Try these 3 foundational steps with your baby to get better sleep, according to a lactation consultant

woman breastfeeding baby better sleep

When I was pregnant for the first time, I thought I was as prepared as possible for the newborn days. Being the type-A, ambitious woman that I am, I read every available book, took all of the classes the hospital offered and spent hours googling, reading online blogs, and scrolling social media for every newborn topic under the sun.

I was a sponge in the sea of online content with a burning desire to learn everything. But just six weeks in, I found myself overwhelmed at the thought of returning to work. I knew I wasn’t getting enough sleep, so I turned to sleep training.

I blindly followed everything the sleep training experts told me to do. I fed when they told me to, I let him cry when they told me to, and I did not dare deviate from the schedule. I was stressed, irritable and angry, as nothing worked.

The precious, fleeting newborn days were a full-blown nightmare.

It was an impromptu feeding, which unexpectedly soothed my baby, that brought me back to reality. It felt like I had been hit in the gut with the revelation that I was allowing someone else to decide what was best for my baby—when they didn’t know anything about my baby. 

This was the catalyst on my journey to becoming an expert on MY baby and founding my online lactation consulting company, Baby Settler.

Over the last few years, I have been on a mission to empower mamas with the knowledge and resources they need to rock, and most importantly, enjoy, the newborn stage. And it starts with one simple truth: feeding impacts sleep and sleep impacts feeding. Once you understand this connection, Babies are simple.

To really maximize those precious newborn days, you want to understand this relationship before baby comes home.

3 steps to help you and your baby sleep better

Here are three foundational steps, backed by evidence-based research, to help build confidence to navigate feeding, establish a routine and get uninterrupted sleep at night:

1. Learn how to get efficient, effective feeds to get more sleep

Your baby will feed most efficiently and effectively when you’re feeding on demand. This means they will feed easier, require less stimulation to stay awake, and transfer more breast milk. You should be looking for signs of hunger in your baby. Early feeding cues include when your baby brings their hands to their mouth, transitions from sleeping to waking, turns their head from side to side, sticks out tongue, smacks lips, clenches hands into a fist, or becomes restless. Feeding “on cue” will lead to fuller feeds and better sleep.

2. Gain control of your baby’s wake time to prevent fussiness

Overstimulated babies are fussy and unsettled. A baby’s feed, wake, sleep cycle can easily go off course when overstimulated. You can avoid overstimulation by learning your baby’s sleepy cues so you know when the wake window should end.

If you’re following the cues of a newborn (the first 28 days), you’ll find that they’re unlikely to stay awake for more than 30 minutes at a time. In the first six weeks of life, the goal of the wake window is to get full feedings and to keep your baby’s world small. Very small. This may be one of the most important things to remember. Understanding this concept will help you keep your baby from becoming overstimulated.

3. Implement effective strategies to get your baby to naturally sleep through the night

There isn’t a magical trick out there. The truth is, every baby is unique. I have good news though: the key to helping your little one extend nighttime sleep is understanding the why behind all the information, suggestions, quick tricks, and tips that are so readily available.

This takes a little time and effort. It looks less like sticking to a schedule and more like taking the time to be properly informed about infant sleep cycles and realistic expectations about naturally extending sleep time. It means implementing the right steps to build a good foundation for sleep, based on your understanding of the research. This approach will help you both get that restorative sleep you crave!

Here are some proven ways to help meet your baby’s needs

  • Feed on cue (whether breast or bottle)

  • Hit “reset” when your baby gets overstimulated

  • Follow a routine (not a schedule)

  • Limit your baby’s wake windows

  • Structure naps

  • Properly soothe your baby 

These steps allowed me to embrace the newborn stage and set realistic expectations with my last three pregnancies. Now, four babies later, I can honestly say that those precious newborn days were some of the best of my life.

My hope for every new mama or mama-to-be is that you too will look back on these days with that same fondness, because, yes: You can have a baby that breastfeeds and sleeps through the night.