When it comes to newborn sleep, what advice should you listen to? How much sleep should your baby be getting? How can you best help your baby to get a good night’s rest? What does a normal newborn schedule look like? And most importantly, will YOU ever sleep again? In this article, we try to put a bit of predictability into the unpredictable world of newborn sleep.
“Enjoy your sleep now because once that baby is born, you won’t be getting much sleep!”
If you’re an expecting mom, I’m sure you’ve heard this sentence numerous times since you fell pregnant. It seems to be the first ‘word of caution’ any mom-who's-been-before departs on a mom-to-be. And sure, it can certainly feel this way in the beginning, and first-time moms do often struggle - but it’s all part of the journey to understanding the world of newborn sleep and helping your little one adjust to their world.
We put this article together to help you learn more about:
How much sleep the average baby requires
At what age the average baby should start sleeping through the night
How to create a safe sleep environment for your newborn
Whether or not a sleep schedule or routine is necessary and how to put one together
The sleep patterns of a newborn
The first few weeks with a newborn can feel rough. A newborn doesn’t yet understand the concept of day and night, nor do they understand time, and so they tend to mix up their days and nights - and yours in the process! Don’t expect too much with regards to sleep patterns at first; your newborn’s sleep will more than likely be erratic so be prepared to sleep for short bursts of time throughout the day and night when you get the chance. What’s important though is to help your baby learn the difference between day and night time:
Firstly, make sure that there is a clear distinction between daytime and night-time inside your home. Keep the curtains open or lights switched on during the day and carry on with normal household activities ensuring that your home has its usual daytime buzz. At night, keep as many lights switched off as possible and keep your baby’s room quiet.
Establish a bedtime routine from day one as this will help your baby to wind down and prepare for bedtime. We’ll explore bedtime routines in more detail later in this article.
Building structure and routine for both your baby and yourself will help you get through the period of erratic sleep quicker, and they can be sleeping better after anywhere between 1 and 8 weeks.
Is my baby getting enough sleep?
One of the most common concerns asked by first-time moms is: “Is my baby getting enough sleep?” The below table from Bestselling Parenting & Pregnancy Author, Sharon Mazel, gives you a guideline of how much sleep your child should be getting according to their age. It’s important to recognise that every child is different so don’t worry if your newborn is sleeping for a total of 20 hours a day. This probably just means that they need a little more sleep than the average baby. If you do have any concerns with regards to how much your newborn or child is sleeping, always consult a medical professional.
With feeding, your newborn will not be sleeping for 6 to 8 hours straight through the night. According to webmd, breastfed babies need to feed every 1.5 to 3 hours and bottle-fed babies every 2 to 3 hours initially and every 3 to 4 hours when they are a bit older; and will remain awake for about 40 minutes between feeds. You can expect your baby to start sleeping through the night (6 hours straight) from anywhere from 3 months onwards. Once again remember that your baby is unique so do not feel disheartened or too concerned if your baby is not sleeping through when they pass the 3-month mark. They’ll get there when the time is right for them.
Creating a safe sleep environment for a newborn
Every new mom wants to be sure that they're creating a safe environment for their newborn. Setting up how your baby will sleep is no exception. There are different sleeping arrangements that parents can explore and it really comes down to personal preference.
The difference between co-sleeping and bed-sharing
The two most popular sleeping arrangements are to co-sleep or room-share (meaning sleeping in close proximity to your baby, but not on the same surface) or to bed-share (sleeping with your baby in your bed, on the same surface). The safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot by the side of your bed. This type of room-sharing is said to decrease your baby’s risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent.
Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to your baby’s sleep environment:
Do not let your baby sleep inside a car seat. This can be dangerous and increase the risks of SIDS as shown in this study.
Do not cover your newborn’s head with a beanie, hoodie or blanket, or put them too close to a heater, while they are sleeping, as babies are unable to regulate their temperatures and this could cause them to overheat.
Babies can sometimes get their arms and legs caught between the bars of a cot, so consider using a thin cot bumper or swaddling your newborn.
Do not put any pillows in the cot as a baby could roll on to the pillow and suffocate.
Consider using a Snuza monitor to monitor your baby’s breathing motion to reduce the risk of SIDs
How to create a bedtime routine for your newborn
As mentioned earlier, it is important to start with a bedtime routine from day one.
This routine would need to be moulded around your current household routines as well as your baby’s needs, but could look something like this:
a warm, relaxing bath
gentle massage and clean nappy and pyjamas
breastfeed / bottle feed
sing a quick lullaby
gently lay down in cot
It is important to start with your baby’s routine before they become too tired. Once they have passed the tired mark and become overtired, it could become difficult to get them to settle. Some signs of an overtired baby are:
rubbing their eyes and tugging on their ears
yawning or sneezing often
avoiding any stimulation such as interaction with a parent
The sweet sound of bedtime
We live in a loud world. There are constant sounds throughout the night which we as adults have learned to block out. Babies cannot do this as their sensory systems are still very heightened and that is where something like white noise becomes an incredibly useful tool to implement in your little one’s bedtime routine. Skysha Barrett, mom to a now 4-year-old girl, found that white noise helped with her little one’s sleep routine: “I did a bit of white noise with her, trying to get her not to have someone lying next to her to fall asleep…we found that jazz music really helped calm her down”.
You could also use a fan in the summer months as this creates the perfect white noise and keeps the mosquitoes off your precious one at the same time. In the colder winter months, you could download and use an App like this one. There are many to choose from in the App Store. If you’re interested in learning more about your baby’s sensory world, we recommend reading Baby Sense by Megan Faure and Ann Richardson.
Once you have created a safe sleep environment and have established a good sleep routine for your baby, sleep should become easier, for both of you. Keep in mind though that every baby is different and each strategy should be adapted to your baby’s specific needs and environment.
Have you got a question about newborn sleep? Or are you a mom who has some advice to give? Head on over to our Snuza Mama & Me community and help other moms navigate the world of sleep.