Newborn babies are about the cutest thing in the world. There is nothing like the joy that comes to parents when their child is born. But as perfect and darling as these little blessings are, they also leave us longing for the 8-hour stretches of sleep that suddenly seem a distant memory. As much as we have to accept that newborns just don't sleep the same way that we do, it's natural to want to help them sleep better.
So, what do you do when your newborn is not sleeping? We'll help you identify why your baby might not be sleeping and what you can do to help them sleep better.
But first, a little truth bomb to start.
Newborn Babies Can't Physically Sleep Like You or Me
As much as we wish our newborn babies could sleep a perfect 10 pm - 6 am shift, it's neither realistic nor healthy for them.
Even when parents-to-be are told to catch up on Zzzs before the baby is born, it's often laughed off or disregarded. Though you know newborn babies are notorious for lacking a "proper" sleeping schedule, you just can't wrap your head around that until you're in the thick of it. Those first couple of months of a newborn's life are both the most special and the most exhausting. You quickly realize that babies truly are on their own schedule and that their tiny little tummies just don't allow them to sleep more than 2-5 hours at a time (and sometimes even less than that.)
Though newborns can easily sleep 16-18 hours per day, they sleep in much shorter segments than adults. They also spread their sleep out over a full 24 hours. Those midnight, 2 am, and 5 am wake-up calls make the newborn stage especially tiring. But this is a typical wake pattern of a healthy newborn.
When Your Baby Really Isn't Sleeping Well
It's important to remember that your newborn baby who you think isn't sleeping well is probably sleeping just fine. It just doesn't seem normal to you when you compare it to your own sleep patterns (that you miss dearly). If your baby is sleeping in 2-3 hour stretches, wakes up to eat, is awake and happy for a bit and then fusses before going back to another 2-3 hour stretch of sleep, you have a very normal newborn baby on your hands.
But, there are also times that babies really aren't getting enough sleep and it seems like they are hardly sleeping at all. If this is the case, consider one of these possibilities.
Your Baby's Days and Nights are Mixed Up
It's likely that your baby is getting quite a bit of good sleep, but that they are getting the majority of it during the day. If you were to really add up all the sleeping they're doing in the car, while being held, while the rest of the family is eating dinner, etc...it could add up to hours and hours you're not really considering. You may not think they're sleeping an appropriate amount because they're up hours and hours at night.
If this sounds like your baby, they have their days and night mixed up. You can help them start to stay awake for longer stretches during the day by not letting them nap for more than 2 hours at a time. I'm sure you've heard the myth "never wake a sleeping baby" but this is a time that it actually benefits everyone.
Though this will help, do consider that your baby's daytime and nighttime sleep patterns different than yours. Even this study shows that circadian rhythms in babies are not well established until a baby is four months of age.
Your Baby is Hungry
This is the number one reason your baby is waking up. Even if you fed your baby just an hour ago, it's very possible that they are hungry (or thirsty) again. Breast-fed babies, especially, digest milk quickly. And in the early days when a mother's milk is still coming in, a baby is really not getting very much nutrition at each feeding. Initially, this is normal and you will have to feed your baby more often.
In the earliest months, your baby shouldn't be on a schedule. Giving in to your baby's hunger cues is the best thing you can do for them health-wise. When in doubt, feed your baby. That's likely all they need to head back into their peaceful slumber.
Your Baby is Sick or Uncomfortable
If your baby seems to be sleeping an abnormally low amount, and hunger has been ruled out, they may not be feeling well. If baby's sleep appears fitful, this is a definite possibility. Here's what you can do to find out:
- Try burping your baby. Sometimes they are just gassy and once the burp is out, they'll feel much better.
- Check their temperature. Parents should always have an infant thermometer on hand to be able to quickly see if their baby is running a fever. Check in with your doctor if you get an abnormal reading.
- Rock or massage your baby. Sometimes the discomforts a baby is feeling can be fixed by a mother or father's touch. A baby's discomforts can also come from the longing of closeness that they aren't getting. Remember that these little ones were carried by you for 9 months, so missing close contact with another human is very normal.
- Eliminate trigger foods. Most moms won't have to do this, but some moms find that eliminating certain foods from their diet helps their breast-fed baby sleep better while being more comfortable. Main trigger foods include: caffeine, chocolate, dairy, and nuts.
Helping Your Baby Sleep Longer
The fact is that when it comes to sleep, newborns are the boss of their own schedule. As hard as it is, coming to terms with that is one of the best things you can do as a new parent. Knowing that your baby is normal goes a long way. With that said, a family that has a happy baby that sleeps well is a lot less stressed. Here are some things to try to help your baby sleep better and longer:
- Give your baby a pacifier.
- Swaddle your baby. Dreamland Baby's weighted sleepsacks are especially helpful by mimicking being held.
- Use skin-to-skin contact.
- Carry your baby in a sling so they can sleep while you accomplish household chores.
- Sing to your baby or turn on music while your baby sleeps (here are some great tips!)
- Go for a walk with your baby in a stroller.
- If you think at all that they might be hungry, feed them!