The Skinny on Newborn Sleep
All of us know that when you welcome a sweet little babe into the world, the sleep game is less than ideal. Feel free to roll your eyes when you hear comments like: ‘sleep when the baby sleeps!’ and yadda yadda.
Why is newborn sleep such a big deal?
There is no shortage of sleep advice and information in the social media realm, in books, and from your friends and family. I don’t know about you, but I am overwhelmed by the amount of conflicting information that assumes that each baby and family operates the same way. Type anything ‘baby sleep’ related into the Google machine and cue the mommy anxiety and panic!
The overflow of conflicting advice about how to manage sleep in those early months coupled with the ever-increasing demands on moms make it nearly impossible to avoid fumbling through the 4th trimester. It comes as no surprise that we often lack confidence in this area. Many of us resort to crossing our fingers and assume or pray that our babies will sleep when they need to.
Babies just figure it out eventually, right?
UGH. I wish it came that easy! The hard truth is that almost nothing about baby sleep is easy or typically comes without some intention from mom and dad.
Now, I must note that this all depends on your threshold for less sleep, your genetics, and your personality as parents. Shout out to those parents who truly can function pretty well for quite some time on much less sleep. I know these parents, and I am green-eyed with envy. If you could bottle that up and sell it, I'd buy it!
I am not one of those said parents. And I know many of you aren’t gifted in that department either. That’s OK! We owe it to ourselves to find our own balance. You do you.
To make things easier on expecting parents and parents of newborns, I’ve rounded up the ‘need to know’ baby sleep basics that focus on infant biology and development to calm fears, provide parents with realistic expectations, and to normalize our struggles with baby sleep—because it can be HARD. The silver lining is, when you have some idea about what is to come, the nuances of life with a newborn become far more manageable…just take my word for it. So let’s prepare!
- Will sleep 16 to 18 hours a day, but will only sleep 1-2 hours at a time on average.
- Will need to eat every couple of these hours throughout the night and day. If you exclusively breastfeed, be ready to be called to duty every 1-3 hours throughout the night.
- Are not born with a natural sleep rhythm, or what we call a ‘circadian rhythm’. Their sleep patterns are completely disorganized, hence the discombobulation with various wakings and disruptions all day and night for the first few weeks. For those of us who love routine and structure, this can be very difficult.
- Internal clocks don’t yet exist; therefore, they cannot be ‘sleep trained’ or be expected to sleep more than a few hours at a time. Developmentally and physiologically, it is not realistic.
- Do not recognize the difference between night and day!
- Don't start typically stretching nighttime sleep until around 6 weeks (up to 4-5 hours +). Be prepared, talk to your partner, and hang in there!
- Will be unable to follow schedule effectively for quite a few months (4-5 months).
- Wake times should not be longer than 45-60 minutes!
- Do not function well on being kept up during the day. This will NOT help them sleep better at night.
- Experience a phase called ‘PURPLE crying’, which is characterized by inconsolable crying, typically in the evenings. We are not sure why this happens, but it does resolve on its own within a few days or weeks. So don’t panic if you have tried absolutely everything and your baby screams her head off for a few hours at night. She is not broken. It will pass!
- Have different temperaments. If your babe seems to be sensitive, fussy, spirited, or cranky, he or she will need more consistency and effort from you to console and assist to sleep. If you have a baby like this, do not worry, you are doing nothing wrong!
- Cannot be spoiled. The best advice is to find a good balance. Don’t over-rely on unsustainable soothing techniques, sleep products, or gadgets. You’d be surprised by how little baby really needs.
- Benefit from dad's involvement. Recent research has shown that a father’s/partner’s involvement with their newborns has mutual benefits in regards to connection, bonding, and attachment. This concept is termed the ‘biology of fatherhood’. Essentially, when given the opportunity to be super hands on with the baby, your husband’s brain undergoes chemical changes that allow him to understand and read baby’s cues and recognize nuances that were thought only be privy to mama. This is huge for mom and offers opportunity for her to get a well-earned break when needed.
With the high prevalence of post-partum depression and anxiety, as well as reduced maternity leave times and increased pressure on moms, it is critical that we acknowledge the role that sleep plays. Sleep affects every cell in our bodies. Mamas especially need to fill their own cups and feel supported in this area.
We need to stop asking moms how their newborns are sleeping, because…it’s a total work in progress! Plus, many babies will not be ‘sleeping through the night’ by the common societal standard of 10-12 weeks. How well your baby sleeps is not a reflection on you as a parent. Set your own standards, trust that you are doing your best, and if you feel out of balance or are struggling in any way, be sure to ask for help.
The good news is that there are resources available to help you to prepare for life after baby when it comes to sleep. Often, I find that when empowered with information and support about optimizing sleep hygiene, parents find their balance and often fall into desirable sleep patterns that for many, includes plenty of restorative nights of sleep for the whole family.