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What to expect from a newborn when it comes to sleep

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How to help a newborn get the best sleep

When you’re pregnant there’s lots of preparation when it comes to birth and labour, but what happens when you take your little one home? It might not be until then that you start thinking about your little one’s sleep – and there are so many questions – are they sleeping for long enough, why are they waking at night, how many naps should they have, how long should they nap for, do I need to wake to feed them, do you ever wake a sleeping baby?! That’s why we thought it would be useful to give you some idea about what to expect from your little one’s sleep and how best to help them when it comes to sleeping!

What to expect

For the first 0-12 weeks of their lives, newborns average approximately 6-8 hours of sleep during the day, and 8 hours at night – normally in short stretches of 2-4 hours at a time. This is split between 50% deep sleep and 50% REM (dream) sleep and is fairly inconsistent.

So, how can you encourage your little one to sleep as well as possible?

  1. In the daytime, make sure the room is bright and noisy (no problem if it’s not your first child)! At night ensure its dark and quiet.
  2. As a rule of thumb, newborns can’t manage to stay awake for longer than 45 minutes-1 hour. This increases to 60-90 minutes between 6-12 weeks.
  3. Keep an eye on the signs they are becoming tired, so you don’t end up with an overtired newborn, that’s no fun for anybody. If they are yawning, closing their fists, or staring into space, these are all signs your little one is getting tired.

Some sleep goals for from 6 weeks

If you’re feeling brave, there are a couple of things you can do to help your little one even more once they get to 6 weeks. But do remember that these are goals, and something to work towards, you don’t need to achieve them every day or for every nap.

  1. Feed your baby when they wake up so you avoid feeding them to sleep during the day. Initially this is unavoidable because, no sooner have they fed, they are ready for another snooze. But after the first few weeks you can start to encourage them to ‘play’ a little (if there is time) after they have fed then ensure they have a good nap before you repeat this. This is also helps them take better feeds, as they should hopefully be rested after their nap. This is the eat, play, sleep routine.
  2. Once your little one is a few weeks old you can start to introduce a bedtime routine, a signal that this is a different time of day. A bath is always a good signal to your little one that bedtime is near as it’s so dramatically different to anything else in the day. You should also include a full feed and ideally a short story or song before they go into the cot, keeping the room quiet and dark. The guidelines are clear that your little one should stay in the room you are in until 6 months, to help prevent SIDS, so this will need to be relative, until they can go into their own room.
  3. While it is totally gorgeous for your little one to fall asleep in your arms, you may not be able to keep that up forever. Try to put your little one down before they are fast asleep. This is the same if your little one feeds to sleep. I know it’s almost impossible to stop in the first few weeks. Just bear in mind the aim is for your little one to be able to connect being tired with falling asleep. Otherwise, they will want to recreate the same way they went to sleep each time they wake up, to the detriment of consolidated and incredibly important sleep (not to mention sleep for sleep deprived mummy or daddy)!

Above all, be kind to yourself and enjoy these precious weeks and moments!

If you are pregnant and would like to learn more about what to expect with your little ones sleep when they arrive, we have created our antenatal package to educate parents about newborn sleep early, so that they don’t need us to solve developed sleep issues later. Please do get in touch to find out more! 

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