Ways to Help a Newborn Sleep Better
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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