The term “sleeping like a baby” can be so misleading when you’re the parent of a newborn who just doesn’t want to sleep – it can feel like sleep is all over the place (and oftentimes, it really is!). Sometimes your baby sleeps well during the day and seems to want to party all night and other times it’s the opposite, from one day to the next. It can be really hard to predict and can be a legitimate concern for most new parents. You’re not in this alone!
Let’s take a look at what normal infant sleep looks like and how you, as the parent, can encourage healthy sleep from the beginning.
Disclaimer: The following is not and does not substitute medical advice. Please always verify with your child’s paediatrician, family doctor or healthcare provider before implementing any sort of advice from this site or otherwise. These are simply suggestions which you would implement at your own free will on your own accord.
What to expect with newborn sleep
Full-term newborn babies have 3 types of sleep: Active sleep, quiet sleep and indeterminate sleep (which is the phase between active and quiet sleep). These 3 types of sleep have varying durations, which is what makes it unpredictable and a newborn’s nap can last anywhere between 30 minutes to 4 hours. Knowing (and accepting) that sometimes babies sleep for shorter or longer periods of time can really help you as a caregiver have realistic expectations when it comes to your newborn’s sleep. Your baby's sleep may appear erratic until the famous "4-month sleep regression", which can happen anytime between 2-6 months of age.
Why won’t my baby sleep at night?
Oftentimes as newborns, these longer naps happen during the day (much to the dismay of parents: why won’t they sleep this long during the night?!). This is simply because your baby’s circadian rhythm is inexistent (because they were in a dark womb for the last few months), therefore day & night are just the same to them until they become adjusted to life in the outside world which can take 4-6 weeks. During the day, they’re often comforted by being in a carrier, in a caregiver’s arms and hearing the hustle and bustle of the house - which is similar to being in the womb! During the night, it’s quiet and still so babies often like to seek that same comfort as during the day.
How much should my baby sleep?
A newborn can sleep up to 18 hours per day, in 24 hours* – some babies sleep more and some sleep less. When becoming a first-time parent, many of us are under the assumption that babies will simply sleep when they’re tired. It can be true for some babies, it's not the case for most. Offering opportunities for your baby to sleep (even when they might not appear tired) can help to have your baby get the rest they need.
*While it can be useful to track your baby’s sleep & feeds, it can cause some parents unnecessary stress. I’d encourage you to be aware of how you feel as you’re entering your baby’s data to see if you need to take a step back.
Is my baby really asleep?
You might have noticed that a newborn baby is awake and in what feels like a blink of an eye - they’re asleep – and it’s not a light sleep, it can be hard to wake them. You might notice they begin twitching their eyelids, moving their lips (almost as if they’re drinking!) and eyebrows and begin to smile and make faces. This is because newborns enter sleep through active sleep. For a comfortable well-fed baby, the period of falling asleep is so short that they don’t often need much support to doze off. Parents often wonder if their baby really is asleep at this stage, and the answer is: yes! If you notice your baby moving around and you’re not sure if they’re awake, wait a few seconds (as long as you feel comfortable with) and see if they’re waking up or just in active sleep.
Safe sleeping environment for your baby
When considering where your baby will sleep in the first few months, it’s important to reflect on what YOUR expectations are as a parent. The Government of Canada, the AAP and the WHO recommend room-sharing for the first 6 months as this is proven to help reduce the risk of SIDS. I recommend that while your baby is in your room, that you should have it optimized for good sleep:
Cool temperature (between 16-21 degrees)
Low-pitch white noise (sometimes called brown noise)
If you’re planning to have a bassinet/sidecar/Moses basket for your baby’s sleeping environment in your room, make sure it’s a firm, flat mattress with NO extra blankets or cushions. Ideally this bed should be within arms-reach of the primary parent so the baby could regulate breathing and the parent will hear the baby.
If your bassinet attaches to the side of your bed, it should be very tight with no gaps. Follow your manufacturer's guidelines for installation.
Bed-sharing is another option for families. I’m a firm believer in allowing families to read the information and decide what’s best for them. I want to share the recommendations to do it safely. According to statistics in a study done in 2015 & 2016, 33% of Canadian parents surveyed reported to bed share with their infants regularly and a further 27% do so occasionally. The fact that it’s done, even though Health Canada discourages it, means it’s all the more important to educate parents on how to do it safely instead of simply stating “don’t do it” because clearly, it’s not working. The reality is that it happens and better to do it in a safe environment and not on a chair, sofa, recliner or a baby nest out of fear of doing it in a bed – these types of locations are much more dangerous than a parent who sets up their bed for safe bedsharing.
The guidelines below are called the “Safe Sleep Seven” from La Leche League International:
No alcohol or substance abuse
A breastfeeding parent
A healthy & full-term baby
Baby on the back
Baby lightly dressed
I’m including more information about bed sharing through a couple of links, please read through them and ensure your sleeping environment is set up safely.
Couches, recliners or anything else that’s not a flat surface is not safe to sleep on with a baby. In addition, baby nests are also not a safe sleeping environment, the companies who produce these products also state this on their websites and they are discouraged for use by Health Canada.
Areas of concern
There are a few areas of concern to bring up to your baby’s healthcare provider within the first days or weeks of life. Here are a few things to watch out for:
Low or no weight gain
Fewer than 6 no. of wet diapers after the first week (see this guide from the Quebec Government)
Falling asleep at every feed
Apparent discomfort and/or persistent crying
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, so if something doesn’t feel right to you as the parents, please don’t hesitate in reaching out to your healthcare provider.
If you would like more information about baby sleep and how I can support you, please send me an email at email@example.com