Newborn Sleep- The Fourth Trimester

crying flexible routines fourth trimester newborn newborn sleep
newborn sleep shaping

From the moment you discover you're going to be a parent, the next nine months are a whirlwind of planning and preparation. Most of that time is spent planning for the labor and delivery, and navigating all the things for your new little one.   However, despite all the reading and learning, especially when it comes to your newborn's sleep and truly planning for the fourth trimester, it can really catch you off guard.

As a parent, sleep coach, and postpartum doula,  one of the most valuable lessons I've learned is the importance of establishing a healthy sleep foundation in the first five years of a child's life. Just like any other skill, sleep is something your child learns, and you can gently start teaching them from the beginning.

Now, I’m not talking about sleep training your newborn because it is a myth that the earlier you sleep train your newborn the better.  

The fact is newborns lack the motor skills and ability to self-regulate, so they depend on caregivers to help them achieve sleep. 

In the newborn season your baby needs you to help them sleep.  Shaping their sleep actually is what helps your baby’s sleep develop overtime.  Understanding where your child’s brain development is based on their age and stage helps you make informed decisions that take into consideration biological, nutritional, developmental and behavioral needs your child has.   

Creating a Healthy Sleep Foundation:

Upon welcoming your little one into their new home, your world undergoes a significant shift. Your focus shifts from "doing your own thing" to attending to your baby's needs, including diaper changes, feedings, and providing love and care to your fully dependent new housemate. This period can become overwhelming, especially as sleep becomes more fragmented in this season. 

Let me assure you that there are no bad habits before 6 months of age.  Your baby will not need you to rock, hold, bounce feed, etc.. to  sleep forever.  I’ve helped plenty of families make shifts when they are ready.  And to be honest, it's never too late to improve sleep when you are ready.  BUT there is no rush during the first 6 months. 


Common Questions About Newborn Sleep:

How can I help my newborn sleep well?

Establishing feeding, following your baby’s cues and being responsive are two factors to laying a healthy sleep foundation.  

  1.  Be sure feeding is well established.  The goal during the first 6-8 weeks is working to get feeding established.  When your baby  feeds well and is satiated whether they are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, or doing a combination of both,  then your little one will sleep.  

Sleep develops overtime, so one of the first goals we want to see your little one achieve is having 1 stretch of sleep that is 3-4 hours in length.   Ideally this would happen at night time to help you get some sleep.   Remember, biologically your child will feed 8-12 times in a 24 hour day.  So that means eating every 2-3 hours can result in shorter sleep. When you add all those little sleeps together, it will result in 14-17 of sleep between 3-5 daytime naps and night sleep hours in a 24 hour period.  

During the first six months, keep sleep goals simple. Don't expect your baby to sleep through the night, as their sleep patterns are still developing. Create a routine that allows your baby to put themselves to sleep 1 time a day to practice. 

 2. Follow your baby’s cues  and be responsive to meet your baby’s needs. When you learn to understand  and respond to what your baby is communicating and meeting that need, it actually allows you to work with your baby.  


If I’m hungry, feed me.  If I’m tired, help me sleep.  If I’m awake, then let’s play and engage. In the newborn season, wakeful windows can last from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours.   Follow your baby to know what he or she needs.   

Short sleep, shorter wakeful window.  Long sleep, just a regular wakeful window.  Notice that I didn’t say longer wakeful windows.   Babies are extremely sensitive to becoming overtired, so tuning in and helping them sleep will help shape sleep which is one of the first steps in establishing a healthy sleep foundation. 

What if I don't understand my baby's cues?

You are not alone.  As new parents, sometimes you might not know what your baby’s cry is really trying to communicate to you.   This was one of the big reasons I spent over 3.5 years sleep deprived — I didn’t know what I didn’t know.   

I created Sleep Doula Solutions & Sleep Shaping Success Group to meet the needs of newborn families. I wanted to share and teach  the education and support that I offer families when I’m with them on a postpartum doula shift.  This is a learning process for both parents and baby when it comes to observing your baby’s active and deep sleep patterns.  It’s one of my favorite things to navigate with parents.

Again, it's common for new parents to feel unsure about their baby's communication so rather than surviving, reach out for support.  Patience and kindness are essential in this learning process. Research also shows that when parents have education and support, parents  have more positive outcomes in their parenting journey.  


Is there a schedule for my newborn?

Not in the traditional sense. Trying to put your newborn on a schedule can be very frustrating for the parent and baby.  

