Newborn sleep is the most common conversation in my postnatal sessions. The beginning of life with your new baby can be a haze of sleeplessness, with no distinction between night and day. However chaotic this may seem, it is all totally normal.
Newborns may only sleep for between 90 minutes – 2 hours at time, night and day. Some new babies may sleep for longer chunks in the day, spending the rest of their day sleeping and feeding – total sleep over 24 hours for a new baby can range between 11-19hours
Newborn Sleep: why can’t babies sleep for longer?
Babies have small stomachs so they need regular calories to grow and develop.
Their body systems are immature so babies are meant to be close to their mothers to help regulate their temperature, breathing and heart rate, as well as regulating any stress they experience as part of their development and adapting to the world around them.
Babies sleep cycles are about 45 minutes long (compared to 90 minutes for an adult) and they have more REM sleep than an adult, which is a lighter sleep when their brain is active. Some babies will start to wake at the end of a sleep cycle and they will need help to get back to sleep again. Night-waking is a normal part of baby development.
Newborn Sleep: where your baby sleeps…
Some babies will sleep well in their cot – others won’t because they need to be closer to you for safety. Your options are to…
Continue to try to get your baby to sleep for longer in the cot – this can work or it can feel like you are battling with your baby, leaving you tired and wondering what you are doing wrong!
Co-sleep safely if your baby settles when he is closer to you
Try a bednest so your baby is closer to you
Go for a combination of sleep environments – some babies are happy in their own space for some of the night but need you for the rest of the night.
Just remember to make the sleep environment safe with no pillows, duvets, cot bumpers, cuddly toys or choking hazards.
It’s also worth mentioning that some new babies need to touch something with their head and their feet – as they did in the womb – which is why they can settle next to you. You can also try putting them to the side of the crib so their head can be against the side and at the bottom so their feet can touch the bottom of the crib – new babies will often settle when their feet are on something.
Newborn Sleep: why do babies wake so often?
It can help if you accept that new babies are unpredictable – they wake for many different reasons:
- food, comfort or reassurance
- wind or reflux
- growth spurts and developmental needs
- because they don’t know how to fall asleep again on their own
So no two nights are the same. If your baby isn’t capable of sleeping for any longer, it is important to try to get more rest and support.
Newborn Sleep: keep positive
- It is normal for babies to wake during the night
- You are not doing anything wrong
- Tell yourself, it will get better – eventually
- Try to have realistic expectations of your baby and of yourself
- Accept and expect to get little sleep – try to go with it rather than battle with it, every night
- Rest and have quiet days when you can
- Ask for help and support so you can rest when you need to
It can also be helpful to join in with postnatal sessions like Mother Cuppa and to baby massage so you can ask questions and get all the reassurance you need. These are small online groups which means I work with parents everywhere.