Help! My Newborn Won't Sleep at Night: A Guide for New Parents

Updated on April 21, 2016
Ethan shortly after birth
Ethan shortly after birth | Source

My Newborn won't Sleep at Night

As I am writing this article my first born son, Ethan will be hitting that one year mile marker very soon and as I sit back and ponder about his short life thus far, I can’t help but think there are so many parents out there experiencing parenthood for the first time. There are many fears and concerns a first time parent experiences and one of main ones, if your newborn is healthy, is how I am ever going to sleep at night again. If you’re newborn struggles to sleep through the night then welcome to all-nighters club! It is normal for your newborn to stay awake at night and sleep during the day.

Before Ethan arrived, I used to think to myself that I could handle my son waking up in the middle of the night or not sleeping at all. Of course that changed when he arrived and turned our worlds upside down. The nurse said it was normal for a newborn to sleep all day and stay awake at night and I tried my best to prepare for that, but it just wasn’t enough.

Ethan's first bath.
Ethan's first bath. | Source

No Rest for the Weary

It was 11:07pm and my wife and I welcomed Ethan into the world. His idea of hello after the doctors looked him over was to tell us he was hungry. My wife was exhausted but she mustered what little strength she had to nurse our son. Ethan fell asleep and we thought it was our turn to get some rest. Well, Ethan had another opinion and his ruled above our own and he wanted to eat again after he just eaten an hour ago. What was going on? Why is he hungry again? My wife nursed him again, half asleep this time. This pattern went on throughout the night not to mention all the shots, blood work, paperwork, and checkups my son and wife endured.

It was finally time to leave the hospital and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I was tired of seeing nurses and doctors every few hours and just wanted to go home. It was in the middle of the day when we left and Ethan was fast asleep. That day he slept for almost three hours before he wanted to eat again, which was bliss for my wife and I. I thought to myself that maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad and he’ll sleep tonight as well. I actually wanted to keep Ethan up so he could sleep at night, but once again his will won against mine and I caved, letting him sleep the day away.

Christmas time as Ethan turns 4 months.
Christmas time as Ethan turns 4 months. | Source

That night was a complete nightmare. Not only did Ethan want to stay awake all night but he also wanted to eat what seemed like every hour. I was doing my best to help my wife but there was only so much I could do. If you’re a new dad reading this the best thing you can do for your wife is be there for her. Yes, that means staying up with her while she nurses because it’s probably a new skill for both her and your newborn. The support will mean more than she really can express.

That first few weeks we were up with Ethan every few hours feeding him and changing his diapers and it took about a month before he slept for four to five hours per night. His pattern of sleeping during the day and up all night changed after about a week or so. I’ve learned that it’s natural and normal for a newborn to sleep during the day and stay up at night so try not to disrupt that too much. He/she will eventually catch on to days and nights and will learn when to sleep and not to sleep. Now, if this is your only problem, then you could probably stop reading now. However, if you’re past this stage and your newborn is still not sleeping during the night then keep reading.

Ethan at 10 months.
Ethan at 10 months. | Source

Even though my son is almost one, he still wakes up in the middle of the night at least one to two nights per week which from what I’ve heard from other parents is pretty good. There have been some scary nights when he was crying and was inconsolable. One night in particular was when he was about six weeks old and he had just finished eating dinner. About twenty minutes later he started to cry, so we went through our usual routine of trying to burp him, change his diaper and give him more food but nothing seemed to work and the crying actually increased. We didn’t know what to do except hold him and rock him which didn’t seem to work either. If you’ve ever been in this situation before it’s easy to panic and maybe even consider going to the hospital because I know we did. He cried for another twenty minutes before he finally fell asleep. I’m pretty sure he fell asleep because he expended so much energy crying and had no energy left.

After consulting the nurse’s line at our hospital we determined that either Ethan was colicky or he had a case of indigestion. He ended up sleeping for a little while and then started crying again and he just wasn't responding to anything we did. The nurse suggested using some infant gas relief drops better known as Simethacone drops. After administering the proper dosage to Ethan he quickly responded and let out some gas from both ends and then calmed down. I highly recommend trying these if your infant cries uncontrollably and seems inconsolable.

Ethan dressed as Winnie the Pooh for Halloween.
Ethan dressed as Winnie the Pooh for Halloween. | Source

This isn’t a magic bullet remedy because there have been times when we used them again when Ethan seemed inconsolable in the middle of the night and they didn’t work because there was another issue. The lesson here is that we as parents must be investigators on behalf of our babies. All they can do is cry to let us know something isn’t right and then it’s up to us to figure it out. It can be a frustrating process but if you use the process outlined below, you should be able to find the problem and fix it to help your baby sleep better through the night.

