Newborn Baby Sleep Patterns

In an ideal world, newborn baby sleep patterns work to a three to four hourly feed, wake sleep pattern from birth. Unfortunately, not many babies stick to this routine. Most babies will have an unsettled time and it is difficult to predict when they will be hungry and how long they will sleep for, in-between feeds. There are very few babies (if any at all!) who follow this three to four hour feed-wake-sleep routine, it is merely there as a guide.

It is completely normal for newborns to have irregular feeding and sleeping patterns. There is nothing wrong with you or your baby if your baby needs to be fed every hour. At around eight weeks you may see a sleep pattern emerging that looks more like the three to four hour hour awake-feed-play/awake-sleep. At around this eight-week mark, sleeps may become longer.

This is the “feed, play, sleep” pattern that everyone talks about. You don’t have to set about enforcing this routine, it is likely that it will naturally unfold. Newborn babies might have a feed, play, another feed, and then sleep pattern because their little tummies can’t hold enough food to get them through a long sleep. Some babies have short sleeps for the same reason and then they wake hungry.

As long as your newborn is sleeping and feeding, it really doesn’t matter what the intervals are, unless the baby is unhappy. A pattern emerges quite naturally overtime. Watch your baby for sleep cues; tired signs mean they are ready for sleep immediately – not in 20 minutes. Feed time is when your baby is hungry, which is most likely after they have had a sleep and wake up hungry.

It can be confusing for a parent as sucking is an instinctive response, but does not just indicate hunger. They may be uncomfortable due to any number of things (such as a wet or dirty nappy, wind, they are cold or too warm), and it can easily be confused for hunger.

Look for signs that your baby is getting enough food – is your baby having lots of wet and dirty nappies? If they are then your baby is most certainly getting plenty milk. In this instance, look further as the ‘sucking behaviour’ may be a result of hunger or it could be your baby attempting to self sooth when something else is making them feel uncomfortable.

Some babies have no pattern in the first month, which is completely normal. It important that new mothers are aware that their babies may not sleep and eat on a strict schedule and that it is normal for this to happen. The distress involved in ‘training’ babies is totally unnecessary.

Some popular books advocate that babies should be put in a routine early in life so to create good patterns. This completely goes against what the babies needs are. In essence, babies need milk when they are hungry, sleep when they show tired signs and cuddles when they are uncomfortable or distressed.

Babies develop at such a rapid rate and trying to enforce a routine will just cause you and your baby distress. A babies appetite varies, just as an adult’s does.

Sometimes they may be satisfied by the milk volume they have consumed and they can then sleep for three or even five hours, but then they wake and may need two or three feeds in quick succession. This is because of their limited and variable stomach capacity.

Having a newborn is a period of huge adjustment for everyone. During this time you will get to know each other. Understanding that babies are unpredictable is the best information you can have, to inform this very intense period. Take it gently, and expect your baby will sleep (and sometimes not), sometimes with help, and maybe sometimes without.

Some babies find the transition from life in the womb to life in this world very difficult; and they can become overwhelmed by the constant and varied stimuli. These babies need more time being calmed so they can adjust.

The more you get to know your baby, providing comfort when they need it, and leaving them to rest quietly when they don’t, the more they can ease in to the world around them. Resist the temptation to train your baby to sleep because babies sleep best when they are tired, and not when the clock dictates.

If you are worried about your baby’s sleep, contact your MCH nurse as they can help you learn more about reading your baby’s cues, so that you can respond to their needs, which makes for a calm, well-rested baby and a happy Mummy.

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