As every parent will know, the world of newborn sleep is foreign and strange. Most newborns spend the majority of their time asleep, waking only for feeding every few hours. They rarely sleep more than four hours a stretch and need your attention day and night. Their internal clocks aren’t yet synchronized with the 24-hour day schedule, and it’s often difficult for new parents to know how long and how often their newborn should sleep.
It’s a recipe for exhaustion, leaving many parents sleep-deprived and desperate for relief. But understanding the science of infant sleep can help you decide on the best strategies to use for you and your family.
If you’re a mama, then odds are you’ve heard the phrase “sleep when the baby sleeps” several times from well-meaning advice-givers. The problem is that this advice is not always helpful because most of the time it’s not that straightforward.
Firstly, newborn sleep is very unpredictable, meaning that you have no clue when the next newborn nap is coming. Moreover, there is no way to know how long the nap will last. Another problem is that most (if not all) new parents have other responsibilities, so it’s not always possible to sleep when the baby sleeps.
Going into the postpartum period with some information about what is ‘normal’ in terms of baby and mama sleep is key! Knowledge is power 🙂 So without further ado, here are some of the most important things to know.
Babies actually sleep quite a lot! 16-18 hours a day. Typically 8 – 9 hours during the daytime at 8 hours at night. BUT wake frequently because their tiny tummies need milk regularly. A baby that sleeps through the night in the first couple of weeks of life is not usual – they need to wake up to feed, and don’t tend to sleep more than 3-4 hours in one stretch. This is the case even during the night because their internal clocks aren’t programmed to know the difference between day and night. By exposing your baby to daylight, involving them in your typical daytime activities, and avoiding exposure to artificial light during the evening, you can help “tune in” their internal clock.
Be aware that it isn’t until 8-12 weeks of age that your baby’s circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) matures enough for them to be able to start differentiating between day and night. As midwives, we tend to see babies quite sleepy in the day but then awake at night – not fair right?!
Newborns are noisy and restless sleepers. They may even wake themselves up with a movement or a noise that they themselves have made. This is because about half of their sleep time is spent in REM (rapid eye movement) mode – very light sleep. Not to worry though because as your baby matures, so will their sleeping patterns – resulting in a quieter, deeper sleep.
Newborns have special sleep patterns and special needs, and it’s completely normal for new mamas to feel overwhelmed. Baby’s sleep is something that most new parents stress about, which can add to already extreme exhaustion levels. As long as your little bundle seems well-rested and happy most of the time, you really have nothing to worry about, especially in the beginning. If you’re concerned about your newborns sleeping habits, remind yourself of the above facts, then relax and try to get some very well-deserved rest. If you want to know more about how HATCH mamas and babies benefit from sleep advice directly from experts, get in touch to find out more from our midwives.
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