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How much does a newborn sleep? and Other Newborn Sleep Questions Answered

How much does a newborn sleep? and Other Newborn Sleep Questions Answered

We're guessing either you have a baby on the way or your little one has recently made their way into your arms. This is an amazing time in your life that also brings so many questions. Get ready for the most important on-the-job training of your life filled with more love than you've ever known. Probably the biggest topic that will bring you searching for answers is sleep. Like, what's a normal amount of sleep for a newborn, how to help your baby sleep and the big one -"Will I ever sleep again?!" (We promise you will.)

At the very core, you're wondering, "How much does a newborn sleep?" A newborn will sleep, on average, between 14 - 18 hours per day. During their first few weeks of life, this will likely be split evenly between daytime and nighttime sleep. Over time, the sleep patterns of your baby will change so that they are sleeping more of those hours during the night and less during the day.

Even though those numbers make it look like your baby is blissfully sleeping the day away (and giving you plenty of time to do the same), you probably already know it's not that simple.

That's why here we'll help you better understand all the ins and outs of your newborn's sleep including:

  • Newborn Sleep Patterns and How Much Newborns Sleep
  • Why You Shouldn't Schedule Your Newborn By the Clock
  • Tips to Help Your Newborn Sleep
  • Establishing Safe Sleep Practices for Your Newborn
  • How to Start Working Toward Helping Your Newborn Sleep Through the Night

Being a new parent is tough work and we want to make it easier on you. Getting your questions answered about your baby's sleep is important so that you can continue to help them grow and thrive. Doing so will also ensure you also get the sleep you need to be the best parent you can be.

Newborn Sleep Patterns and How Much Newborns Sleep

The newborn stage lasts through about the first 8 weeks of life. And though you still see a lot of changes from week to week during that time, more obvious developmental shifts begin to happen around the 2-3 month mark.

You may sometimes hear the newborn phase referred to as the "fourth trimester." It's almost as if our little ones join the world just a couple of months earlier than they should (not that you would actually want to be pregnant for more than 40 weeks!) Your baby's senses are very limited during this timeframe which can cause them to get overstimulated very easily. This requires the need for a great deal of sleep.

Newborns really have no sleep pattern initially...

So when we say sleep "patterns" you probably won't notice anything that resembles a true pattern in the earliest weeks. And that's ok! But as you begin to feed them every 2.5 - 3 hours and try to help them consolidate more sleep at night (which we'll talk more about below), a pattern will naturally start to emerge.

It's important to remember that patterns are what emerge naturally for your little one - it is not to be confused with a schedule. Fixating on a rigid schedule that's driven by the clock is not developmentally appropriate and will end up leading to stress when your baby doesn't "follow" it. Feeding them on demand and allowing them to sleep when they need to is the best thing you can do in the early weeks.

Having said that, it's helpful to have an idea of what to expect for your little one. Just remember that every baby is different, and the range of normal is quite wide.

Below we give you an idea of what your baby will likely require in terms of sleep and feeds in their first weeks:

Weeks 1-2:

  • 16 - 18 hours of sleep per day
  • 8 - 12 feedings in 24 hours
  • Awaken to feed every 3 hours - even at night

Weeks 3 - 4:

  • 14 - 16 hours of sleep per day
  • 8 - 10 feedings in 24 hours
  • Can begin to allow your baby to sleep longer stretches at night* with approval from your baby's pediatrician

Weeks 5-6:

  • 14 - 16 hours of sleep per day
  • 6 - 10 feedings in 24 hours
  • Your baby may begin to sleep 5 hour stretches at night* provided your baby is growing well

Weeks 7-8:

  • 14 - 16 hours of sleep per day
  • 6 - 10 feedings in 24 hours
  • Babies may start sleeping 6-hour stretches around 2 months old*

*though some babies can sleep in longer stretches, it's also normal for babies to cluster feed or wake multiple times per night

You'll notice that the amount of sleep that a baby needs during a 24-hour period changes very little between weeks 3 and 8. However, the goal is that your baby will start to consolidate more sleep into the nighttime hours as he starts to figure out that's what nighttime is for.

We always love to remind parents that there is no perfect pattern to strive for. As much as you'd love to sleep for an extended time at night or have your baby take a nice 2-hour long nap, for many babies this just isn't realistic. And if you're breastfeeding, your baby will likely wake more and eat more often than a formula-fed baby because breastmilk is digested more quickly.

