Your newborn’s sleeping patterns – or lack of them – may come as a shock, but with time and some help from you, your baby will soon learn the difference between day and night.
One of the first things you’ll notice about your newborn, other than how perfect he is, is how long he spends sleeping – on average an amazing 16–18 hours a day in the first couple of weeks.
The safest place for your baby to sleep is in his own cot in your room for the first six months.
The reason your baby needs so many hours sleep is simple: he’s got an awful lot of learning to do and because there’s so much around to take in, he uses his sleep to process all the information.
All that time spent dreaming isn’t wasted – it gives his body and brain a chance to rest and prepare for another day filled with thousands more sights and sounds.
The toughest test for any mum will be night feeds. Feeding your baby through the night (up to every two hours in the first few weeks) makes it hard for you to sleep for any real length of time, and this can be tough (mentally and physically) to cope with.
Nature does lend you a helping hand though, if you’re breastfeeding your hormones will reorganise your sleep patterns to match those of your baby.
But do make sure that you listen to what your body is telling you – it’s important to take a nap when your baby sleeps in the day, not just in the night, or you’ll never catch up on all those missing hours.
Thankfully, this stage will soon pass and gradually you’ll begin to notice that your baby is doing more than just feeding and sleeping.
Usually, at around 8–10 weeks you’ll find that he’ll start to take longer spells of sleep at night and be much more alert during the day.
As your baby’s sleeping patterns become more settled you may find it helpful to introduce a bedtime routine. Some babies are happy to settle into a routine from a very early age, others take a lot longer.
Even if your baby doesn’t settle easily, putting him in his cot while he is drowsy but awake at around the same time each night will eventually encourage him to fall asleep on his own.
Learning to go to sleep by himself is a skill he will need when he wakes in the night. It will also teach him that his cot is the place where he goes to sleep and that it is a safe and secure environment for him to be in.
It’s much harder to get your baby to settle if he falls asleep in your arms when he is feeding, and then gets put into his cot.
Your baby is likely to wake for feeds during the night until he is around six months. When you go to him at night, keep the lights down low and don’t play with him.
Your baby needs to learn that you will feed him and change his nappy if necessary, but that night time isn’t the time for fun and games.
A wet nappy can cause discomfort which may disturb your baby’s sleep, so you may find it helpful to use a nappy or nappy liner which offers extra protection at night so that your baby remains dry and comfortable for longer.
Your baby doesn’t need peace and quiet to be able to sleep so you don’t need to tip toe around, talking in whispers.
Some babies sleep better if there are background noises going on, in fact, noise from the television, vacuum cleaner or the washing machine have been known to settle some babies.
What your baby has to learn is that he doesn’t need you with him for him to be able to go to sleep. You can help to teach him this by putting him into his cot and then staying with him while you tell him a story or sing a lullaby before kissing him and leaving the room.
If he cries leave him for a few minutes before going back in and reassuring him. Try talking gently to him and stroking him, but it’s best not to pick him up as he may well settle himself.
Of course, you should never leave your baby crying for very long, especially when he is tiny. If he becomes upset, you will want to cuddle him and reassure him before putting him down again and leaving the room.
While your baby is young and needing frequent feeds it is often easier to take him out with you if you are going to friends. This shouldn’t be a problem, even if you are trying to introduce a bedtime routine, just take your baby’s sleeping things with you.
He’ll need something familiar to sleep in like his baby rocker or bouncer, his familiar bedtime toys such as his mobile or a ‘cuddly’ and, of course, his feed, whether it is you or a bottle. It’s easier to do this if your baby has learnt to fall asleep on his own, otherwise you may find yourself spending most of the evening trying to get him to sleep in strange new environment.