Between 6-8 weeks, you can begin to work towards a consistent wake-up time.   Be flexible with naps, and gradually introduce routines for a more predictable day.

Between 4-6 months the baby's circadian rhythm begins to develop which means “adult-like” sleep patterns begin. I’ll share more on that in another post. This means now that you may have a consistent wake time, and you could begin working towards a consistent bedtime which will help you have a predictable beginning and end of your day.  

Typically between 6-8 weeks, parents may begin to see some consistent patterns emerge which is how your child’s organic schedule unfolds. I have a feeding and sleeping framework I coach parents through  to help parents navigate this.  

Does this mean sleep is all over the place?

Not necessarily. After three to four weeks, begin introducing flexible routines. They offer a balance of structure and freedom, helping you be responsive  and meet your baby's needs while enjoying some predictability.   It allows you to be responsive and reflective in your decision making with your baby.   It helps you understand and meet your baby’s needs and for you to be intuitive and support your baby through the day.   

Creating flexible routines can help you relieve stress and anxiety & save energy because you’ll know what to expect and how to best respond to your baby. My  postpartum doula clients get excited about seeing their own personal organic schedules unfold.  


More Newborn Sleep Tips


Here are my top tips to help you maximize your sleep in the newborn season: 

  • In the early weeks, keep visitors to a minimum and create a calm environment for baby.  Allow time to “nest in” and get to know what your baby is communicating to you
  • Establish healthy feedings from day one whether you are nursing or bottle-feeding.   Check with your pediatrician to assure that your baby is feeding well.
  • Create a flexible routine for the day, which will be followed during the first years of your child’s life. 
  • Engage with your baby during floor time to help them have short periods of stimulation during wakeful times. Time on your baby’s back and belly is a great activity for your baby. This is also a great time to begin to foster self directed play.
  • Decide on a safe sleep space for your baby. 
  • Implement a simple sleep routine: sleep sack or swaddle, sing a song, and time to go to sleep on a flat surface. This allows your baby to know what to expect and prepare their body for sleep.
  • Explore other ways other to soothe your baby other than nursing and feeding.  Sometimes our babies simply need to be held or rocked. 
  • Learn and observe  your baby’s cues for eating and sleeping to help guide you.  
  • Observe your baby’s active and deep sleep patterns.
  • Pause for 1 minute when your baby begins to fuss before you intervene. Use the Breathe LOVE method to help support you in responding to your baby.  
  • Learn to accept short and long naps during the first few months. Naps don’t fully develop until somewhere between 6-9 months of age so being flexible will help you as sleep develops and matures.
  • Practice putting your baby down to sleep drowsy but awake one time a day.   Be there and support your baby as they are learning and practicing these new sleep skills.  


When should I sleep train my baby?

Wait until after six months when your baby's sleep patterns begin shifting towards more adult-like patterns. Be patient and consider seeking guidance from professionals if needed.

Developmentally your baby may not be ready to sleep through the night. And yes, it’s still common for babies to have night wakings that include night feedings.  It’s important to know that sleep for children begins to shift toward adult-like patterns  between 4-6 months of age.

How can I get more sleep without following the "sleep when baby sleeps" advice?

Sleep when baby sleeps is usually not the most  helpful advice for parents.  Instead of trying to nap during the day, give yourself permission to rest for short intervals. Lay down, set an alarm if needed, and focus on breathing. It can make a significant difference in your well-being.

Resting while feeding is also important.  This means and can look like being very comfortable and supported while you are bottle or breastfeeding your baby.   This can help you show up and be calm and confident, kind and compassionate, to connect with your little one.  

Why isn't my baby sleeping through the night like others?

Nothing at all! 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with your baby. Each baby is as individual and unique as you and I are. Each baby has their likes and dislikes. Some babies are easy going, while others may need additional support.   The key is to figure out what your baby needs, love your little one right where he or she is, and use the process that works best for your little blessing. 

And just so you know, you are the perfect parent for your little one! And your little one will help you learn and grow in ways you had no idea you needed to learn and grow.  Not ideal or convenient, but yes, part of the loving lessons we will learn as parents.  

Probably not what you wanted to hear, but the reality of what takes place in the beauty of parenthood.  

As an educator, I believe everything is learnable, and you are your child's best teacher. 

 If you have questions or want to figure out your next step,  let's hop on a call. In the meantime, make it a great night! 

Sweet dreams!