Focus on getting your baby full feeds when they need them, and the sleep will come!

Why You Shouldn't Schedule Your Newborn By the Clock

It's true that in the hospital, the nurses often have you wake up your baby to feed them every 3 hours. But this is due to the fact that brand new babies sleep a lot and will often go right on sleeping if you don't wake them to eat (not that they're trying to get your baby on a specific schedule). Those first few days are an important time to help your baby get back to their birth weight.

It's important to remember that just because you're making sure to wake your baby every 3 hours to eat at a minimum does not mean they may not require a feed much sooner than that. Breastfed babies, especially, often can't even go 3 hours. As hard as it is to have to perhaps feed your baby every 2 hours or less, sometimes that's what they need.

So instead of worrying about the clock or how long it's been since their last feed, make sure you're feeding your baby when they show hunger cues (called on-demand feeding) and letting them sleep when they are tired. It is completely normal that your newborn can only stay awake for 30-45 minutes before needing to sleep again.

Which leads us to these two very commonly asked newborn sleep questions:

Can newborns sleep too much?

Generally speaking, you don't need to worry about your baby sleeping too much. Though the average range goes up to about 18 hours of sleep per day for young newborns, getting around the 20-hour per day mark is possible, too. As long as your baby is getting enough formula and breastmilk (one feed about every 2.5 - 3 hours in those first weeks), you don't need to worry that your baby is sleeping too much. In fact, you might as well embrace it!

Should you wake a sleeping baby?

Practically everyone has heard the line, "Never wake a sleeping baby." Though it seems to go against everything in you to wake your peacefully sleeping cherub, sometimes it's necessary. Early on, you'll need to wake them so that they don't skip a feeding. According to Mayo Clinic, newborns need about 8 - 12 feedings per day. This means you'll need to wake your baby to eat around the 3-hour mark if they don't wake up to eat on their own. This can be extended to 4-5 hours with approval from your baby's pediatrician who will make sure that your baby is showing proper weight gain.

As your baby's newborn stage draws to a close (around that 2-month mark) you can start to move into a schedule if that's what you prefer. However, many parents choose to let their baby lead the way. Whichever you choose, it's never too early to start good habits and routines for your baby that will help them be an independent sleeper as they grow.

Tips to Help Your Newborn Sleep

Newborn sleep can be erratic, there's no doubt about it. There's really no point in trying to compare what your newborn is doing to your friend's newborn, because it's all going to be pretty different at this stage. As long as your baby is gaining weight and sleeping a lot (even if it's completely unpredictable) - you're doing the right things. But there are some simple steps you can take to help your newborn sleep even better.

Here are some of our best tips to help your baby sleep during the newborn weeks:

1.) Help your baby establish day from night.

According to the Sleep Foundation, a circadian rhythm is a "24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals." As adults, these are well-established. With new babies, they are not.

Lightness and darkness are outside factors that affect circadian rhythms. So, you can help your baby understand that daytime is for more alertness and nighttime is for sleep. This can be done by filtering in lots of light during the day, and making the room very dark and quiet at night. Though your baby will still sleep a lot during the day, you want them to begin to consolidate more of that sleep into the night hours. This will help!

2.) Pay attention to sleepiness cues.

In the earliest days, your baby may just fall asleep at the drop of a hat, or when they're finished feeding. Just let them sleep! But after the first couple of weeks as they begin to become more alert, your baby will have more obvious wake windows. Though these won't be very long - often 45 minutes - 1 hour tops - you'll notice that they begin to stretch the time they are awake. But once those sleepy cues set in, you need to act quickly to get them comforted so they calmly doze off. Sleep cues in the newborn stage can include:

  • droopy eyelids
  • yawning
  • slower movements
  • eyes less able to focus
  • fussy
  • weaker sucking reflex

If you know your newborn isn't hungry and has a clean diaper but continues to fuss or cry, it's very likely that a nap is in order!

3.) Swaddle your baby.

Your newborn just spent the last 9 months of her life curled up in your womb. So it's understandable how overwhelming the outside world must seem. Swaddling is a technique that calms and soothes babies to help them sleep. Though you'd think a sleep baby would just go to sleep when they're tired, it often doesn't work that way. Sometimes this leads to overtired crying instead.

