Many parents wonder what sleep is meant to look like for a newborn. Is there an “expectation” or norm to be striving for? Should we even have newborn sleep expectations?
Absolutely not. Since your baby’s sleep patterns and abilities will change over time, talk of schedules and newborn sleep expectations around length of sleep should be reserved for babies 4+ months of age.
It can be comforting to appreciate that “normal” sleep for a newborn doesn’t look anything like the term “sleeping like a baby” implies.
The Nature of Newborn Sleep
As compared with what’s to come, newborn sleep is quite immature. It’s light and active, and over the first couple of months, the terms random and unpredictable accurately define it’s nature. Baby’s sleep is very much on-demand and the time of wakefulness between sleep is very short (45-60 minutes at most).
Many new parents struggle with the erratic nature of newborn sleep, but I always encourage parents to take the pressure off. If baby sleeps in short stretches and needs a lot of help getting to sleep, there is no reason to worry. The beauty of 4th trimester sleep is that so long as baby is sleeping safely, there are no hard and fast rules. Do what works for you and baby. Rest when baby does. Take time to recharge your batteries and use the moments when your new little love is awake to strengthen the bond that will sustain you both for life.
Safe Sleep Considerations for Newborns
Creating a safe-sleep sanctuary for your baby can be a priority right from the beginning. If ever there was an area to invest your (limited) energy, time and a small financial investment, this is it.
Independent sleep is best. A crib or bassinette (that meets Canadian safety regulations) with a firm mattress and fitted crib sheet provides the safest sleeping space for baby. Should you prefer baby close, room-sharing (baby sleeping in same room but not same bed) is a safe and recommended option.
Place baby on back for all sleep. For both naps and night sleep, place baby on their back for sleep.
Keep crib completely empty. No crib bumpers, loose blankets, toys, pillows or sleep positioners. Allow baby the freedom to safely explore the safe confines of their crib.
Comfortable room temperature. Be mindful of baby overheating and err on the cooler, rather than warmer side, for room temperature. Baby’s sleep more soundly and safely in a cooler sleeping space.
Day & Night Confusion in Newborns
Prior to 6-8 weeks of age, your newborn’s circadian rhythm is undeveloped – meaning there is no rhyme or reason to their natural 24-hour clock and until it matures, your little one may not sleep their longest stretches at night. The good news is that there are healthy ways to encourage their appreciation for day and night that will allow them to start stretching out their night sleep and consolidate it around feeds, rather than waking to play!
• Communicate daytime. During your baby’s wakeful periods during the day, keep the lights on, expose baby to indirect sunlight and open the blinds.
• Dark for night. Leading up to bedtime, start dimming the lights and keep their sleep environment dark the whole night through. Dark sleeping environment for naps is ideal too.
• “Good morning!” routine. When baby wakes in the morning, lots of smiles, praise, songs and opening of blinds. Let baby know its morning time by starting their day with this consistent routine.
• Set the stage. During the short periods of wakefulness during the day, have baby amongst activity and light. At night, quiet the household down – dim the lights and dampen sounds and distractions.
• Use the outdoors. Once baby is up for the day, spend a bit of time outdoors. Indirect sunlight will serve to “wake” baby’s maturing clock and set the stage that its daytime.
• Low-key Night Feeds. Keeping the lighting very dim, diaper change only when absolutely necessary and a feed that is more reserved in your engagement will help to cue baby that it’s not time for play. Reserve the daytime for feeds that are in a well-lit and more engaged environment, so that they appreciate the difference between the same activity happening in different settings.
4 Month Sleep Regression…or… is it a Sleep Milestone?
If your baby is nearing 12-16 weeks (from their EDD) chances are you’ve heard of the 4-month sleep regression. What’s interesting is that while baby’s sleep does typically come a bit undone – you may see shorter naps, more night wakings, or trouble settling down for/extending sleep – the underlying mechanism is a significant sleep milestone, rather than a regression.
From 3-4 months of age, baby’s sleep rhythms are developing, their sleep is more phase-like (meaning they have the ability to sleep in deeper stages of sleep) and their natural biological clock is coming into maturity. An exciting time as it means that baby will soon be ready for more predictably timed sleep and having an age-appropriate schedule and routine are just around the corner.
Once baby has emerged from this milestone (older than 18 weeks of age), biologically speaking, baby is now ready for stronger, more stable sleep. That’s not to say that night feeds must end or that baby no longer needs mum or dad’s sleep assistance. It just means that if exhaustion has caught up with your family and strengthening your baby’s sleep has become a priority, it would be reasonable to start taking steps, baby or otherwise.