Newborn Sleep Expectations in the Fourth Trimester
Congratulations on your newborn baby! Buckle up- it may be a wild ride in the beginning, it may feel like a blur, you may feel like you’re only surviving, but my hope is that you’ll look back on those first few months with fondness.
Setting appropriate and realistic expectations can help you not only cope through those first few months, but also thrive!
We aren’t talking about sleep training newborns, putting them on strict sleep or feeding schedules, or giving up all the snuggle naps– no way!
This blog’s purpose is to give you some insight into newborn sleep and why they sleep the way they do, some common sleep troubles newborns have, and what actionable steps you can take to support them as they continue to develop their sleep patterns.
Background on Newborn Sleep
Newborns spend 9+ months in the dark, never being exposed to light until birth. This, combined with and underdeveloped pineal gland means they often have their “days and nights confused.”
They’ll want to sleep all day, and party all night.
Which isn’t much of a party for parents who DON’T have day/night confusion. This is where parents sometimes struggle the most– but the good news is that we can help them through this!
Some things to help combat day/night confusion include:
● Waking them around the same time each day
● Exposing them to sunlight first thing in the morning and frequently throughout the day
● Waking them to eat every 2-3 hours during the day
● Keeping the lights down/dim in the evening and throughout the night
● Limiting interaction during night time wakings
Over time, they begin to sort things out and their circadian rhythm finishes developing in their 11th week. By 12 weeks is when parents tend to see a predictable pattern emerging when morning wake up and bedtime.
Common Newborn Sleep Troubles
Outside of day/night confusion, babies also struggle with things like gas/reflux, overstimulation/difficulty settling, and sleeping in their own sleep space without being held.
You may also be healing from birth (traumatic or not), struggling with feeding (whether that’s nursing or bottles), and/or have your hands full with other children at home too!
It definitely makes things feel overwhelming and impossible to overcome. So here are some things you can do to get through that time period relatively unscathed.
For gas/reflux, some helpful tips are
● Hold upright after feedings
● Try to burp in different positions
● Belly massages during diaper changes
● Roll to the side for a diaper change (instead of lifting their legs up)
● Don’t feed right before sleeping if they’re going to be laying down after
● Feed at a slight incline with their head above their bell
For overstimulation, consider:
● That they’re not awake for long periods (a newborn has a very small threshold for being awake, generally about 45-60 mins including feedings)
● Use white noise to help mimic the womb
● Swaddling also calms them and mimics the womb
● Take them into a very dark room to decrease external stimulation
● Movement is helpful– bouncing, rocking, swaying, car rides
● Familiarize yourself with the 5 S’s from Happiest Baby on the Block
For difficulty getting your child to stay in their sleep space, try:
● Warming their space before you put them down
● Lowering them down while they’re still snuggled into you then gently rolling them to their back
● Hold them for 5, 10, 15, or 20 minutes before putting them down (it’s an experiment!)
● Keep your hand on them and slowly release pressure so you’re not abruptly gone
● Try to keep their head from tipping back when you lower them down as this elicits the startle reflex
● Sleep with their sheet so it smells familiar
● Spend time in their sleep space during awake time as well so they’re familiar with their space
● Transfer them while they’re still awake and shh/pat them until they’re calm/drowsy/asleep
Newborn sleep is a rollercoaster sometimes– it’s okay to feel like what worked last week doesn’t work again this week. That’ll happen as their sleep is developing a lot in the first few months! The most important thing is to try to create some consistent routines around sleep, getting in good day time naps however you can, and take some shifts with a partner if that’s an option (yes, even if you’re nursing).
You’ll be through the newborn fog in no time. If you’re still struggling with sleep, you can always book a 15 minute call to discuss other options for support at heavensentsleep.com