Newborn sleep—how much trouble can it cause? We asked midwife Maria Sahlin to give her best advice on baby sleep to you as a new parent.
You’re home from the hospital with a tiny new member of the family. Joy over your new baby alternates with complete chaos. All routines have simply vanished: eating, sleeping and being awake at strange hours. 24 hours a day! Does anyone have an instruction manual on newborn sleep?
Maria Sahlin has worked as a midwife for many years and starts us off with some soothing advice.
“Don’t worry—it will get better. It’s completely natural to feel overwhelmed and that things are a mess at first. But try to follow the baby’s rhythm during these first weeks. Enter the baby bubble, take one day at a time, and go with the flow!”
How much does a newborn sleep?
During the first few weeks, newborns are asleep more than they are awake. A baby needs on average between 16 and 22 hours of sleep per 24-hour period. It varies a lot among babies, but it can also vary from day to day for the same child.
“As a new parent, you might think that you’ve found a routine at the beginning. But it’s common for this to change frequently. The duration of your baby’s sleep periods can also change. On some days their waking and sleeping times are longer, and on other days they might sleep more but for shorter periods of time,” explains Maria.
Newborn sleep periods are short
A newborn usually sleeps around 18–20 hours a day. This sounds like a comfortable existence for new parents, doesn’t’ it? But then why do many new parents experience such a lack of sleep in the early days?
“It probably has to do with the duration of the sleep periods. A newborn sleeps for a while, is awake for a while, and then falls asleep again. And it can be this way around the clock during the first few weeks. Eventually the baby will adapt to our circadian rhythm, remaining awake for longer periods of time during the day and sleeping for several hours at night, “ says Maria.
Just as with adults, a baby’s sleep is made up of different cycles of deep and light sleep.
“A newborn does not sleep deeply all the time but instead switches between sleeping deeply, being drowsy and sleeping lightly. In between, the baby is either awake and lively, alert and cranky, or screaming and crying.”
Feelings of hunger and being full control how your newborn sleeps
In the first few weeks, food and sleep dominate the newborn’s world. Eating takes a lot of energy, making your baby tired and making them fall asleep. When they wake up again, hunger is often the cause.
Newborns sleep according to their own internal clock and fall asleep when they need to. A change usually takes place around 4–7 weeks when your baby begins to become curious about its surroundings and may sometimes need to be soothed to fall asleep.
Newborns follow their sleep rhythm from the womb
So much of everything that happens when a baby is born is cleverly designed by nature. But the fact that newborns have a different circadian rhythm than their parents is less ingenious. No one is really sure why.
“Newborns tend to stick with the sleep pattern they had in the womb, sometimes a week after birth, sometimes up to several months. Almost all babies in the womb are more awake and active during the late evening and night and sleep soundly during the early morning,” explains Maria.
Naturally, this poses a challenge for many new parents.
“Of course, it feels frustrating when your baby is awake when you want to sleep. But be patient when it comes to sleep—your baby will gradually begin to sleep longer through the night. A one-year-old will definitely have outgrown their newborn sleep cycle.”
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