Newborn sleep from birth to three months: what worked for us

Our beloved daughter just turned three months old! She was born September 2016, at 40 weeks +4 days and 9 lbs 3 oz – full term and healthy. Everything’s been great… except sleep.

Sleep has never been easy with this baby. Hell, I wouldn’t even call it medium or hard difficulty – this baby is (was?) a sleep sadist. (We love her anyway.)

  • She had her day/nights flipped for nearly two months
  • She struggled with gastrointestinal distress that resulted in constant grunting and groaning (especially when laying down)
  • She cried whenever she wasn’t touching another human

We’re not “done” by any means yet, but the 3 month mark seems like a good point to reflect on what worked and what didn’t for us and offer hope to other parents (or at least our future selves if/when we have another baby).

This post is about what our newborn slept in (rocker, crib, etc) at each week, when she slept, what she was swaddled in, and the overall quality of (adult) sleep at the time. This post is over 2000 words long and detailed – exactly the thing I wanted to read when I was bleary-eyed and desperate for hope that my newborn would go the f#*! to sleep.

This is what worked for us: your baby may vary™.

0-2 days old: drowsy newborn don’t care where she sleeps

… but only for an hour at a time.

Peach came home from the hospital at about 30 hours old. She slept in short bursts – twenty minutes here, an hour at most – waking often to demand food and diaper changes.

Stupidly, we spent these days trying to sleep at night and be awake during the day like we always did before. 10pm rolled around, we put her in the crib and hopped into bed like we always did. Cue screaming, crying. The sleep deprivation quickly added up.

Here she is at 2 days old asleep in her Graco Travel Lite and swaddled in a Summer Infant SwaddlePod (and blanket). We got her swaddled and down… but it didn’t last long.

She went back to the hospital at 48 hours of age for a 2 night stay in the NICU to lower her bilirubin level. She was jaundiced and fighting off the effects of ABO blood type incompatibility (I’m O+, she’s A+). I pumped and we supplemented with formula and, curiously, she slept fairly well in the NICU. Her early-life difficulties with eating may have contributed to her poor sleep those first two nights home.

She came back home at 4 days old, healthy and normal, but the weekend she was in the NICU was our last two nights of sleep for a long time.

Days 4 – 9: the sleepless slog

Torture grade sleep deprivation. That’s what the first full week at home with our newborn felt like. 🙁

Of course, our initial plan was for Peach to sleep (swaddled and on her back) in her Graco Travel Lite Pack ‘n Play until she was too big for it, right next to our bed. We would sleep next to her in the big bed and we would be one, big, happy, well-rested family.

The AAP would smile in approval.

Notions we were quickly disabused of:

  • Newborn sleeps at night. Not ours. 12am-5am was her most wakeful period for nearly two months
  • Newborn sleeps quietly. Ours grunted and groaned so loud. The white noise machine and earplugs couldn’t drown it out and we gave up on sharing a bedroom. (She outgrew this gradually. Around week 9 I noticed she was mostly over it, and by week 12 she has all but stopped.)
  • Newborn sleeps on a flat surface. A flat surface was a great way to make our baby shriek.

Around 4 days of age, our newborn lost all tolerance for laying on a flat surface. Instant screaming any time we put her down in the Pack ‘n Play.

We tried everything. We put her down drowsy, put her down awake, put her down sound asleep. All the swaddling and white noise in the world couldn’t save us. We wasted a lot of time and energy trying to make her sleep at night (in her crib) and she just nope’d us at every turn. She also had some kind of horrible gastrointestinal distress that caused her to curl up her legs and grunt whenever she was put down.

I sat in my computer chair (we didn’t have a sofa yet) and held her for hours.

Sleeping in shifts

We gave up on the idea of having us both sleep at night, together. We started sleeping in rolling shifts – someone watched her for 6-8 hours, then we switched.

One of us sat awake with her in the living room meeting her demands for food, clean diapers, and a soft body to lay on. The other one slept in the bedroom with the door shut. We barely saw each other. Dirty dishes and laundry piled up to the ceiling. Meals were scarce. Day and night lost all meaning. Misery and desperation set in. It’s hard to overstate what an assault on comfort and sanity this first week was.

(We love our baby dearly, which is probably all that carried us through this challenging time.)

We Googled every aspect of newborn sleep and saw a lot of people saying the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play was the only thing their baby would sleep in. By this point I’d have paid a thousand bucks for a night’s sleep.

9 days old: the “bacon chair” saves us all

Our Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play arrived on Peach’s 9th day.

We dubbed it “the bacon chair” for its vibration mode, indicated by a “wavy lines” icon that resembled bacon (or at least it did to us in our sleep-deprived state).

