Sleep is a big worry for many parents (whether this is your first or fifth). However, it doesn’t need to be scary. Will there be rough nights? Yes. Will that be all the time? No it doesn’t have to! Your body was made to do this and it is amazing what your mind can get used to.
The bottom line though, if you need rest during the day – get it! Whether that’s you saying no to someone coming for a visit because you need to nap while the baby is napping, or you invite someone over to watch the baby while you nap. There are also postpartum doulas available in our area who can support you with these types of things as well (I have some great ones if you ever need a recommendation).
The big thing that is tough for some new parents are those first couple of weeks. Baby will loose weight over the first day or two. This is completely natural. However, baby needs to get back up to their original weight in 10-14 days. If they’ve lost too much weight or aren’t gaining sufficiently then you may have to feed more often or supplement with finger feeding. This can mean setting an alarm every 2-3 hours. Trust me, I know, trying to set an alarm for 3:30am when it’s 1:00am is tough! I used to do 3:37am just to feel better! But you can do it! Think of it like another mountain that you just need to climb and then things will start getting better.
In the first two weeks it is ESSENTIAL to get baby adjusted to day and night. Some babies can switch these and it is particularly hard if you have a winter baby and less natural light. To help baby adjust, turn on every light during the day and get outside even briefly. Then at night go completely dark! Once they get their weight sorted and they know their day/night, babies will start to give you a 4-5 hour stretch at night. Ideally you want this to be the 11:00pm – 3:00/4:00am.
- The Fourth Trimester
This is a term I talk about a lot in my courses. This is referring to the first 3 months postpartum. Babies basically do what they would do in the womb during these 3 months and are completely reliant on you. After this, things start to regulate, you begin to have a predictable schedule, and baby starts doing more noticeable “things” developmentally.
However, this does not mean you should ignore sleep habits during these 3 months. One thing to realize is that around 8-9 weeks babies can start to recognize schedules. Schedules are essential for good naps and solid nighttime sleep. For naps, a good schedule is just 2-3 minutes prior with something simple like a nursery rhyme, saying good night, kiss on the head etc. For sleep, schedules usually entail a feeding, bath time, stories/snuggles, getting their sleep sack/jammies on, etc. It does not matter which order you do it in, just make sure it’s consistent. This will set you up for success down the line! The other helpful lesson to teach baby is to fall asleep on its own. Try to avoid rocking/bouncing or feeding baby to sleep. When they fall asleep on their own, if they wake up, they’ll know how to get back to sleep instead of calling out for assistance.
Around 12 months, babies become sensitive to light. Prior to this baby would sleep anywhere right? Now all of a sudden they’re napping for 5 minutes and you don’t know why – light. Work on getting the room completely dark. Babies are not afraid of the dark; this comes with imagination around 2 years. Try the hand test where you put your hand in front of your face in their room – you shouldn’t be able to see it.
- How Long Should My Baby Be Awake?
It is important that baby stays awake long enough to get tired, but not too long that they’re over tired. This is a fine balance and takes time to figure out so please take your time! Note these are merely guidelines! If baby begins to show signs of needing to drop a nap, follow baby’s lead! But typically this is what you’re looking for:
0-12 weeks – 60-90 minutes awake (2-3 hour cycles of eat, wake, sleep)
3 – 4 months – 75-120 minutes awake (4 naps)
5 – 7/8 months – 2-3 hours awake (3 naps)
8-14 months – 3-4 hours awake (2 naps)
14-24 months – 5-6 hours awake (1 nap)
Naps should be over 50-60 minutes in length so if you’re less than that you may need to look at how long baby is awake. This is not to say that a quick car nap can’t throw off your day (or help your day), or a nap in the stroller – please don’t stress if a day doesn’t look just right!
- How Can I Get Them to Sleep Through the Night?
The ideal bedtime is between 7:00 and 8:00. This is when natural melatonin builds in their bodies and can help them get to sleep easier. Then the natural wake up time is between 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning.
Around 4-5 months you can begin to drop the middle of the night feed. This means they’re going to sleep around 7/8:00, eating at 10/11:00 and sleeping through to 6/7:00 in the morning. There are many different sleep training methods out there – feel free to reach out to chat more!
The 10:00/11:00pm feed can be tricky. A great thing to do is to turn it into a dream-feed. This means you go into the room while baby is still asleep, pick them up, top them up on the breast or with bottle and put them back in bed. They won’t really even wake up, there is no turning on lights, and no taking them out of the sleep sack or changing diapers but this will help them get through the night. Theoretically you’re doing this right before you go to bed.
Once they hit 5 months and have been doing the dream-feed for 2 weeks, you can wean away from that feed. If you’re doing say 10 minutes per breast, drop down to 5-6 minutes for a few days, then 2-3 minutes for a few days, then try not going in at all. Keep in mind you may get engorged through this process so it may be helpful to pump before bed (and to avoid blocked ducts).
There are so many other things relating to sleep, I cover a handful in my classes (especially when it comes to newborn sleep). But if you ever have any questions I would be happy to help! Just reach out, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org