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


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.


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?


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.


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…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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}


  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?

  8. My little girl is only 2 weeks old and is showing symptoms of having reflux like I have, she won’t sleep flat in her bassinet and only gets good sleep elevated in my arms or on my chest, what do you suggest I try to make her more comfortable, it breaks my heart to see her in pain

  9. Looking for suggestions… my 4 week old will only sleep in my arms day or night. We try every day to put her down at varying levels of sleep with a warmed bed with no luck… within 3 minutes she is crying and quickly becomes hysterical and is a master of getting out of a swaddle…

  10. Your site is amazing!!!!!!!! Thank you for reaffirming some things for me as the Mom of my newborn (2nd baby). I would think I have this figured out by now but I guess it’s sometimes more complicated than we like it to be! 😉 my newborn was suuuuch a chill baby (still is in some ways) and slept too well, but since two days ago (11days old) she’s been extremely fussy, gassy perhaps?, and difficult day and night. Trying to figure this out….any other feedback? 🙂

  11. Hi there… Your site is wonderful. I’m reading it to my wife while we struggle with our newborn boy. We’re working through trying to understand him, his queues and difficulties. He’s a very gassy baby and cannot pass it easily – meaning he screams with varying degrees of cramping when not feeding or being burped.

    My question – with abdominal gas and discomfort, there is no silver bullet solution. Given this and the amount of crying, he might sleep for 10 – 12hrs /night no matter what we try. Do we need to push our health care professionals given his general lack of sleepiness? Or push through and hope for change? Thank you

    • If baby is breastfed gas could be caused by not having long enough feeds on one side. Fore milk is gas producing and hind milk is fatty and sustaining.

      • Apologies, by 10 to 12hrs per night I meant per 24 hour period.

        Regarding the milk, he’s an eating machine. Usually eats for 2 hours (1 per breast) for long meals. For ‘quick’ ones he’s on there for 45 mins.

    • Wait what now?

      He nurses 1 hour PER BOOB? Wow. I mean…my condolences to your wife.

      Nursing is great and babies definitely nurse for general comfort. However if I were nursing for 2 hour stretches as a matter of norm, I would want to talk to an IBCLC about this. Why does he take 2 hours? I don’t know. It could be that there is a latch issue that makes his eating less efficient (this could also result in lots of swallowing of air). It could be a tongue tie. It could be that he’s only eating for 20 minutes and the rest of the time he’s just sucking and lounging. I don’t know but if I were you I might want to find a referral for somebody locally who could help me get some answers.

      10-12 hours per 24 hour period is definitely extremely low. Is it possible that’s the “norm” for him? Technically, yes it’s possible. But would more lean towards ” he needs more help sleeping.” Usually that’s in the form of more soothing (swaddle, white noise, pacifier, etc. – all stuff covered on the blog).

      But my first stop would be to get some nursing support and flat out ask – what’s up with the 2 hour nursing business?

      • Ok so some updates:

        He is latching fine and eating properly, confirmed by a lactation consultant.

        We’ve recorded everything for the last 24 hour period – this one was exceptionally bad:

        Fed for a total of just under 8 hours across 16 feeds – each of those times were in response to cues or crying (when he was past the cues earlier this morning). He is eating the entire time. He gets a little lazy at the end, but 90% of that he’s active for. We aren’t letting him sleep on the boob.

        He has slept for a total of 4 hours and has screamed for far more than that. I just spent 3 sustained hours with him attempting to soothe him with maybe 2 minutes of calm.

        I mentioned gas – he’s not like this through the day. He screams but for not as long. At night it won’t end and if it was all gas he would do it all the time versus show a day/night pattern, right? Sure he has gas pain – but what else is up here?

        The lactation consultant mentioned stimulus overload – but how when all he has done is feed or cry? Only stimulus he has is what he’s generating.

        Regarding sleep aids. He has kicked off the swaddled, won’t accept the soothers (when freaking out), won’t rock to sleep… Nothing!

        Anyway, apologies if I sound like I’m complaining. It’s been a long night! Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

        • It’s not stimulus overload. Yes kids who are not sleeping (and yours isn’t) get overtired and overtired kids are inconsolable. But there is no stimulus overload. That’s not a thing.

          I would keep swaddling tightly even if he seems to fight it. Swaddle, darkness, and white noise. 100%

          As for why he’s crying I have a hard time believing it’s gas. Because you’re right – gas wouldn’t be limited to night time.

          I don’t want to suggest there is a “problem” but have you considered:
          a) reflux
          b) dairy intolerance

          These are the most common issues for babies (and they’re still relatively rare at 2% and 5% respectfully). I might ask the pediatrician about these issues. If it’s dairy it’s a relatively quick fix – remove all milk protein from Mom’s diet (read labels it’s EVERYWHERE). If that’s the root issue you should see dramatic improvement within 1 week although technically it takes up to 3 to get ALL proteins out of breastmilk.

