Does your baby sleep for short intervals? Does your baby sleep more at night than during the day? Most newborns sleep about 16 hours a day on average, but they don’t sleep for very long at one time. Understanding why babies wake so often, and having realistic expectations surrounding sleep, can be helpful for planning and make it easier to cope.
Short sleep intervals are normal since babies must eat frequently. A newborn’s tummy is about the size of a cherry. As milk volume increases, so does stomach capacity, and by about four weeks of age babies typically consume about 2-3 ounces of milk at a feeding. Breastfeeding babies require 8-12 feedings in 24 hours during the first few weeks to sustain normal weight gain.
Baby sleep patterns differ from adults. Babies spend more time in light sleep than adults do and may have difficulty transitioning between light and deep sleep. In adults, a 24-hour circadian rhythm guides waking and sleeping. Newborns do not have a well-developed circadian rhythm. It can take 3-5 months before your baby’s circadian rhythm matures enough for a 5 hour stretch of sleep at night. If you baby was born before her due date, it can take longer. Night time feedings are necessary for most babies up to 6 months of age, and even longer for some. A few babies continue to wake at night through the first year.
Studies have shown mothers of breastfed babies get just as much and more sleep than mothers of formula fed babies. Tryptophan and melatonin, two hormones that help to induce sleep, are present in breastmilk. No preparation time, fewer feeding problems, fewer illnesses, and the fact that breastfed babies often co-sleep can contribute to more sleep for parents. Overfeeding a breastfed baby with formula at bedtime in an effort to get the baby to sleep longer is not recommended, and is know to increase the risk of SIDS.
Sleep training it absolutely NOT appropriate for newborns, and may experts believe it is never appropriate. Sleep training in the newborn period has been associated with failure to thrive and increased crying weeks and months later.
What can parents do to get more sleep?
- Sleep when your baby sleeps. It’s temping to try to get an extra load of laundry done while the baby is napping, but grabbing a quick nap for yourself may be the best use of your time.
- When your baby stirs in light sleep, wait before you pick her up. Allow time for her to transition back to sleep on her own, or help her by patting her back to sleep.
- Get plenty of natural light for both you and your baby during the day to support body rhythms.
- Begin early with developing a bedtime ritual. Consider a relaxing massage, warm bath, quiet time with soft music, cuddling, rocking, and a good feeding right before bedtime.
- Keep lights dim and minimize stimulation in the evening and during night feedings.
- For at least the first six weeks, your baby should sleep in your room as a safety measure. This makes night feedings much easier, too.
- If you are feeling really exhausted, you can pump your milk at bedtime and let your partner do one feeding so you can get 4-5 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Knowing that your baby will not be sleeping through the night for several weeks can help you plan to better meet your baby’s needs as well as your own. When you’re feeling exhausted, remember having a new baby is both a challenging and a precious time. Just like other parenting challenges yet to come, this too shall pass.