A newborn baby eats and sleeps, and then eats and sleeps again for the first few months. Establishing sleep routines may help all of you adjust in this early phase.
Different babies have different sleeping habits. Some sleep a lot, others sleep less – perhaps not enough you might say. Newborns sleep an average of 16 hours a day. They don't know the difference between night and day. Food and sleep are closely connected for them. Baby gets hungry and wakes up, is fed and drops off to sleep again.
A baby's sleep goes through different phases, just like adults'. This is why they are sometimes restful as they sleep, and other times restless.
The different sleep phases
When your newborn baby is sleeping, half the time it is in the active, shallow-sleep dream phase called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. In this phase, the child's breathing is irregular, and it may be tossing and turning and grimacing. The arms and legs may twitch.
During the REM phase, an infant typically wakes up briefly, and may whimper and cry in its sleep. You can easily disturb baby needlessly if you think she is wide awake, and are too quick to go and attend to her. Wait a little while and see if baby goes back to sleep.
In the deep sleep phase, baby will be completely relaxed and more difficult to rouse.
Teaching baby the difference between night and day
Newborns need a lot of sleep and may show signs of tiredness even after one or two hours of wakefulness. It is important when you see this to give your child the chance to sleep again.
Here are a few tips:
- Make sure that baby is well fed and dry.
- Teach your child to tell the difference between night and day. Let baby sleep in daylight during the day. Skip the night-time nappy change if baby hasn't filled his nappy. If you need to change a soiled nappy in the middle of the night, then keep the lights down low. Give your baby less attention at night and keep night feeds as short as you can.
- Babies thrive on routine. It makes their life predictable and makes them feel secure. A bedtime ritual of singing a lullaby, playing a soothing music box or just your voice and a goodnight kiss will soon be dependably familiar to your baby.
- Make sure that baby is not too warmly dressed, and that he can move around in bed. If your baby perspires, has damp hair or comes out in a heat rash, then you know it's too warm in the cot.
- Many young children sleep well outdoors, but mustn't be left unmonitored and must be dressed for the season and weather.
- Infants should sleep on their backs until they can turn over unaided. This reduces the risk of SIDS/cot death.
At times, your child may need to sleep next to you or your partner. It's reassuring for baby to feel the warmth of your body and hear your heartbeat. A cot with the long-side attached to the side of your own bed with the inner bars removed and your two mattresses level works nicely as a "sidecar" for the first few weeks. That way, you're also spared having to get out of bed to breastfeed in the early hours.
Further reading: co-sleeping and night feeds.
Crying when tired
Being overtired is a common cause of crying in infants. Keeping baby awake for a long time does not usually make it easier for him to fall asleep.
A constant stream of visitors and well-wishers to your home in the first few months may over-stimulate your baby. Try to divide visits up and make sure baby doesn't have to 'meet' too many visitors at a time or too often.
It is important to be alert to signals that your baby is tired, and if he is, to put him to bed so he can get his rest.
The following are signs of tiredness:
• Fist clenching
• Jerky movements
• Gazing into space
Further reading: how to comfort a baby or watch a short video on how to comfort a crying baby.
Get your rest when baby sleeps
The best advice is to follow baby's rhythm and grab some sleep yourself whenever you get the chance. Forget all the tasks you set yourself; most of them can easily wait, and will be easier to cope with when you're fully rested. It's important not to overdo things when you're deprived of sleep. Typically, baby's sleeps will become longer and more regular as the months go by.
Further reading: baby's sleep needs at 3-6 months.