          REflux is more challenging to diagnose (you can read more here:

          But with this much screaming and nonsleeping I would consider digging into those two possibilities.

          • Hey Alexis, thank you for working back and forth with me on this. So we’ve been to a Dr who said there isn’t anything medically wrong with him and gave us infant Tylenol *sigh*. Extreme case of colic. He said his digestive system is likely having a harder time than most learning to function. Apparently much of the digestive process happens at night, hence the issues he said. Doesn’t think it’s acid reflux because there would be other signs.

            We’re going to get to a pediatrician, just timing isn’t easy until next week unless we hit the local emergency department.

            His update… He’s slept 4 hours in the last 24. We’re dying here! He’ll fall asleep feeding, then wake up 10 minutes later (almost to the second) screaming. Then the same cycle has repeated. All. Day. And Night. Long. His poor little eyes are red, puffy and baggy. He looks so uncomfortable almost all the time.

            The dr also said there is no medical issue with him not sleeping. It’ll be an issue for us, but babies don’t require tons of sleep. Is this accurate?! So worried about this little guy. He’s slept 24 hours over the last 4 days – and that is accurate within an hour either direction.

            Is he ok to continue in this fashion? Should we wait it out? Or is something wrong here? Just wondering how much noise I should be making with our medical community on his behalf. Thank you again!


            • Sorry and just to be clear – we’ve done everything we could think of to help him sleep. 10 minute cycles is the best we can get.

            • Hi Andrew…I feel so much sympathy for your situation and for your baby! How old is your baby btw? I would definitely seek your pediatricians help in this. The only suggestion I have is perhaps asking about probiotic drops for babies? If his digestive system needs some help, I’ve read probiotic drops can be very beneficial in the newborn phase. Perhaps this is something you can ask the pediatrician about?
              I am praying you find answers quickly for your baby and family!

  12. Baby is 8 days old – and thank you for that recommendation. I have a bottle of Bio Gaia ProTectis which I badly want to give him but was urged to wait until we speak to his doctor. ProTectis is something a friend tried with his premature daughter and got some result. The studies they conducted certainly seem positive.

    Thanks again Sam.


    • Hi Andrew,

      Your son sounds very similar to my first. Ate forever at a time, screamed and cried a lot, slept for no more than 15 minutes- usually being held, and we were told he was healthy and there were no problems.

      After having son #2 I now realize how abnormal my first really was. He had two issues (which may have been related). One was a posterior tongue tie and a lip tie. After being told by three lactation consultants he didn’t have one I found one who specialized in ties and said he did indeed. It was corrected using a laser by a dentist and slowly but surely his feeds (and his countenance) started improving.

      The second issue was reflux- specifically silent GERD. He did not spit up but swallowed it back down and screamed more because of it. There is medication for this but we did home remedies (elevate crib, colic calm, probiotics), and waited it out with time. It was awful.

      I spent a lot of nights sleeping with him upright in a rocking chair. It did take a few months but slowly got better and then we had to do significant sleep training around 6 months. However now he is a very healthy and super happy 2 year old who sleeps! The 24 hour screaming sessions didn’t seem to harm him long term and I eventually recovered from them too. 🙂

      I’ll pray you get some answers. Good luck!

    • hello, I was wondering if your baby is doing better? hope things have improved =)

    • I was wondering the same… Hoping things have improved a bit. Thinking of you & your family!

      • Thanks for checking in. So it’s been an adventure. He’s really up and down. We’re in the hospital right now for an UTI and the antibiotics are really bothering him.

        Before that he’s had a few good night and many long ones filled with crying. At the high end he’s around 12 hours per 24, but averages around 8. Very uncomfortable baby.
        One product we’re using that seem to make some difference. Biogia ProTectis probiotic is seemingly helpful. The pediatrician says it works wonders.

        Here’s a possible story one the discomfort. Apparently babies that are c section are very uncomfortable due to a lack of initial bacteria from the vagina during birth. That’s why they’re extra difficult with digestion. ProTectis helps add some of that flora in.

        Anyway, he’s on IV now and very uncomfortable, so my wife isn’t getting much sleep. I’m not allowed to stay which is good for my night of sleep but bad for her sanity.

        Again, thank you, and I’ll keep you posted if things change. So far living with exhaustion is the new normal!

        • Andrew,

          I’m so sorry you’ve had such a difficult start to parenting. That sounds awful. Glad you found something that seems to be helping a bit. Hope you continue to get answers!


  13. Is the author a doctor, a midwife or?

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