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Can You Sleep Train a Newborn?

I can vividly remember sitting on my couch, bags under my eyes, with a sleeping baby in my left arm, phone in my right hand, searching every possible corner of the Internet for the answer to the only question I thought about incessantly since my baby was born: can I sleep train a newborn?

I knew the answer was likely “no way” but I was so desperate for some type of sleep help that I kept up that search, day and night.

As a certified pediatric sleep consultant, I can confidently say that I was correct way back when. You cannot sleep train a newborn.

However, if you are that desperate mom, just looking for some sleep relief like I was 8 years ago, then stay with me for a while and I’ll walk you through the best ways to begin to establish healthy sleep habits.

And if you're more of a video-content type of learner, check out my YouTube on How to Get Longer Stretches of Sleep for Your and Your Newborn.

Newborn Wake Times

If your baby is younger than 4 months old, they need a lot of sleep within a 24 hour period.

According to the Sleep Foundation, your newborn will need an average of 16-18 hours of sleep per day. They will wake up frequently throughout the day and night in order to feed (usually every 2-3 hours, but sometimes sooner).

If all they do is eat and sleep, how do you figure out when to offer your newborn a nap? First, start by tracking wake times. Wake time is defined as the time between the end of one nap and the beginning of another.

Wake times will be very short in the early weeks and will slowly begin to increase as your child grows and develops.

Follow the chart below for the wake times I use during the first few months of life:

0-4 Weeks:

30-45 minutes

4-8 Weeks:

45-60 minutes

8-12 Weeks:

60-75 minutes

12-16 Weeks:

75-90 minutes

Secondly, pay attention to their cues. If you are at the end of a wake time and are seeing your baby’s eyebrows turn red, rub their ears, stare off into space, in combination with yawning, this is a good sign that it is time to offer them sleep.

If we wait too long (even 5 minutes is too long sometimes), then we will begin to see overtired cues, such as fussing, crying, back arching, and rooting for comfort even if you’ve just finished feeding them.

When your baby is overtired, it will be harder to get them to fall asleep, so be sure to use lots of soothing techniques if you see these overtired signs.

Finally, adjust the wake time according to the previous nap length. Newborns are notorious for taking inconsistent naps- sometimes they will be 15 minutes long and sometimes they will be 2 hours long.

If they had a short nap, they might only stay awake long enough to eat and get a diaper change. If your baby slept for a really long time, they might be able to push their wake time by 10-15 minutes.

Don’t be tempted to push them too much though- babies are easily overstimulated and do best with being offered sleep often!

Newborn Daytime Routines

It can be especially hard to find a good routine when you are first coming home with your baby. The only thing consistent about newborns is that they are inconsistent!

Even with all of the hours they are sleeping, you are likely spending a lot of time feeding, diapering, and trying to heal yourself after birth.

Try not to stress about establishing a formal routine during the first few months (easier said than done, particularly coming from a Type A mama over here!). It is best to follow some version of “eat, play, sleep” for right now. What does this mean?

Read some suggestions below:


Feed your baby as needed, according to your pediatrician’s guidance. Most newborns do well with 2 hours spaced out in between daytime feedings and can increase to one 3-4 hour stretch at night time.

The amount of time in between daytime feedings will likely stay between 2-3 hours up until 6-8 months of age.

At night time, you’ll see they are able to elongate their 3-4 hour stretch to a 6-8 hour stretch somewhere between 12-16 weeks.


In the first 4-6 weeks, your baby will likely spend most of their awake time just eating.

There won’t be much playing in that time!

Playing can simply be singing a song to them while you change their diaper, before offering another nap. As your baby gets older, you can spend 10-15 minutes on various activities, such as tummy time, talking with baby, or taking them on a tour of your house and naming random objects (true story, this was my favorite way to pass the time when I was going nutty cooped up inside of the house).


Offer your baby sleep after they have been awake for the recommended amount of wake time. Take some notes on whether that wake time allowed the baby to go to sleep easily (perfect amount of wake time) or if it was hard to put them down (too much wake time).

Because a baby feeds often and may not be sleeping a set amount of time, you may not accomplish “eat, play, sleep” in that order all day long. It may look like eat, sleep, eat, play, sleep…etc.

That is okay!

Try not to get hung up on perfection, but on the process of practicing! Offering nice full feeds when the baby is fully awake as well as following wake times will help keep your baby’s belly and sleep tank full!

Newborn Soothing Techniques

Newborns need a ton of soothing because of their underdeveloped nervous systems. You literally cannot spoil a baby! They need to be rocked, offered to suck on paci/bottle/breast, be swaddled, and shhhh’ed all day long.

But what about if you would like to start practicing self-soothing techniques?

This is a very personal choice and we can’t expect that every baby will be able to self-soothe at the same time. Babies come into this in their own time but can be guided by their parents to learn soothing techniques.

When working with newborn families, I love using the “soothing ladder” to practice soothing techniques. Keyword: practice. We don’t need to perfect anything at this age- everything is just practice and each teaching opportunity might look different than the last.

The soothing ladder is a 5 minute learning opportunity which gives your baby the time and space to practice self-soothing, while you slowly increase your support until they either have successfully soothed themselves to sleep or you end the session and support them fully.

If you’re interested in learning more about the exact way I teach my newborn families to use this process.


This too shall pass.

I always hated this advice, but it really is true.

Your little one will eventually take consistent naps and sleep longer stretches at night (and you can use these tips next to help get there).

If you are like me, you might not miss this phase as much as all of the people on the Internet say you will, and that’s okay. While you’re in it, remind yourself that your baby is brilliant and resilient, can be taught anything, and you are doing an awesome job as their mama!

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