Swaddling is a technique that will calm your baby and give them that sense of security they need to relax. This also helps with the moro reflex that can startle your baby awake.

Though there are many swaddle choices out there, our favorite is the weighted swaddle from Dreamland Baby. Unlike typical swaddle blankets or wraps, this one provides a gentle weight that naturally reduces stress and increases relaxation. The swaddle is safe to use for newborns as small as 8 pounds and once your baby is showing signs of rolling over, the swaddle wing can be detached so that you can use it as a wearable blanket.

Mom Shelby T. writes of the Dreamland Baby Swaddle:

I could not rave about this product enough! My 7-week-old sleeps from 7:30pm - 2:30am. I nurse him and he falls back asleep until around 7am. I KNOW it's because of this swaddle because I tried (other) swaddles and this has hands down been the best one! Absolutely love it and so thankful I found it!

4.) Be a Babywearing Parent

Babywearing by using a baby carrier can help immensely if you have a baby who has a hard time sleeping when they're not being held. It's natural that babies want to be close to you as it's where they feel the most safe and secure. Some parents worry that they're spoiling they're baby or holding them too much, but that's just not the case! They're only tiny once, after all. If you have a colicky baby or a baby who cries from being overtired and won't fall asleep, babywearing is a great way to go. You can learn more about its benefits here.

5.) Implement a Bedtime Routine

Just as patterns are not schedules, routines aren't the same as schedules either. Here we're going to talk about routines you can implement from early on that will pay dividends later on in terms of your baby's good sleep habits.

It's not necessary to worry about these routines during your baby's first few weeks. If it feels easy to do, great! But if it feels like one more thing, is stressful, or your baby's not having it - let it go.

Trying to implement a lengthy sleep routine with a new baby will likely cause them to get overly tired to the point they end up having trouble falling asleep. But doing the same types of things every time your baby is ready to sleep sets the stage for independent sleep and sleeping through the night which will come later on.

This is a shortened form of our crib routine we talk about here.

  • put on a clean diaper
  • swaddle with a Dreamland Weighted Swaddle
  • give your baby a pacifier (if they take one)
  • make the room dark
  • turn on white noise to drown out outside sound
  • hold your baby close to you as you rock them and sing to them
  • lay them down to sleep on their back

In the newborn weeks, if your baby falls asleep while you're rocking them or nursing them, that's completely ok! As they get older and you're ready to sleep train, you'll want to eliminate this habit, but it's not necessary to worry about it during the newborn stage. What is most important is that you are giving your baby a lot of attention and are following safe sleep practices.

Safe Sleep Practices for Newborns

The newborn stage can be a stressful time, especially if you're a first-time parent. You have this little human who seems so fragile that you love more than anything. Your number one job is to protect them and keep them safe.

Here's what you need to do to keep your newborn safe while they sleep:

1.) Always place a baby to sleep on their back. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, this is one of the best ways to prevent SIDS.

2.) Your baby should sleep in their own crib or bassinet. Co-sleeping or bedsharing is not recommended.

3.) Room-sharing is advised for the first 6 months.

4.) Your baby should be placed to sleep on a firm mattress in a crib or bassinet. Other than a fitted sheet, it should be completely bare. This means it needs to be free of any loose blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals. Sleep positioners should not be used either.

5.) Swaddles should be snug around your baby arms and chest, but with room for their hips and legs to move freely. Once your baby shows signs of rolling over, usually around 3-4 months, your baby should no longer be swaddled.

Working Toward Helping Your Newborn Sleep Through the Night

It doesn't take more than a few nights home with your new baby until you've completely forgotten what it was like to have a full night of uninterrupted sleep. Your foggy brain begins dreaming of the day (make that night) your baby will sleep through the night. Like, all night. 12 delicious hours without a single baby cry.

Though newborns sleep 14 - 18 hours per day, they aren't physically ready to sleep in long stretches like you. But what you do now can have an effect on how they'll sleep later on. Creating good habits like routines that show your baby that it's time to sleep, helping your baby establish circadian rhythms, and swaddling your baby with the weighted swaddle from Dreamland Baby, all help put your baby on a path toward sleeping through the night.

Want to know when you can expect your baby will be ready? We recommend you read "When do babies sleep through the night without feeding?"

 

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