5 Things No One Tells You About Newborn Sleep

May 9, 2019 | Newborn

I always have to chuckle a little when I hear people say “I had a great sleep last night! I slept like a baby!”

What does that even mean?! In my mind I remember how I slept when my kids were babies…and let’s be honest, it was far from restful.

Before I had kids I had literally no idea just how crazy it would be, especially those first few sleep deprived weeks and months.

So on that note, here are 5 things no one told me about having a newborn that I wish I had known before my first little bundle of joy arrived.  

5 things no one tells you about newborn sleep

How to deal with the ups and downs of caring for a new baby

1) Newborns need a lot of sleep, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get anything done

Did you know that newborns need 16-20 hours of sleep every day?! That is a LOT of sleep! This is the time that a lot of growing and brain development happens. Did you know that in the first 90 days after birth a baby’s brain more than doubles in volume?? And that 60% of a newborn’s metabolic energy is spent on brain growth?? Amazing! No wonder our little ones are so tired at the beginning!

If you’re expecting, you may be wondering “What’s all the fuss? Surely having a newborn who sleeps so much will be cruisy. I mean, you’ll be able to get SO much done while they’re asleep, right?!

Well, probably not. There are the rare cases of babies who sleep well right from the beginning, but although they need a large quantity of sleep at the very beginning, it’s not always so straightforward, for the following reasons.

2) Newborns are constantly hungry

When they are first born, baby’s stomachs are very small – even after a month, their tummies can only hold about 80-110mls (about the size of a large egg). Because of this fact, newborn babies need to be fed every 1.5-3 hours at the beginning. If you are nursing, feeding on demand, at least at the beginning, is the best way to regulate your milk supply and to ensure that your little one is getting the calories they need. However, this can feel pretty all-consuming at times (not to mention physically painful at the start!)

I remember a *single* friend of mine came over to visit shortly after the birth of my first. She asked me, in total seriousness, “So, how many times a day do you have to feed her? Like 3-4 times?” Bahahaha, I can only laugh about it now.

3) Newborn sleep is very disorganised

Newborn babies don’t know night from day yet, and will have no sense of routine. This is very normal. Luckily, from about 6-8 weeks on we can start to encourage a bit more regularity to the day rhythm. You can find my sleep-optimised sample day routines for 0-12 weeks inside the Newborn Sleep Package.

Whether you go with the flow, or try getting your little one on more of a routine, making sure your newborn feeds at least every 3 hours between 7am and 10pm will encourage your baby to hopefully do one longer chunk of sleep during the night (4-5 hours). However, some babies are not able to do this until 3-4 months of age. (Hint: don’t compare your baby to any other baby!)

4) Newborns can only cope with being awake for 45-60 minutes at a time

You may be surprised to hear that newborns can only manage to be awake for 45-60 minutes at a time. If they are awake longer than this between naps they are likely to get overtired, and this will result in them being more cranky and difficult to settle. (For this very reason, do not fall into the trap of trying to keep them awake longer in the hope that they will sleep longer later. This WILL backfire!)

I know – 45-60 minutes does not sound like a very long time, especially considering that feeding sessions at the beginning take 30-45 minutes! And yes, that does mean that the majority of his awake time will look something like this: wake, feed, burp, change clothes full of puke, change diaper, feed again, burp, change diaper full of explosive poop (which is now all over you), and then settle him to sleep again…

5) Your newborn will probably mainly want to sleep ON you

Before becoming a first time mom, I imagined I would hold my baby and have these amazing moments of connection with her during her awake times, then as she got grumpy and tired, I’d waltz her into her snug crib, and she’d fall into a peaceful sleep lasting a few hours, only to repeat the cycle again.

It turned out my first baby had reflux, and cried a LOT. She hated lying down, and her happy place was laying on my chest. I sat for hours and hours with her sleeping on me, just to give her the rest she desperately needed. To be perfectly honest, even if your little one doesn’t have reflux, I think one of the most natural ways for baby to sleep at the very beginning is on mom or dad

(Disclaimer: I’m talking about when Mom or Dad is fully awake and aware. If Mom or Dad need to lay down too, or are in danger of falling asleep, baby should be placed in their crib to sleep. Safe sleep guidelines are important to follow! Read here and here.)

If you end up with a baby who loves being held and carried to sleep, invest in a good quality baby carrier for those first weeks, as well as a swaddle. They will be life-savers in those first few weeks!

Have a newborn and afraid they’ll only ever sleep in the carrier?! Check out my Newborn Sleep Package to know when and how to gently adjust your little one to sleeping in his crib.

This too shall pass, but it doesn’t need to be so hard

Looking back the first weeks of having a newborn were such a roller-coaster of emotions. I felt so in love with my baby, but so tired and sleep deprived. So anxious wondering if I was doing a good job and if I was really capable of being a mom, yet so determined. I felt guilty for enjoying the moments where my little one was napping, grateful to get a quick shower or hot coffee, almost dreading her waking up again, and feeling like a complete failure for thinking that way.

So, I just want to encourage you mama, if you are expecting, or have just given birth, and are finding this first stage overwhelming and difficult, let me assure you – it is so hard, but you’re doing so good. This is one of the hardest things you’ll probably ever do. But…it IS all worth it. Your little one will grow up in a flash (how can I have a baby going into 1st grade this fall?!) and you’ll look back on these hard but beautiful newborn moments with nostalgia.

At the same time, as true as it is that “this season will pass” it does not mean that you have to go through it alone. Worse yet, completely sleep deprived and depressed. We are only human, and we need others around us to help – having a baby and raising a child is no simple feat. If you’re looking for further resources, check out the Newborn Package, or book a free 15-minute sleep consult with me.


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