Before we become parents, we have a vague idea that we’re not going to get as much sleep as we used to. We hear phrases like, “Sleep when the baby sleeps” or “Sleep now while you can, because you won’t get any when the baby arrives!”
While there might be slight truth to some of these phrases, they’re certainly not the most helpful and encouraging words we could be hearing while preparing for parenthood.
The truth is that parents of newborns DO have trouble with sleep. The National Sleep Foundation claims that 76% of new parents say they frequently do not get enough sleep. The new parent sleep loss struggle is real.
But does sleeping a lot while you’re pregnant actually help you “stock up” on sleep for when the baby comes? Of course not…
And is sleeping while the baby sleeps always practical? Also no…
So what can actually help new parents with getting better sleep?
Here are six things you can expect from your newborn (0-3 months) in terms of sleep – and what to do about them.
1. Newborns actually sleep 15-19 hours per 24-hour day.
Yes, you read that right! Newborns often can’t stay awake for more than 45 minutes at a time. At this stage, they’re in the”fourth trimester” (as are you) and are simply adjusting to life outside the womb and their sleep cycles are often very short; sometimes just 20-30 minutes.
So how can you help promote longer sleep during this time?
Follow your baby’s cues and sleep patterns. Let your baby sleep when he wants to sleep. Keep a decently quiet space for naps and night sleep, and don’t worry too much about creating any kind of sleep schedule just yet.
2. Newborns can – and will – fall asleep everywhere and anywhere.
If you are going out somewhere for more than an hour, you can count on the fact that your baby will fall asleep there…or on the way there. It might not be the most restful nap for him, but there’s no need to be homebound for months just because you have a newborn. Your baby will be fine sleeping in the car seat (only while in the car), stroller, or even in your arms.
Just make sure that your baby gets enough sleep in a consistent, healthy sleep environment – even if it’s not for every single nap.
3. Expect your baby to wake up several times in the middle of the night.
Your newborn should NOT be sleeping through the night – and you don’t want to encourage her to!
a) Your newborn needs to be eating at least every four hours until you get clearance from your pediatrician to allow longer stretches. You may even need to feed every 2-3 hours if she is a preemie. If you are breastfeeding, you might also want to be careful of how long you are spacing out feeds if you are worried about your milk supply.
b) Your newborn doesn’t know the difference between daytime and nighttime sleep yet. Night sleep will start consolidating around eight weeks, but until then, your baby just views daytime naps and nighttime sleep as the same thing. The good news is that your newborn WANTS to sleep, so going back to sleep after a nighttime feeding usually isn’t too difficult.
But this doesn’t mean you have to be up all night long…
If you are bottle feeding, you can set up a rotating schedule with your spouse so that each of you takes a certain chunk of the night. Also keep in mind that you certainly don’t need to feed your baby every time she wakes up so you can both take turns soothing and tending to her if it isn’t time to feed.
You can also help your baby learn the difference between night and day by exposing your baby to light first thing in the morning and throughout the day, which will help establish longer stretches at night. Darkness is equally as important, so keep the baby’s room dark for naps and bedtime, signaling to her body that it’s time to sleep.
4. Your baby’s sleep patterns will change over time.
At around three months old, your baby starts to consolidate sleep patterns, and at four months, his 24-hour sleep cycle will begin forming. This is called the circadian rhythm and it helps teach him the difference between day and night sleep.
As your baby develops, he will naturally develop sleep patterns on his own according to his own biological clock. The good news is that after four months, you can start thinking about sleep training/coaching in order to manage continued wake-ups. But remember, teaching healthy sleep habits can start from day one!
(See our 4-12 Month Sleep Course or E-book: Your Guide to Sleeping Through the Night)
5. Be prepared to get a lot of advice – both wanted and unwanted.
You’ll likely hear stories of what worked for your sister or your doctor or your neighbor, and they’ll think you should do the same things they did based on how their baby responded. The reality is though, that your baby is unique, and your family dynamic is unique, and your baby won’t respond to things in the exact same way that your sister’s neighbor’s baby did.
Remember to take everything with a grain of salt. Everyone has their own perspective, but not everyone has the right information. Not everyone has the best memory either, and you’ll probably hear many stories from mothers of adult children claiming that their babies slept through the night in the first week! Your best bet is to do your own research from solid sources and make your own choices based on your findings.
6. Your newborn baby will need you – all the time.
Your love and comfort during this fourth trimester is crucial. The time will come when you can sleep train and get more than a couple hours of sleep in a row, but now is not that time. Your baby has just come into this big world after living in a very small space – her mother’s womb! She is exposed to so many new things and needs her parents to guide her through it all. What an honor!
By loving on your baby, you both create a bond that will actually help promote independent sleep when the time comes to sleep train/teach.
For more information, check out our Newborn Sleep Course, which provides step-by-step guidance to help introduce your newborn to healthy sleep habits.
Rachel Gorton/Mitchell is a certified infant and toddler sleep specialist and the owner of My Sweet Sleeper. She has worked as a sleep consultant since 2013 and has helped hundreds of families get better sleep with her individual approach to sleep teaching. As a mother herself, she is passionate about helping families get the sleep they need! For more information and to view her online courses and e-books, visit mysweetsleeper.com