouldn’t recommend it. If they HAPPEN to fall asleep in the car seat in the CAR, so be it. But all night in the car seat is not recommended.

      What about a full-sized fully reclined infant swing or RNP?

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