Newborn Sleep Patterns: What to Expect+ Do
If you’re getting ready to or have recently welcomed your bundle of joy in to the world, you have likely heard one (or both) of the following phrases…
”Better get your sleep now because you won’t for the next 2 years”
“Sleep when the baby sleeps, because that’s the only chance you’ll get”
While these statements very well could be true, they aren’t the most encouraging words we would hope for as we embark on Motherhood.
It is no surprise that lack of sleep as a new Mom is very real. A recent study from the National Sleep Foundation found that 76% of new parents experience continuous sleep problems (and these are just the ones who reported it!)
But listen-there are so many things to look forward to when becoming a Mother, and while sleep deprivation certainly isn’t one of them, it’s time to stop throwing ourselves in this category and start getting the right information around what we can expect and do about this whole sleep thing.
Here are six sleep patterns you can expect from your newborn (0-3 months) and how to handle them
1. For the first 3 months of life, your baby will actually sleep an average of 19-21 hours per day. Yep, you read that right. Most of her life during this time will be spent adjusting to life outside of the womb, and she likely won’t be able to stay awake for longer than 45 minutes at a time. What you can do to encourage sleep: Follow your baby’s sleep patterns. Allow her to sleep when she wants, and tend to her needs most of the time when she wakes up. Keep a quiet space for day-time and night-time sleep and try not to worry about creating any type of schedule right now.
2. Expect middle of the night wake-ups. There are a couple reasons that your newborn baby should NOT be sleeping completely through the night.
#1 Your newborn should be feeding at least every four hours and potentially every two or three hours if she is a preemie. In addition, if you are breastfeeding, for your milk supply alone you will want to feed every few hours.
#2 Your newborn has not yet developed a twenty-four hour sleep cycle and she is not able to distinguish the difference between night-time and day-time sleep. Night-time consolidated sleep likely won’t start to fall into place until 8 weeks or so.
So how can you still get consolidated sleep? My recommendation is to have a rotating schedule with your partner that allows you each to take a chunk of time to tend to your newborn throughout the night. The good news is while middle of the night wake ups will happen, your baby’s natural instinct will be to sleep, so in the newborn phase going back to sleep for her will be less of a struggle.
3. Your baby will fall asleep anywhere and everywhere. The forty-five minute awake window applies here so if you are expecting to be out and about for longer than an hour, you can count on your babe falling asleep wherever you are! While it might not be the most restful sleep, since there will likely be stimulating sights and sounds, there is no need to be home-bound for months simply because you have a newborn. Best thing to “do”: Just make sure your baby still gets enough rest in a consistent environment that is conducive to healthy sleep.
4. Be prepared to get all of the advice there is. Ah, unsolicited advice, you are going to hear it all. Why you shouldn’t do this and why you need to do that. It’s going to happen, whether you ask for it or not from family, friends, and most likely strangers. My strong advice to you from a professional standpoint: Take it with a very small grain of salt. Remember that each person who provides you with their opinion around what will work for your baby when it comes to sleep is tied to his/her own experience. Likely you will hear what worked for your neighbor or your sister or your Dentist and thus that is what they think you should do as well. Your baby is unique and special and un-like any other baby and your family dynamic is different than your best friend’s family dynamic so your baby is not going to respond in the same way as all of these other babies you will hear about. And for the love of Pete, please stay away from social media when seeking advice!
5. The sleep patterns your baby has as a newborn will change over time. I usually get one of two reactions with this one, either “Oh thank goodness” or “Nooo my baby is a great sleeper now”. Ever heard of the four-month sleep regression? The reason this is so common is because your baby starts to consolidate sleep patterns around three months old and at four months her 24-hour sleep cycle will start to form. This is due to her circadian rhythm that starts to kick in and teach her the difference between day and night-time sleep, all factors that are not in play during the newborn stage. The truth is there is nothing you can really do. Yes you can try and implement healthy sleep habits and you can try and avoid sleep regressions like the plague, but your baby is going to naturally develop her own sleep patterns according to her biological clock and I’m afraid you have very little to do with that. The good news is once you get past four months you can start sleep coaching and help move her in the right direction, teaching sleep habits that will stick long-term.
6. Your newborn will need you all the time! I’m sure this is no surprise, but I can’t stress enough that your love and comfort during this first phase of life is crucial. There is a time and place for sleep teaching and creating an independent sleeper and as a sleep consultant I give you full permission to break all the “rules” right now! Your baby has just entered this big world after living in a very small space-your womb. She is going to be exposed to so many new things and is going to look to her Momma to guide her. The best thing you can do: Love on your baby and create a bond that will only help you in the future when the time comes to teach healthy sleep habits.