Do you remember when you were eagerly awaiting for your little bundle of joy to arrive? But now that she’s here, you find yourself longing for just one more night of peaceful sleep. While there are countless prenatal classes on how to prepare for labor and how to take care of your newborn, not much is talked about newborn sleep. And that leaves new moms exhausted and overwhelmed, with no clue how to get their little one to sleep better.
I remember feeling completely unequipped for the sleepless nights and tiring days with a colicky, refluxy baby that just wouldn’t sleep when I first became a mom. I had no idea how to help her sleep, or if there even was a way. It wasn’t until I became a sleep coach that I learned about newborns sleep and realized there was so much I could’ve done to get the rest we both desperately needed.
That’s why I’m so passionate about spreading the knowledge and helping other moms navigate that beautiful, yet challenging stage in their baby’s life. Today, I’m sharing 7 newborn sleep facts that every new mom sould know.
#1: Do newborns really only eat and sleep?
During the first couple of weeks, babies can sleep for more than 16 hours per day! No wonder new moms often feel like all they do is feed, burp, change and get the baby to sleep. That’s about all you can fit into that short awake time your little bundle of joy can handle.
The sleepy newborn phase usually lasts about 2-4 weeks, during which the baby still has melatonin (the hormone responsible for making us sleepy) from the womb. However, your baby will only start to produce melatonin on his own around 8-10 weeks. This can cause some sleep struggles to emerge between 4-10 weeks of age, because the magic of mother’s melatonin is starting to wear off, but baby isn’t producing enough on its own yet.
This might also be one of the reasons that babies cry the most around 6-weeks of age. Imagine being tiny, tired, but unable to fall asleep. I know I would get cranky as well.
All that being said, melatonin isn’t the only thing needed for good sleep. Gas pains, reflux and other troubles can make it hard for your newborn to get the sleep they need. If all your little one does is eat and NOT sleep, contact your pediatrician, and if no medical reasons can be found, book a free 15-minute consult with me, and let’s see what we can do to help.
#2: Bottle-fed babies don’t sleep better than breastfed babies
It’s often said that bottle-fed babies sleep better than breastfed babies, because formula takes longer to digest, and therefore, new moms often assume that feeding their little ones a bottle before bedtime will help them do a longer stretch of sleep.
This assumption is a myth and can totally backfire. Why? Because in addition to the melatonin babies have from the womb in those early weeks, breastmilk also contains the sleepy hormone. Interestingly, and quite logically, breastmilk produced during the evening and night time contains more melatonin than the milk produced during the day.
(Mom tip: when freezing breastmilk, make sure to mark the time of day on the container, so you can later feed the milk at the corresponding time as well.)
Since formula doesn’t contain melatonin, bottle-fed babies may struggle with sleep at around 4-8 weeks of age. However, by encouraging good sleep habits, you can all rest more easily as soon as your little one starts producing their own melatonin.
#3: Sleep begets sleep
Contrary to what we might logically assume, the more tired your baby gets, the harder it is for them to fall asleep. Overtiredness is the most common cause of sleep struggles I see when working with clients (no matter the age of the baby), so make sure your newborn is getting enough sleep. You can learn more about how much sleep your baby needs here.
How to encourage your newborn to get enough sleep? The good news is that nowadays, you don’t have to guess. The research has been done for you, and we know how much sleep babies need (on average) at any given age.
Following those guidelines for appropriate awake times, nap times, and bedtime can be very helpful in encouraging your baby to sleep well. I’ve included week-by-week sample feed and sleep schedules that are optimised for good sleep in my Newborn Sleep Package.
#4: Colic and sleep are linked
Think your baby has colic? Assess sleep first! Some experts now believe shown that colic may be linked to overtiredness. And, knowing that our little ones’ melatonin production is low between 4-8 weeks may explain why colic symptoms are often the strongest at that same age – after all, melatonin is not only the sleepy hormone but also has muscle relaxant properties as well!
What to do as a new mom when you have a colicky baby? First, talk to your doctor to make sure there isn’t a medical reason for your baby’s crying. Then, assess your little one’s current sleep patterns and needs to see if there’s anything you need to improve.
Don’t hesitate to reach out for help from me, or another professional! If your baby is 10 weeks or under, start with the Newborn Sleep Package. If your little bundle is close to 3 months or older, book a free 15-minute sleep chat first.
#5: What really helps your baby distinguish between night and day?
If only I had a penny for every time I heard or saw new moms get the advice of letting their newborns sleep in the light during the day so they would sooner grasp the difference between night and day…
There are two things wrong with this advice.
Firstly, melatonin is only produced in the dark, which is why babies generally sleep better in a dark environment, regardless of the time of day. Now, your little one may be able to sleep well in every environment and position in those early days, because of the melatonin from the womb that I wrote about earlier. As they use up that melatonin and start relying on their own production, though, sleeping in the light can get tricky.
Secondly, it is not only the sleep times but the awake times as well that regulate our circadian rhythm. This means, that in order to help your newborn get into a good day-night sleep rhythm, it’s important that they’re exposed to daylight at awake times during the day. At night, however, keep the room dark (or as dark as possible) for all wake ups and feedings, and avoid arousing your baby.
#6: DO wake your sleeping baby
You’ve probably heard the advice “Never wake a sleeping baby”. While there’s nothing sweeter than a snoozing little babe, sometimes you’ve got to wake them up if you want them to sleep better in the long-run. Here’s what I mean.
During the night, by all means, let your little one sleep as long as they want (unless your doctor prescribes otherwise). During the day, though, there are two instances where I advise new moms to wake their sleeping baby.
One is to feed. I’m all for feeding on demand, but in the first 6 weeks or so I would advise getting your baby up to feed during the day when it’s been 3 hours since the last feeding. Why? Because we want your little one to stock up on calories throughout the day to set the stage for less feedings during the night.
The second reason I sometimes encourage new mamas to wake up their sleepyhead during the day, is when they have napped for longer than 2-2.5 hours. I know, I know, getting this time to take a shower, and eat, and pee and maybe even get something done around the house feels like a godsend, but you’ll probably pay for it during the night.
Newborns are only capable of doing ONE longer stretch of sleep within 24 hours, which means that if they snooze for hours during the day, they’ll be up more frequently during the night. So do yourself a favor, and make sure that longer stretch of sleep is when you are asleep as well.
#7: Sleeping through the night is a myth
Most new moms get to a point of sleep deprivation where they can’t help but dream about a baby who sleeps through the night. Well, your baby may hit that milestone sooner than you think and you might not even realise it.
You see, sleeping through the night is relative to your baby’s age. For a newborn, sleeping through the night means they are able to do a 4-5 hour stretch of sleep during the night and go straight back to sleep after a night feeding. So make sure you adjust your expectations to the developmental abilities of your baby.
Don’t worry, though, as your baby matures, they are able to do longer and longer stretches of sleep in the night. Most babies are capable of sleeping up to 8-hours straight at around 6-months of age.
By their one-year birthday, your baby is definitely capable of sleeping till morning without waking you up. If and when that magical moment actually occurs depends on the sleep habits they’ve developed throughout their first year of life.
If you want to make sure you’re laying a solid foundation for good sleep from day one, and would love to learn more about newborn sleep, there’s more information, tips and tricks in my Newborn Sleep Package.
There’s so much to learn as a new mom and I hope this article was helpful for you in navigating the unknown territories of newborn sleepland. If you know any other moms who could benefit from this info, please forward this post to them!