This Fisher-Price Deluxe Vibrating Rock ‘n Play Sleeper is our specific model and the one you’ll see in our photos, but Fisher-Price offers many Rock ‘n Play models, and stock and prices are constantly fluctuating (as we discovered when we bought our second rocker).

It rocks, it folds flat, it’s the only thing our newborn would sleep in!

AAP recommendations be damned, the first time we put her down in it she slept for 4 HOURS straight. 

Sweet, delicious sleep.

She LOVED the vibration mode. We had plenty of opportunities to try it with and without “bacon mode” going, and as soon as we flicked it on, she settled.

Our first Rock ‘n Play runs on a single D battery at a time and the battery lasts forever. (Seriously – we got nearly two months out of the first battery, and we accidentally left it on overnight on multiple occasions.)

Curiously, our second Rock ‘n Play runs on a C battery and has an automatic timeout on its vibration mode. It runs maybe 20 or 30 mins before shutting itself off. The C battery died a lot faster than the D battery, despite the auto time-out.

10-14 days old: brief sleeps, no overnights

We still lived and slept in shifts, but the rocker gave the awake person a break from constant baby-holding. It was so easy compared to what had come before.

The AAP doesn’t recommend these inclined rockers for overnight sleep. They’re associated with flat heads and neck problems. But that’s not us – we didn’t achieve “overnight sleep” with this rocker, and we didn’t drop her in it recreationally.

All we got was the ability to put the baby down somewhere without her shrieking.

We made our peace with the risks vs. rewards of using the rocker by doing the following:

  • We limited Peach to 8 hours out of every 24 in the rocker, and they weren’t contiguous
  • We stayed next to her while she was in the rocker; the person watching her was either awake next to her or snoozing on the sofa next to her
  • We turned her head ourselves because left to her own devices, she’d have laid exclusively on the right side of her head
  • We still put Peach down on her flat Pack ‘n Play mattress a few times a day
  • No “awake” time in the rocker – the rocker was just for sleeping

This was the only bed where she could have some peace, too – she didn’t scream or struggle endlessly with gastrointestinal distress while she was in her rocker.

2 weeks – 4 weeks old: some chunky naps, but not at night

Around 2 weeks, Peach started sleeping in her rocker for a few hours at a time somewhat predictably. Not at like, a predictable time of day, but she started a cycle of diaper ➔ wide awake➔ feed until drowsy ➔ sleep for an hour or two. However, she was wide awake from 1am ’til about 5am, no matter what we did to encourage her to flip it around.

This is also when we got serious about swaddling. We had been half-assing the swaddling effort until now because it didn’t seem to make any difference, but when we switched to the Ergobaby Swaddler (she was outgrowing the Summer Infant SwaddleMe Pod) she totally got with the program.

Erobaby Swaddler: part straightjacket, part pajamas – ALL SLEEP

My partner and I continued sleeping in shifts. However, since the baby could now sleep somewhat independently, it gave both of us many more opportunities to catch up on sleep. We actually got to see each other once in a while!

(Any scraps of “free time” went to keeping up with the chore load. Anyone who says “ignore the chores and sleep” must have a lot more clothing, towels, and dishes than we do because if we didn’t keep doing chores, we’d be eating over the sink naked.)

Here’s Peach at [almost exactly] 4 weeks old snubbing her Graco Travel Lite crib in favor of her rocker.

I found it isolating to live entirely on baby’s schedule and the accumulated effects of living this way started to get to me around the end of her second month. I often found my own waking hours at odds with daylight hours and store hours. I had no free time to sit at a computer or do anything that might be described as fun. We had just a few visitors during this first month, and I had to will myself awake for their visits during what would usually be my sleeping time.

It was hard.

One bright spot: my partner’s mother and brother came to stay with us for a couple days and took the night shift, which let us both get somewhat caught up on sleep.

To anyone wondering what you can do to help new parents: care for the baby while they sleep. BEST GIFT ON THE PLANET.

4-7 weeks old: found our stride… sort of

We carried on for the next several weeks swaddling at night, napping her during the day, and just generally doing whatever she needed when she demanded it. We still lived in shifts.

We found our stride in terms of balancing all the new household chores (so much nursing, laundry, bottles to wash, pumping supplies to clean, baby appointments to get to, meals to prepare…) and just basically endured this time with as much patience as we could muster.

Life was just a huge crush of chores and baby care at this time. Every few days we got out for a walk during daylight hours and it felt like the best thing ever.

7 weeks: the baby sleeps at night!

When Peach was nearing 7 weeks old, two things happened:

  1. My partner (her father) went back to work 4 days a week
  2. She slept at night!!


Okay, so it wasn’t all the way through (to this day, 3 months in, we’ve never had an “all the way through” night of sleep).

