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Ways to Help a Newborn Sleep Better

Updated on July 13, 2014
Lisa HW profile image

"Lisa" has three grown kids, had quite the babysitting business from ages twelve to nineteen, and had a good-with-babies mom who shared

Note: This Hub has been written in response to a HubPages question: "What is the best way to help my newborn baby (seven weeks old) sleep?"

Don't Overlook the Importance of a Newborn's Need to Feel Super-Secure and Calm Baby

Calm, Secure-Feeling, Babies Sleep Best

Calm babies sleep best, and what doesn't help a baby sleep is to overlook how important it is to always help him have a sense of being calm and secure a good part of the day, and then start thinking about that sense of feeling calm and secure only when sleep time comes. (I'm not suggesting that's what you do - only mentioning it because it's relevant.) Staying calm, no matter what you're doing or when you're holding him, or doing anything for him, is probably the first thing. Being aware of the effect an over-stimulating day or environment can have on a newborn is the other thing to keep in mind.

Some Babies Are More Easily Over-Stimulated Than Others

Some babies are more easily over-stimulated than others, but newborns, in general, are pretty sensitive to their surroundings and to way someone holds them. In other words, "You can hold a newborn and you can hold a newborn." (There are differences in how anyone holds a newborn, including differences in what he feels "through" a parent's arms.) Holding him and carrying him with "firm sureness in your arms" makes him feel more secure. If, on the other hand, your arm muscles are all tensed up he'll sense that instead. "Slinging him around" from one position to another can make him feel "all loose" and less secure. Holding a newborn in a way that helps him feel really secure in your arms (rather than kind of "slinging him around") makes him feel super secure.

Wrapping a receiving blanket (the baby-sized, lightweight, blankets for newborns, designed for this purpose) around him ("swaddling" him, old-fashioned as that word seems) can help keep him a little warmer, but also feeling like someone/something is "holding" him, rather than "leaving him feeling 'all loose'". Wrapping it snugly around him from about mid-chest down, and maybe pulling the back of it up a little bit higher, is how to wrap a receiving blanket (for anyone who may not be familiar with it). If he's got any left-over burps they could be waking him.

Other than that, I think there are two big things that help a newborn sleep: Rocking him for awhile (and holding him snugly and securely as you do) and making sure he isn't at all chilled wherever he sleeps. Babies aren't supposed to be too warm, but if there's a hint of chill they generally won't sleep soundly (if at all).

Not having so much going on around him that he gets over-stimulated helps too.

If he's over-stimulated (by, maybe, being passed from one adult to another; or else if he's sensing any "frantic efforts" at calming him) it might help to change the mood in the house to a little less bright, a little less loud, or a little less "busy". One very calming thing for a baby is to hold up over your shoulder with his face next to yours, and stroke the back of his head gently. Doing that while you "walk" with him, rock in a chair, or gently sway back and forth while you're standing can help much of the time. I'm not suggesting a silent house, by any means, but there's "normal family sounds" and then there are "crazy, active, sounds". The same with lights. There's "relaxing lighting" and there's "K Mart lighting". If tv's are on loud, or lights are bright, dialing things back to "calmer" can help. If there are older children running around the house or peering into the bassinet (etc.), keeping the baby close or putting him where the older children are not can help.

More On The Matter Of matter Of Babies' Being Over-Stimulated

It's not just babies are are more easily frazzled than others who can have times of being over-stimulated. Sometimes there are those days when a baby has more activity than he's either used to or ready for. For example, if he's brought around to a lot of places, or has a lot of people around (talking, holding him, etc.) and generally has "frazzling days" for a baby that young. If there's a lot of things going on around him (or with him)during the day, it could make him less likely to be able to calm down when sleep time comes. Then they get over-tired and sleeping become even more of a challenge. Making small changes can make a difference. For example, if you bring him to visit someone either let him stay in seat in a quiet corner near you, or else hold him yourself; rather than leaving the seat in the middle of someone's living room, with their kids running around (or having other people picking him up) can help. Soon he's get past this "super-sensitive" stage, and you won't have to "shelter" him so much.

Also, Consider Gas Pains and/or Colic

You probably know this, but if he's stiffening his legs or screaming (as if in pain) it could mean gas pains or colic. Keeping his legs curled up can sometimes help a baby with "belly discomfort" feel a little better. In fact, babies that young usually pretty much like being "all curled up and snuggled" most of the time.

Something Else To Keep In Mind

One other thing to keep in mind is that sometimes a parent thinks a baby is crying because he needs to eat and feeds him. Some babies will drink whenever it's offered. Others won't. With bottle-fed babies who are more likely to drink when it's offered (especially if it's being offered awhile past the last feeding), an infant can become "over-fed", which is distressing too. As a result, he can get into a whole cycle of intestinal discomfort until the whole over-feeding incident settles down. On the other hand, babies sometimes do start to need more milk as the weeks pass. With bottle-fed babies a 4-ounce bottle of formula may not be enough a few weeks later. A problem with breast-fed babies is that sometimes they don't quite get enough milk, and it isn't easy for a nursing mother to know that until her baby seems to be "unreasonably cranky".

If there's one incident of a baby having trouble sleeping (as opposed to his just being "known as a non-sleeper") always call your pediatrician and ask if s/he should see your baby. This isn't one of the most common or well known problems that can happen, but always check all your baby's appendages for any threads that may have become wrapped around tiny fingers, toes, or other appendages.

