Updated April 2019
Part 2 of the Infant Sleep Solutions series
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Welcome to life with a newborn. If you’re not exhausted, keep it to yourself so you don’t anger the others.
What’s Going on in the Sleep Department
As you’ve probably noticed, your newborn’s sleep is loud and boisterous. At this age, babies spend most of their time in “active sleep,” a light stage of sleep characterized by eye movement, rapid breathing, grunting, and involuntary movement. In fact, most babies will startle themselves awake with their own flailing, which is why swaddling is essential right now.
At this age, sleep revolves around eating, typically every two-four hours. In the next few weeks, and as baby’s stomach continues to grow, she’ll start to produce her own melatonin (the sleep hormone) and cortisol (the “wakey wakey” hormone). But for now, her life consists mostly of sleeping, waking to eat, and looking cute. Oh, and pooping! Lots of that as well.
By four weeks, the average newborn sleeps about 14 hours (+/- 3). During the day, he’ll only stay awake 45 minutes to one hour before conking out again. Essentially, your baby is napping here, there, and everywhere and his sleep is totally unorganized. He’s falling asleep in his car seat, in his carrier, in the swing, and in your arms. A nap could last 15 minutes… or it could last four hours. It’s all normal because there is no normal. Yet.
In several weeks, his sleep will become more organized and we’ll discuss a loose schedule, of sorts, but for now… sleeping around is the name of the game.
Babies cry to communicate that something isn’t quite right; it’s the only thing they know how to do! Exactly what he needs is the million dollar question, but usually it’s because he’s tired, hungry, or gassy. *Note: It’s waaaay too early to think about sleep training right now, so for those who are tempted to ask about “crying it out,” hold your horses. We’ll discuss those options when the time is appropriate (which is hopefully never). 😉
Bedtime: Synch up, for now
At this age, your best bet is to put her down at the same time YOU go to bed. This may be anytime from 9 pm-11 pm, or… whatever time you normally go to bed. Why so late? Cuz she’ll only sleep for two-four hours at a time anyway (unless you’re lucky), so by going to bed at the same time at night, you are maximizing your first stretch of sleep.
Conversely, what happens if you put baby down at 8 pm and [you] go to bed at 10 pm? She’ll likely be up at 11 or midnight, which only gives you an hour or two of sleep right out of the gate: not a good way to start the night! And THEN (if you’re neurotic like me), you get into the “why-even-bother?” mode where you KNOW she’s going to wake up the minute you finally doze off so you just stay awake and wait. And wait. And wonder if you remembered to feed the dog. Or pay your electric bill. It’s no good.
You may be surprised that your baby is pooping like it’s his job. At this stage, babies poop during or after every feed (formula-fed babies poop a little less often). This means that during nighttime feedings, you’ll have to change her diaper just about every time. Don’t worry, this doesn’t last forever and will slow waaaay down around the 1-month mark. At that time, most parents will NOT change their baby’s diaper if it’s just pee (yeah, I said it) — and I totally recommend you do the same.
Sometimes people say crazy-ass things like, “At night when he wakes up, I feed him for about 45 minutes, change his diaper, go wash his bottles, play for a little while, go outside, and climb a tree (kidding), then start his bedtime routine again. It takes an hour or two before I get him down again.”
Girl, you crazy? Helllll, no. You DON’T need to do… all that stuff. It should look something like this:
Baby wakes up and cries (wah-wah-wah):
1. Feed him.
2. Change his poopy diaper (with minimal light)
3. Put him back down.
Do it all as quickly as possible so you can get the heck back to sleep. Capiche?
Nursing moms with a decent flow can get all of this done in 10-15 minutes. Those who are bottle-feeding or who have a slower flow while nursing may take up to 30 minutes. If your baby is on the boob for longer than 30 or 40 minutes and doesn’t seem to be swallowing any more milk – He’s probably using you as a human pacifier. Protect your poor nipples by unlatching him and stick a real paci [ahem] in his mouth.
Point being: Don’t screw around. Just get the job done and get back to sleep. You’ll have plenty of time to interact during daylight hours.
The majority of you *should* only be waking up twice a night, which is totally manageable. For others, it’s three times. HEY, and if you can pawn one of those feedings off onto someone else, then you’ll really be sitting pretty. A nighttime schedule could look something like this:
10 pm ~ Everyone to bed
1 am ~ First feed
4 am ~ Second feed (option: pawn this off on your partner with the promise of letting them sleep in. *See note for nursing moms.)
7 am ~ Cock-a-doodle-doo! [if you need a laugh], it’s time to wake up!
8 am ~ Optional: go back to bed during baby’s 1st nap (eh, why not?)
This type of schedule will get you through the dreaded 1st month with no problemo.
*For nursing moms who want a partner to help bottle-feed at night: great! Do it. The only catch is that… yeah, you kinda still need to wake to pump (sorry). It’s still pretty early and you need to preserve/maintain your supply. You may find it tempting/liberating (let’s not kid ourselves, it is!) to have someone else give baby a bottle of formula one (or more) times at night so you can sleep. Just understand that it will affect your milk supply if you make a habit of it, which may then obligate you to formula feed (for that particular feeding) indefinitely [yes, you can increase your supply in the future if you decide to, but as a practical matter, once people lose it, it tends to stay lost]. This is all totally fine as long as you understand the consequences.
Instead, you can wake up, pump as quickly as possible (keep it right next to your bed), then hand off the bottle like a hot potato, and get the heck back to sleep. When all is said and done, you may find it’s just easier to breastfeed, then pass baby off for a diaper change/put-down. Over time, you’ll learn what works best for you (and yours).
If your baby is sleeping comfortably somewhere completely flat, rejoice. Babies with reflux especially prefer to be on an incline, so try something like the Newborn Napper portion of your Pack ‘N Play. Your swing? Sure, why not? At this age, anything goes.
Your job right now? Is to do nothing. Sleep. Recover. Get your energy back. Let baby sleep whenever, wherever, and enjoy it while you can. We’ll start talking about “schedules,” routines, and good sleep habits later on when you’re getting more sleep and can remember your last name.