It baffles me when I get on social media and see all the suggestions for how to get a newborn sleeping through the night. I don’t know where these people get the idea that this is o.k. or even recommended but it blows my mind just how often it comes up. And asking new parents if the baby is sleeping well, generally, seems to really be asking if your little one is sleeping through the night.
Let me just say, this is a bad idea. For breastfeeding moms, the first 6 weeks is crucial for establishing your supply. That time prepares your body for all the milk you will be asking it to make over the next however long (AAP recommends 12 months, WHO recommends 2 years or more). And whether or not you are breastfeeding or giving formula, your baby needs those calories overnight in order to keep growing. Their little tummies can only hold small amounts at a time and it gets used so quickly that they need to keep eating throughout the day and night.
And another thing, how many of you can actually sleep for 12 hours straight without waking up for one reason or another? I’ll answer (mostly) accurately: not one. So why should we expect this of our infants?
O.k., I’ll get off my soapbox now – I really do hate heights.
Now that I’ve gone through all that, lets talk about newborn sleep. Generally speaking, newborns have their days and nights mixed up for the first while. This is because they are used to being soothed (rocked, swayed, bounced, or whatever it really feels like in your womb) fairly constantly during the day. And at night, because your body is resting, they are more active. So in the beginning, it will feel like your baby never sleeps, simply because they don’t do the majority of their sleep when we want them to. But there are some things you can do to help them get over their day-night confusion.
Encourage Day-Time Wake Time
First off, don’t force it. Newborns need a ton of sleep. On average, between 15-18 hours a day – though some need a little less, some need more. But when they do wake up, keep them in a well lit room and let them explore. This could be laying them on the floor to explore their bodies and how to move their arms and legs. It could be laying them under a high-contrast (think black and white) mobile or a couple photos. Or it could be in your arms and looking at your face. I promise, your face will be the most exciting thing for you baby and they get the added bonuses of hearing your voice and a familiar scent.
Discourage Night-Time Wake Time
This one is easy. Don’t over stimulate. Keep the lights low or off (a night light is great for night wakings) and keep sounds to a minimum. So when you wake up 17 times a night to feed that little tummy, don’t go to the living room and turn on all the lights and have the t.v. as loud as you normally would. It’s a tough thing, being up for, sometimes, 45 minutes or longer each time your little needs to eat and trying to stay occupied so you don’t fall asleep. My suggestion is that you get a couple night lights to keep around the house (if you’re using bottles) or just one for the bedroom And keep your phone or tablet handy. Turn the brightness down as low as you can, and keep the volume low (or use headphones) to keep sound down for your little and your partner. Bonus – keeping lights and sounds low during night wakings will also help you fall asleep more quickly once baby is back in bed (whatever that bed is for your family) which means you won’t turn into an insomniac.
I can honestly say that doing these two things, as simple as they may sound, have gotten my girls over their night confusion within the first week (really, in the first 4 or 5 days). I’m still getting up a couple times a night to nurse Little Squish, but as soon as she’s done eating we are both right back to sleep.
Don’t set your sleep expectations too high in the first few months. And even after that, some babies won’t sleep through the night for quite some time. And that is completely normal. My suggestion, for a happier mom and baby, don’t force the issue. Your little will sleep longer stretches as soon as they are ready. And, unfortunately for us, there is no way to know when that will be or what that will look like. After all, every baby is different and has different needs.
Sleeping like a baby? I promise you, they already are.