Expert Opinion

Newborn Sleep Expectations

Yay! Congratulations – you’ve had a baby. All they should do is eat, sleep, poop and repeat, right?
So much of what a new parent might hear is that “all that babies do is sleep”. Sleep is one of those topics widely discussed in ‘mum forums’ and Facebook groups, yet so much of what we read is unrealistic and can set up new parents for feeling like they are doing something wrong.
Firstly, it’s important to realise that all babies are different, and therefore their sleep will differ each day. Sleep isn’t linear –  but we can set ourselves up with realistic expectations and celebrate the little wins.
For example; once born, your baby is used to hearing your heartbeat, being warm and snug and sleeping in dark and noisy spaces in their fourth trimester. This fourth trimester should be honoured. It is normal for your new baby to want to (and need to) sleep on your chest, nap in your arms, fall asleep on the breast or the bottle. They are adjusting to the outside world, just as you are adjusting to your new role as parent. You will never look back and regret the time spent cuddling your new baby whilst they sleep
Throughout this phase, I recommend making your baby’s sleep environment as similar to your womb as possible. For example, play some white noise, swaddle your child and make sure they are nice and cosy. As they reach the 8-10 week mark and become more alert, their bedroom can be made dark for their day naps too.
These first few months will see rapid growth and change, and their sleep will be inconsistent for the most part – no two days will be the same. Within these first three months, babies are yet to produce their own melatonin, and their circadian rhythm (the dictator of wake and sleep cycles) isn’t fully established until about 12-16 weeks.
It is common for some babies to get their days and nights confused, sleeping for longer periods during the day rather than longer periods overnight. To help remedy this, keep their day feeds more frequent, and make sure they have access to natural light throughout the day. Remember – newborns are sleepy (well, most are)!
A newborn baby is really only awake long enough to feed and have a nappy change (approximately 40 minutes maximum) until they are closer to 6 weeks old, where they may be able to stay awake for an hour before needing to nap. As they get closer to 3 months of age, there may be time after their feed for some floor play or tummy time before needing a nap, so awake times can stretch to around 90 minutes. The awake time at the start of the day is mostly always the shortest window of awake time, as the first nap is closely linked to their night time sleep.
Catnapping is also very common, where some of their naps will be short and they need help going back to sleep to extend the nap. It isn’t unusual for a small baby to take 4-5 naps across the day and be having 5-6 hours of daytime sleep. As their wake windows increase, the amount of day sleep they require will also decrease. Around 3-4 months, you will start to really recognise a pattern within your baby’s sleep, but that doesn’t mean it is the same every single day!
Overnight, up until 3 months old, a lot of babies will need regular feeding. This is normal! There are some babies that do longer stints between feeds or even some that manage to sleep through the night (which, by definition, is 6-8 hours of sleep), but more commonly they require 3-4 hourly feeds overnight. Little babies need those milk feeds for calorie intake and growth – this is so important.
Babies do thrive on routine, so try and create a series of events that repeat across the day, so your baby knows what to expect as the day unfolds. You may have heard of the ‘Eat, Activity, Sleep’ routine – this is a great guide to use, though some babies will need a top up after a play and before they go back to bed again (little babies have little tummies), having those series of events will also give mum some knowledge as to what to expect in their day as well.
The most important part about newborns is this – don’t compare your baby and their sleep to another. You stay in your lane and go with what works for you and your baby.
Chatting newborn sleep expectations with Lisa Dinnie
Alongside @cherishyoursleep, we’re kicking off our sleep series talking all things newborn sleep expectations! We understand that being a parent of a newborn can be pretty overwhelming (to say the least)! With over 20 years of experience, Lisa breaks down exactly what you should – and shouldn’t – expect of your newborns sleep routine.

About the author

Lisa is the founder of Cherish Your Sleep, Co-Regional Director (Australia/Pacific) of The Association of Professional Sleep Consultants, an experienced certified baby/child sleep consultant and a mother to 3 young children.
She has always loved children and has worked in the industry for over 20 years as a qualified child care worker, working primarily with children aged 0 – 3yrs.
A successful outcome is not only good for the parents and children, but also giver Lisa a sense of satisfaction and happiness – there’s nothing better than hearing from a parent who finally got their first full night sleep since having a child.
Becoming a mum and meeting and seeing other mums struggle with their babies and children’s sleep made Lisa really want to reach out and help. She doesn’t see that there is a one size fits all to helping families – sleep is almost like a Puzzle – you need all the pieces in place to achieve the full picture and those pieces are what she shares with families.
Lisa uses a holistic approach to sleep, focusing on emotional wellbeing of families and ensuring the parent child connection in not only maintained, but enhanced. She knows how easy it is to become overwhelmed and frustrated, so it’s her passion to help find solutions that will work for you, your baby and the rest of your family.

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