Caring for your newborn brings indescribable joy and contentment but with it also comes sleep deprivation. Newborn babies simply can’t sleep through the night and unfortunately this means neither can you. Thankfully, by the time your baby is three to six months old they will most likely develop a regular sleep pattern and can stay asleep until dawn. As your baby’s brain develops over these first few months, you’ll probably see a sleep pattern start to emerge - though it may be a problematic pattern which does not align with your own routine. In this blog, I will talk you through some strategic methods which will help your newborn establish healthy sleep habits that will continue on as they get older.
Newborn Sleep Pattern
Newborn babies notoriously sleep a lot! You should expect your baby to sleep for up to eighteen hours per day during the first few weeks. Although here’s the catch, your newborn probably won’t sleep for more than one to three hours at a time (day or night) and will require frequent feeding. So, some sleepless nights are to be expected and are pretty much unavoidable during this time. The good news is that this is just a phase that every newborn needs to go through and although it is a struggle for sleep deprived parents it won’t last long. If you’re wondering why your baby never sleeps for long during this stage, it’s because their sleep cycles are far shorter than an adult’s. They’ll spend more time in REM sleep, which is a light, easily disturbed sleep. This is necessary for the changes that are happening in your little one’s brain.
Once your baby is between six and eight weeks old they will probably sleep for shorter periods during the day and longer at night and will have deeper sleep. However, they’ll still wake up hungry during the night. It’s possible that your baby may sleep through the night as early as eight weeks old. Every baby is different and it’s more likely your nights will be interrupted for at least the first few months. If your aim is to get your baby to sleep through the night, encouraging clear habits from the beginning will help.
How should I encourage good sleep habits during the early stages of my baby’s development?
Your baby can develop good sleep habits from as early as six weeks. This is the point at which they start to develop their natural circadian rhythms, which is the process that helps regulate their sleep-wake cycle. Here are a few methods you can use to help your baby settle.
Recognize the signs that your baby is tired
For the first six weeks to eight weeks, your baby probably won’t be able to stay awake for more than two hours at a time. If you wait much longer than that to put them down, they’ll be overtired and will have difficulty drifting off. As your baby grows, it’s important to be aware of the signs that they are sleepy. Your baby may show signs of tiredness in the following ways:
- Rubbing their eyes
- Flicking their ear with their hand
- Faint, dark circles under the eyes
- Whining and crying
- Staring blankly into space
- Yawning and stretching a lot
- Losing interest in people and toys
- Becoming quiet and still
- Turning away from moving objects or people
- Burying their face into your chest
If you spot these or any other signs of sleepiness, you should put your baby down as soon as possible in their bassinet or cot. Don’t worry, you’ll soon come to recognise your baby’s daily rhythms and patterns and spot the cues that mean they are ready for a nap.
Show your baby the difference between day and night
From about two weeks you can begin to show your baby the difference between night and day. There are certain practices that you can bring into your routine which will begin to form associations with your baby to make the distinction between night and day.
In the daytime:
- Change their clothes when they wake up, to help them understand that it’s the start of a new day.
- Play, talk and interact with your baby as much as you can.
- Make daytime feeds social. Chat and sing as you feed your baby.
- Keep the house and their room light and bright.
- Let them hear everyday noises, such as the radio or the washing machine.
- Wake your baby gently if they drift off during a feed.
- Change your baby into their pyjamas to mark the beginning of their night-time routine and show them that it’s the end of the day.
- Try not to speak to your baby when you feed them.
- Keep lights and noises low.
All of this should help your baby begin to understand that night-time is for sleeping.
Give your baby a chance to fall asleep on their own
When your baby is around three months old, they should be able to fall asleep on their own. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they will! To encourage your baby to settle for sleep, put them down when they’re sleepy, but still awake. If you prefer, you can stay with them until they drift off to sleep but be prepared to do the same every time your baby wakes at night.
How you settle your baby to sleep is important. If you feed or rock your baby to sleep every night for the first eight weeks, they might expect the same later on in their development. Some experts advise against rocking or feeding your baby to sleep, but it’s up to you to decide what routine best suits you and your baby. If you want to establish a consistent bedtime routine, it’s a good idea to adopt the same strategy every night.
Remember to keep your expectations realistic. For the first few months of your baby’s life, plan for unpredictable, sporadic sleep. Try to sleep when your baby sleeps because catching those extra Z’s where possible is key to every parent’s wellbeing.