A lot of perfectly healthy newborns do a lot of crying and not much sleeping in those first several weeks, but it's important to keep in mind that infections and any problems associated with birth six or fewer weeks ago require always "erring on the side of caution" when it comes to calling your pediatrician.

One other thing to keep in mind is that even though newborns usually sleep a good number of hours during any 24-hour period, those hours don't come in long stretches. Instead, they're generally broken up into as few as two or three hours (four for some) at a time. The newborn who has a feeding at 6 a.m. may wake at 9 a.m. (after he was fed at 6, held until 7 or 7:30, changed, and put into his bassinet near 8). That can make it seem as if he "isn't sleeping" because (besides it feeling to a new mother as if he "isn't sleeping") he isn't really sleeping for any long stretches.

Something that can help newborns feel just that much calmer and more secure is not to put them into their bassinets the minute they're finished having their feeding and/or burping. Whether they've fallen asleep or not while feeding, a well fed, contented, baby can feel particularly secure and calm when held "just for the sake of being held". That little bit of extra holding can sometimes make the difference between a baby who sleeps well when he's put into his bed and one who doesn't.

Congratulations on the birth of your new, little, Sweetie - even if he is a non-sleeper.


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    • Lisa HW profile imageAUTHOR

      Lisa HW 

      9 years ago from Massachusetts

      lorlie, Congratulations, of course!

      I don't have grandchildren yet, but I'm imagining a different kind of challenge with becoming a grandmother:

      I'm in my element enough when it comes to newborns. All it takes is knowing how to hold them and make them feel secure (and, of course, being able to happily not sleep - ever - and to, maybe, be projectile-vomited on at times). Besides, with newborns, what you lose in sleep you make up for with not having to worry about things like their eating rug lint they spot when they're a few months older and on their bellies on the rug.

      For me, it was when those newborns got to be between about 18 and 24 that I wasn't even sure I had any "element" at all. (but that's a Hub for another day :) )

      Again, congratulations. I can't speak from grandmother experience, but I'm fairly certain it all comes back to you the minute you hold the latest addition to the family. (Isn't it kind of strange how, until we run into each new thing in life, we don't really have a frame-of-reference that helps us feel more prepared for it? I suspect you may discover more than one "from a grandmother's point-of-view" Hub you'll have in you.) (So far, on that life-milestone, I, as they say, "got nuthin' LOL)

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 

      9 years ago from Grizzly Flats, Ca

      Hi Lisa! Well, it's time I get off my rump and take these newborn hubs of yours to heart because I'm going to be a Grandmother for the first time this September. I can't believe how terrified I actually feel, though it's also a joy I can't quite describe.

      I will be the caregiver most of the time since mom and dad will be working to pay the bills.

      Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 

      9 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      lessons I learned over 50 years ago have not changed. That's good to know.

    • Polly C profile image

      Polly C 

      9 years ago from UK

      The things we have to do for our children, hey?!!

    • Lisa HW profile imageAUTHOR

      Lisa HW 

      9 years ago from Massachusetts

      Polly C, thank you. I don't know how many people will find this Hub, but I can picture any frazzled parents running out to find a mobile or the Sleep Sheep David mentioned.

      My three tended to sleep OK, but I had one who was a premie and went through a "colic thing" for awhile. I spent a lot of time in a living room chair, using one of my legs (leaning against the arm of the chair) to prop up the arm that held the curled up baby and was supported by my own curled up leg, and using the other leg as a way to stop "the whole set up" from falling if I fell asleep. He slept without problems as long as he could be curled up - so curled up we both had to be for a few weeks. :)

      He was so tiny I had to figure a way to keep holding but make sure there was no chance my position would change (and possibly suffocate him) if I did nod off. Jamming that "stabilizing" leg against the other arm of the chair, and tucking my foot between the cushion and the arm assured that the only thing that would move on me would be my nodding-off head.

    • Lisa HW profile imageAUTHOR

      Lisa HW 

      9 years ago from Massachusetts

      David, thank you for sharing what helps with your baby.

      Hello, hello, thank you.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      Wonderful, informative hub. Thank you

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      One thing I have found in helping my baby sleep is putting some "white noise" on when he is trying to falling asleep. I bought the "Sleep Sheep" from Cloud B. It is an adorable plush toy that has a sound box that plays different sounds. My

      favorite is the mother's heartbeat option.

    • Polly C profile image

      Polly C 

      9 years ago from UK

      Hi Lisa - this hub just sent me straight back two years ago, to when my second baby was born. He never slept properly at night, it was enough to send us crazy after a while. I would have to lie next to him, and my husband got relegated to a camping bed at the other end of the room!

      Anyway, he had this cot mobile that for some reason only had one level of sound, and it was really quite loud. For some reason, if we disconnected the sound bit from the cute animals and laid it on the bed near us, it sent him to sleep. We would have to have it on for ages, usually we would fall asleep before turning it off so it would be on all night, every night - the batteries lasted for ages!

      Anyway, just thought I would share that with you - I do agree with all the things you said as well - the needing feeding, feeling secure etc. (One of my friends suggested eating rich fruit cake before bed time (me, not the baby!) as it makes your breast milk more satisfying. Thanks for a good read :)


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