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 ‘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 on the front end by 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 or who can let go of some control and just take each sleep obstacle as it comes in stride. I know these parents, and I salute them. I am not one of 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!
- Newborns will sleep 16 to 18 hours a day, but will only sleep 1-2 hours at a time on average.
- Baby 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.
- Newborns are not born with a natural sleep rhythm, or what we call a ‘circadian rhythm’. Their sleep patterns are completely disorganized, hence feeling discombobulated with different 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 because there will be no pattern.
- Developmentally, baby’s rhythms don’t yet exist; therefore, they cannot be ‘sleep trained’ as newborns or be expected to sleep more than a few hours at a time. Developmentally and physiologically, it is not realistic.
- Babies do not recognize the difference between night and day! This resolves after a few weeks on its own.
- You should start to see longer nighttime stretches around 6 weeks (up to 4-5 hours +). So hang in there!
- You can form a routine for yourself daily but your baby will be unable to follow schedule effectively for quite a few months (4-5 months).
- You don’t want your newborn awake for more than 45 minutes to an hour at a time! In the first few days and weeks, this won’t be a problem. They sleep a lot!
- Keeping your baby awake more during the day will not help them stretch their nighttime sleep.
- Sleep truly begets sleep. You want your newborn well rested! Experiment with what soothes them and build that toolbox to make sure they sleep as much as they need to.
- Most babies experience a strange period in the early weeks 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. They aren’t broken. It will pass!
- Within a few weeks, you may begin to be able to determine a bit about your child’s temperament. If your babe seems to be ‘sensitive, fussy, spirited, or cranky’, they will need more consistency and effort from you to console and assist them to sleep. If you have a baby like this, do not worry, you are doing nothing wrong!
- You cannot spoil a newborn. Love on them as much as you want! ‘Bad’ habits are only those you actually intend or want to break later…and the parents, not baby, typically form them. ☺ 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.
- 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. As an Occupational Therapist and Pediatric Sleep Specialist, I empower parents to make a game plan, feel supported, and equip them with the knowledge and tools they need to confidently jump into the newborn sleep world without needing to ‘sleep train’ down the road. 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. This comes with less anxiety overall, increased confidence and sense of balance, and less pressure on mom and dad. Other professionals such as post-partum doulas and night nurses also carry a level of expertise while offloading mom and dad in the early days. If you need help, just know it’s out there and you do not have to do it alone. If you don’t want or need help, that is great too!
Regardless of whether or not you are interested in hiring an outside resource for sleep help, it is worth taking some time to talk sleep strategy with your partner. One of the most important tasks I complete with my clients is goal visualization. It may be an abstract concept, but what would your sleep situation ideally look like? Do you need a certain amount of hours to function by the time you go back to work? Do you need a certain amount of sleep in order to not feel miserable? What do you want to absolutely avoid? Keeping these goals in the back of your mind helps to facilitate a subconscious prioritizing of sleep that can help avoid pitfalls down the road.
Molly is an Occupational Therapy (MS) and Sleep Consultant. Her goal is to provide information and support to parents as they transition to parenthood. You can connect with Molly at https://www.childsleeplogics.com/.
Thank you to Molly from Sleep Logics for this incredible blog! We've partnered with her to give away a Pregnancy/Newborn Sleep Package and an Everly Grey Analise Stripes Pajama 5 Piece Set (a $248 value). GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED AT THIS TIME.
More details on the giveaway:
This giveaway includes a free Pregnancy/Newborn Sleep Package from Molly at Sleep Logics. Molly infuses her Occupational Therapy background with sleep coaching to provide 1:1 support to parents in the 4th trimester to prepare and equip them with the tools to never need to 'sleep train', using a process called sleep shaping. The package is perfect for pregnant mamas and mamas who have newborns up to 8 weeks of age at time of the consultation. The package includes 1 initial Zoom consultation (done in the 3rd trimester OR prior to baby turning 8 weeks) , a comprehensive 'nothing left out, all secrets shared' Newborn Sleep Guide via email, email support at your baby's major milestone markers (8-10 weeks/12 weeks), and a final wrap up Zoom consultation when the baby is between 4-5 months old.
You will win your choice of size and pattern of in-stock Analise pajamas.