The first thing I always do is check Ethan’s diaper because he hates wet diapers. If it feels wet or is dirty, change it and see if that helps. This may temporarily annoy your newborn but many babies hate to have soiled diapers, understandably so.

The next step I do if the diaper change didn’t work is to try burping especially if he nursed recently. Sometimes gas bubbles can become trapped and the only way to release them is for you to burp them out. If your infant has not eaten recently, then try feeding him/her.

If these two steps don’t help and your baby is still crying or not sleeping well, start checking his/her body. Perhaps he/she is cold or hot. Ethan can become hot quite easily so I can guess that he is probably hot and I will take off a layer of clothing. Also, check to make sure there is not a piece of hair or string accidentally wrapped around one of his/her fingers or toes. This actually happens quite often when the baby grabs at mom’s hair and a piece comes out in the baby’s hand and eventually becomes entangled in the fingers. This can happen with threading from clothing wrapping around fingers and toes cutting off circulation.

If none of these steps work, then I would next check your infant for a temperature. Often times when a baby has a fever or feels ill, he/she will cry and fuss quite a bit causing sleepless nights. In fact, recently Ethan developed a fever out of the blue and was pretty fussy. Later in the evening he became fussier and began crying hysterically. We couldn’t figure out what was going on and tried everything to bring his fever down. We headed to the doctor the next day because he didn’t sleep very well and his fever was not getting better. He was diagnosed with hand, foot, mouth disease which is common among babies, but the reason he was crying was because he had sores in the back of his throat. Poor baby!

The next step I would consider is whether or not your baby is in the teething stage. If he/she is not there yet, then I would consider contacting the nurse’s line at your local hospital. The nurse will ask you a series of questions about the situation and then will often times suggest going to the ER. Use your best judgment but sometimes just holding and rocking your baby will eventually soothe him/her.

Tips For A Good Night's Rest

Restful Tips
Sleep when your baby sleeps
Ask a friend or family member to watch your baby while you sleep
Avoid taking sleep aids
Avoid falling asleep while holding your newborn

If your newborn continues to cry after thirty minutes and just cannot stay sleeping, it would be a good idea to consider taking him/her to the hospital as there may be something more serious going on inside his/her body. It’s a tough line to draw because on the one hand you don’t want to be a hysterical parent but on the other you want to help your baby feel better. All I can say is no one is perfect and parents have to make tough decisions all the time. We make mistakes but as long as you have your newborn’s best interests at heart, these mistakes can be minimized and as your infant grows and develops he/she will eventually sleep all night.

Keep in mind also that even though you can't spoil a baby, you can ensure he/she becomes accustomed to a routine if you are nursing constantly during the night after 8 weeks or so. If Ethan woke up in the middle of the night, we did our best not to feed him unless he just wouldn't fall back asleep or we could hear his tummy growling. We didn't want to build the routine of feedings in the middle of the night and to this day we try to avoid feeding him right away. About a day prior to me finishing this article, Ethan woke up in the morning around 5am crying and so I picked him up and walked around the house for a few minutes. He looked around and saw no one else was up yet and that it was still dark, so he fell back asleep on me and slept for another hour.

As your baby grows older, he/she will realize when they are by themselves and for some babies that scares them and will trigger a crying session at 3am because maybe they had a bad dream or something else woke him/her up and now he/she wants to be held and cuddled. It's all about your parenting style, but we try not to cuddle too much in the middle of the night. When Ethan wakes up, we console him but we do not engage in playing or very much cuddling. He eventually learned that waking up in the middle of the night was not going to yield playtime or a midnight snack and so this behavior was extinguished after a few days.

Some parents set a routine, others do not. My wife and I fall in between because routines cannot always be followed 100% but at the same time, Ethan should not be dictating the routine especially in the middle of the night. Babies not sleeping all night is very common and you should try to find your own path that brings peace to everyone. Be patient (which I have to work on everyday/night) and know that this stage will pass soon enough and then you will be on to the next one. Enjoy parenthood and try to get some rest!


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  • tamron profile image

    tamron 4 years ago

    I can relate when my son came home. I thought I would never get any sleep. I was also scared because I was a single parent with not much help at all. Nice PICS.