You just gave birth and after a few days in the hospital you arrived home with your precious newborn and suddenly you have to manage feedings, diapers and sleep…. All by yourself. You’re not the only one if you ever wonder whenyour (newborn) baby will sleep through the night (and what sleeping through the night means!) or why your baby cries when you put him to bed. Or when you should feed and when you should not.
I still remember it like it was yesterday: I entered motherhood completely uninhibited. Just after the birth my first son, I was overwhelmed with love for him, but the broken nights were devastating. No one had prepared me for this. Honestly I didn’t exactly know what I expected but it wasn’t this. The exhaustion and frustration. I thought that my baby would sleep through the night after a few weeks, maybe months. Little did I know.
That is why I think it is important to share a number of things about sleep development in the first months of your (newborn) baby. Wish I knew this before….
1. Your newborn baby does not sleep through the night because it needs night feedings.
No baby sleeps through the night right away. You probably already figured that out, but you didn’t know what it would be like in real life. Research shows that parents get significantly less sleep during the first 3 months. A newborn baby needs to be fed every 2 to 3 hours the first 2 to 3 months. So in the first weeks you can be happy if your newborn baby sleeps 2-3 hours (at night) b
etween feedings. It is good to know that the feedings can also take a while… Especially in the first weeks, you might spend 30 to 45 minutes on one feeding, both during the day and at night. So do the math… yes, theoretically you have a maximum of 1 hour and 45 minutes to go to eat, to dress, to shower and / or sleep before the new round starts again.
2. Your newborn baby sleeps a lot, but his cycles are short
How much does a baby sleep and what is its sleep rhythm? Newborn babies sleep between 16-20 hours a day. But in short cycles which last between 45 and 180 minutes. Your baby cannot sleep through the night and his sleep-wake cycle is spread out over 24 hours. Don’t try to keep your baby awake during the day in the hope that he will make a longer stretch at night, because that won’t work. It even can make things worse. During the first months, your baby will fall asleep while (breast)feeding, in the carrier or stroller which is perfectly fine and normal. So don’t be afraid that you will learn wrong sleep associations, you won’t be able to ‘ruin’ anything because you cannot spoil your baby too much.
3. When will your baby sleep through the night?
Your baby’s sleep develops over time. In the beginning there is no day and night rhythm and sleep is fragmented. As a result, your newborn baby cannot sleep through to the night. After 6-8 weeks there is a day and night rhythm, this has to do with the development of the circadian rhythm. From that moment on, your baby will be more and more awake during the day and will probably be able to sleep 4 to 6 more hours in the night. Over the course of the first six months, your baby learns to sleep longer stretches at night and learns to be more awake during the day. Every baby is unique, every baby has his own time to start sleeping through the night.
3. Your newborn baby can’t soothe himself, he needs you!
Your baby will presumably cry at bedtime, it is totally fine to soothe and comfort your baby when he tries to fall asleep. Babies haven’t yet learned how to calm themselves and / or put themselves to sleep. This self-soothing mechanism starts developing around the age of 4 months. By then you can gently start supporting your baby to adopt these skills. At 6 months, we know most babies should be able to soothe themselves without your help, so now you really can support your baby to start sleeping more independently. This is the reason why sleep training before the age of 6 months is not recommended. Do not let your baby cry, even though this is what people tell you to do. Letting your baby cry at this young age can be harmful for the baby because he’s not able so self-regulate yet.
4. You (& your partner) are going to experience sleep deprivation
Yup. Welcome to the world of young parents with newborn babies (and this sleep deprivation might last for a few years!). Since your newborn needs multiple night feeds, this automatically affects your own sleep. You can sleep for about 1.5-2 consecutive hours in the first months, which will keep you from getting through all sleep cycles properly and you miss a lot of restorative sleep. That’s the moment we can recharge ourselves physically and mentally. Without sufficient sleep, your energy level and concentration will be lower. Other consequences of this sleep deprivation are the increased risk of postpartum depression and it has a negative influence on your mood, immune system and strength.
It’s good to consider to arrange night shifts with your partner. Or alternately sleep in a different room overnight if you can manage this with feedings. It makes no sense if you are both awake every 2-3 hours. Are you breastfeeding? Make sure you can go to sleep immediately after breastfeeding and leave the diaper changing to your partner at certain times. What else can you do?
Is your baby not sleeping longer stretches yet? My tips:
Be kind to yourself
During the first months, everyone has to get used to the new situation. The broken nights are hard, this applies to all parents. Because as you could read, not a single baby sleeps through the night right away. Your baby’s sleep rhythm and therefore sleep develop over time. Accept this and have faith that sleep will improve. All babies eventually will sleep. Promised.
By accepting the situation and keeping faith, you can undergo this phase a little more easily and you can also experience more inner peace. It’s a tough phase, but it is also one of the most special stages of life. And remember: this all is temporary. Sleep deprivation will pass. Give your baby -and yourself- all the attention you both need. Set realistic expectations and don’t ask too much of yourself. And be as kind to yourself as you are to your baby.
Ask for help
Don’t hesitate to ask for help, especially during the first months. No one will judge you.A friend might help you folding laundry or your neighbor could bring that pack of toilet paper so you don’t have to go to the store. Ask your maternity visit if they can bring dinner. Call your girlfriend to ask if she can watch your baby for a few hours so that you can sleep or take a shower (and take some time for selfceare). That’s the best gift you can get. And I know from my own experience that everybody is extremely willing to help. And don’t forget to hand over some daily tasks to your partner!
Trust your maternal intuition
I have worked with many mothers in my practice and I have seen lots of them feel less and less secure. About herself in her role as a mother. And about whether they are doing well. From everyone they got opposite well-intentioned advice that they really can’t do anything with and then ask me what they are doing wrong? You may recognize this as well. Know that you don’t have to feel insecure. Because eventually your baby will learn how to sleep. And only you know what’s best for your baby. Therefore, listen to your maternal intuition, do what feels right for you and have confidence that your baby will be fine!
But after all, if you do feel insecure – which is totally normal – don’t hesitate to contact me via email@example.com . I can provide you with lots of information about baby sleep so you have some guidance in how to manage these first months. I’m more than happy to talk to you!