When I delivered my firstborn, I received around-the-clock attention from doctors and nurses. But then it was time to leave the hospital and go home, I remember asking my favorite nurse, “Will you come home with me?” and I truly meant it! I had so many questions and I was overwhelmed by my lack of answers.
One of the most pressing questions with a new baby is how to handle sleep. Everyone’s heard stories about how once you have a baby you won’t ever sleep again, among many other myths and wives tales about infant sleep. As a child sleep consultant, and a mom who chose to prioritize sleep, I discovered that sleep is a learned skill. Here are some facts about sleep that can help you navigate this strange new world!
Fact 1: Newborns should not sleep through the night.
A newborn’s circadian rhythm (the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that roughly follow a 24-hour cycle and respond mainly to light and darkness) is not developed, nor are their stomachs large enough to go more than a few hours without eating. It is completely normal for them to have day and night confused and to sleep/wake in frequent but random patterns. To help them develop this rhythm, start to organize their sleep by keeping it light during the day and maintaining normal household volume; while keeping it dark and minimizing activity during nightly feedings and diaper changes.
Fact 2: Newborns do not have the skills to self-soothe or cope, they must learn them, from their care providers.
Newborn babies don’t have many ways to communicate with us, so they usually cry when they need something or are unhappy. They also spent the past 40ish weeks essentially being cuddled and rocked to sleep. Meeting your infant’s needs by creating a routine with holding, comforting, feeding and placing them on their back to sleep makes them feel secure and happy so they can continue to develop properly and eventually learn healthy sleep habits on their own.
Fact 3: Newborns need a LOT of sleep.
New babies need 16-20 hours of sleep a day. This sleep starts off as approximately two hour stretches followed by 30-60 minute awake periods. As baby develops and grows in the first six months of life, the chunks of time baby spends awake will increase, as should the chunks of time baby spends asleep, eventually turning into mostly awake during the day with a few naps and mostly asleep at night with a few awake periods.
Fact 4: Babies show cues and meet sleep milestones that can help you establish routines.
Between the ages of 6-8 weeks, baby begins to show more signs of being aware of their surroundings, and have begun to learn facial expressions and other social cues. Watching for these things can help you determine what your baby’s needs are. Around this age, it is good to establish a consistent routine around bedtime and put baby to bed at the same time of night.
Fact 5: Every baby is different, but we can help you navigate what works for your family.
Despite the facts about sleep, every baby is different! Every baby meets milestones at different times, and every baby needs different things from his or her care providers. Our sleep consulting and education can help you learn to read your baby’s cues and establish routines that work for his or her and your family’s needs!
As a mom of four children, I too went through these struggles and found myself unsure and worried at times. But with the right tools I was able to find a solution that works best for our family, and I am confident you will to. If you need support on how to teach sleep skill, I would love to help you!