Newborn sleep expectations

One of the most commonly asked questions by new mothers is “How much sleep should my baby be getting?”

Many mothers are misguidedly focused on the perceived Holy Grail of getting their baby to sleep through the night, with some trying to stick to routines from an early age.

The reality though is not quite so simple.

Like adults, all babies are different when it comes to sleep patterns, and particularly in those early months, trying to inflict routine can do more harm than good.

So how much sleep should babies be getting?

According to our resident sleep expert, Registered Nurse, Midwife and Maternal and Child Health Nurse, Helen Stevens when it comes to newborn sleep expectations, it’s best to simply expect the unexpected.

During the first weeks of your baby’s life, it’s important to remember:

  • Irregular sleep is completely normal
  • Babies have virtually no ability to self calm
  • Calm babies drift to sleep more readily
  • Keep night feeds quiet and non stimulating
  • Be prepared for lots of interrupted sleeps

Helen says newborn babies naturally sleep at varying intervals, some sleep times are just 20 minutes and others could be 4 hours. 

Overall there is no discernable pattern for many newborns. There is often no difference between day and night because the hormones that drive the circadian rhythm are not yet adequate to influence sleep patterns.

For at least the first month patterns are unpredictable at best.

“Some newborns use all their energy at most feeds, so tend to feed and fall back to sleep, but after a few weeks they remain awake after the feed for maybe 5 to 20 minutes, then need to rest again,” says Helen.

“As the weeks pass you may just begin to see a pattern and then the next day it is gone, worry not, that too is totally natural.”

Your baby has a tiny tummy and can only take small feeds and therefore needs to wake often to feed.

Never try to get a tiny baby into a fixed pattern, it will end in tears all round and is unlikely to succeed.

Research shows that irregular sleep patterns just naturally lengthen and become more predictable.

Because day and night are all the same to your baby, help them to understand that night wakings are for feeds and back to sleep. Overnight keep lighting dulled, voices low and keep feeds and nappy changes as non-stimulating as possible. Over time this helps baby understand settling patterns overnight.

So forget the clock, follow your instinct and both and your baby will be happier and healthier for it.

To gain an insight into the sleep expectations for babies 6 weeks to 6 months click here, or for babies aged over six months, click here.

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