Settling a newborn; Sleep advice from my Mary Poppins

Settling a newborn; Sleep advice from my Mary Poppins

For lots of parents, those earliest days with their newborn are lovely – the baby sleeps for long stretches and settles easily. Others are in the sleep deprivation trenches from day one.

Either way, there’s a point at which newborns become more alert. They get harder to settle, get overstimulated quickly and want to feed more often.

While a certain amount of that just comes with the newborn territory (wait it out and things will change!) I know first-hand that there are some things you can do that can help make your life easier.

Introducing Kate Sommer

Kate Sommer is a baby sleep consultant, and my Mary Poppins. Next to my family, she is my most valued and trusted confidant when it comes to my children. She started as a Karitane nurse and now helps families all over Auckland. I’m continuously getting messages of thanks from my friends for recommending her!

I credit her with having two babies who were fantastic sleepers early on, and Kate has generously agreed to share some of her expertise here.

    How to settle a newborn

    Let’s start with a caveat – every baby is different. Your goal with sleep training should be about finding what works best for you, your baby and your family as a whole.

    Kate recommends against doing anything before the first three weeks. That’s the time to settle in, get to know each other and let the milk come.

    Get into a feeding pattern from three weeks

    At three weeks, Kate asks parents to start on a three-hourly feeding schedule, staring the day at 6am. This start time gives an anchor, so you have the right timings for feeds and sleeps. Newborns can only be awake for short periods –  an hour to an hour and 15 minutes, depending on the baby. That means it’s important to plan those naps so you’re heading into bedtime with your babe sleepy, but not overtired.

    With your wake-up time at 6am, you should be aiming for feeds at 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm and 6pm, followed by a cluster feed at 7. You could also introduce a dream feed, where you aim to feed your baby around 10.30pm (without actually waking him). These work well for some babies, but not others – if your baby is too drowsy to feed, and doesn’t drink much, you’re better to feed your baby when he wakes naturally. By this stage you should be looking at four hours, then three-hour sleeps overnight: midnight, 3am, then 6am. If you’re dream feeding, it will look more like 10:30, 2.30, then 6am.

    If your baby isn’t gaining weight or isn’t feeding effectively during the day, you should expect three-hourly wake ups.

    Don't link sleep with feeding

    Kate recommends against linking sleep with feeding. She suggests feeding on both breasts, a quick play, then back to both breasts. That should take 50mins – this focussed feeding time will mean the baby has a big meal and a full tummy, ready for sleep. Newborns often wake because they haven’t eaten enough to last them.

    The key here is to watch that your baby is actively drinking the whole time –watch for a rhythmic suck, suck, swallow pattern. Rapid, light or sporadic sucking and your baby has started to use your breast like a pacifier. Break the seal around her mouth by gently pressing on her bottom lip, and take her off the breast.

    The remainder of the awake time you can spend burping and interacting with baby – the goal is to avoid letting your baby drift off at the breast or bottle.

      Set the scene for sleep

      When it’s bedtime, go into your baby’s room and set everything up for sleep – that might include making it dark, putting on white noise and swaddling your baby. Holding your baby upright, and softly sing a song or rhyme – your consistent sleep trigger to tell your baby, “It’s sleep time.”

      Then, mentally run through the pre-bed checklist. Make sure your baby is

      • Healthy
      • Well nourished
      • Clean, dry and warm
      • Ready for sleep – has been up long enough

      Settling your baby

      Wait until your baby is relaxed and dozy, then gently lay her down in the basinet. Say goodnight and leave the room.

      Your baby will probably start crying. Listen to that noise – if it’s just a whine or a grizzle, leave your baby alone. If your baby begins to cry in earnest, wait for one full minute then go in and pick her up. Now it’s time for a brief cuddle (again, not to sleep) then lay baby back down leave the room. Crying again? Head back in after a minute, cuddle then put down again – you can do this five times. If your baby is still not asleep, it’s time for a reset. 

      To reset, pick up your baby then sit with her upright – no talking, jiggling, shushing or rocking – for about five minutes, then try the whole process again. If it’s taking too long, your baby may need a quick feed before you try again – watch for wide eyes, and searching, pursed lips.

      A bottle at cluster-feeding time

      The evening cluster feeds (with lots of feeds clustered together) is something most babies do on their own – and it’s something Kate encourages. Lots of feeding means a better milk supply and fuller tummies going into bedtime. For many families, Kate introduces a 50ml bottle of expressed breast milk given at 6pm. Baby’s bath time is 6:30, then more feeding from 7pm, but no later than 8pm.

      You will get there!

      All this sounds great on paper, but I know as well as anyone that there are constant spanners in the works! Very early wake-ups, tummy troubles, illness – they can all derail your best sleep intentions. Parenting is hard – and parenting on no sleep is even harder. The best thing to do is to trust the process, stick as closely as you can to the path you’ve chosen, ask for help, and be extra kind to yourself when things go wrong.


      If you would like Kate's details, get in touch.

      Natalie xx

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