This glorious nighttime sleep happened where all her sleep was happening at this point in her life: her Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play.

She fell asleep around midnight and stayed asleep until about 4am. I nursed her, she slept another hour or so, I nursed her again and then she slept some more. That’s it – not “through the night”, but the mere fact that she slept during nighttime hours (and I slept, too) meant that I was awake mostly during daylight hours for the first time in nearly two months. As with all things sleep-related with this baby, things got better, then went back a little, then got better again. Over time, the trend was towards better and better sleep every night and longer naps.

(The next night’s sleep was crap, but then the next one was okay, and it kind of went from there.)

9 weeks: she sleeps on her back in her Pack ‘n Play!

Driven mostly by concern that she was sleeping in the rocker too much, my partner put Peach down in the Pack ‘n Play one night on his watch and – amazingly – she slept flat on her back for most of the night. (She still woke twice for feeding, but she fell back asleep afterwards.) She was swaddled, gently placed on her back (butt first, then head), pacifier’d, and shhh’d.

She finally slept the way the AAP wants babies to sleep.

Sleeping on her back success kit:

Now, we’d tried all this stuff before – so I think the key to success here was her age. Her feedings had gotten bigger around this time (we had just gone up from 2oz bottles to bigger bottles holding 4-5oz) for her non-nursing feeds, we’d become better at burping her (or she got better at burping?), and she just got easier to put down for sleep.

Quick note on diapers:

We bought these “12 hour” Huggies diapers on accident. (We just meant to go up a size.) But once we overcame our sleepiness long enough to read the box, we realized these might be good for overnight use. They hold a literal ocean of pee and our baby doesn’t seem bothered by it. As far as we can tell, she stopped waking due to a wet diaper.

I wish we’d considered a different diaper brand earlier – if your newborn isn’t sleeping so well, try changing your brand or style of diaper.

10 weeks: back in the bedroom – and at night!

Emboldened by our success getting her to sleep on her back, we did something daring: we both slept in the bedroom (together! at night! in the same bed! not on the sofa!)

And… it worked! She slept fine without one of us on the sofa next to her. A 10 weeks old, we finally had a baby sleeping at night in her crib and waking just 2-3 times before morning.

The mornings are still a little rough – both of us would rather sleep a good 9 hours without any middle-of-the-night interruptions, but this is so much better than anything that had come before.

Oh, and we got a new swaddle:

Somewhere around 11 weeks it became apparent that she was busting out of her Ergobaby Swaddle, so we switched to the SwaddleMe Original Swaddle in Large size. It’s easy to put on and cute to look at. (Two swaddles is plenty, unless your baby is particularly leaky).

12 weeks: sleeping in the Pack ‘n Play, napping in the rocker

So here we are in late December with a baby that’s just over three months old.

Her routine is much more predictable, give or take a couple hours on any of these:

  • 6:00am – awake for a big morning feeding and diaper change
  • 8:00am-9:00am – sometimes she falls back asleep during this time
  • 9:00am-12:00pm – awake time (I read to her, play with her, feed her, etc)
  • 12:30pm-3:30pm – the big afternoon nap (this is when I eat, shower, move laundry, etc)
  • 3:30-7:00pm – awake time, usually – unless the afternoon nap runs long
  • 7:00-9:00pm – pre-bedtime nap
  • 9:00pm – fussing and crying, feeding, putting her into her swaddle
  • 10:00pm – 2:00am – first sleep of the night
  • 2:00am – mid-sleep feeding (happens anywhere between 1:30am and 4:00am)
  • 2:30-am – 6:00am – second sleep of the night (sometimes there’s a second waking in here somewhere)

She naps (unswaddled) in her Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play and sleeps (swaddled) overnight in her Graco Pack ‘n Play + Dream on Me mattress if we’re at the apartment or overnight in her Graco Travel Lite Crib if we’re at the house or grandma’s house.

And that’s it! For now, anyway.

The Rock ‘n Play may not be meant for overnight sleep, but it sure helped bridge the gap from her birth to the time when she was finally able to sleep on a flat mattress like she’s supposed to.

I think a lot of her newfound ability to sleep at night is owed to her simply maturing a bit, so the first three months are definitely a time of survival and doing whatever you can to get some rest, wherever you can.


One response to “Newborn sleep from birth to three months: what worked for us”

  1. Caitlin Avatar

    Just wondering do you leave the rock and play rocking while she naps (at 12 weeks)? My LO has been sleeping all night in her crib since 9 weeks and was taking long naps there, but around 11 weeks started waking up after 30 min in her crib at nap time and just wouldn’t go back down for a long time, even after soothing her multiple times. She is now back to taking long naps but only in the rock and play while it is rocking.

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