For many parents there is nothing more peaceful than a sleeping baby, particularly if your baby has been difficult to settle.
While getting up to a baby at night is a normal part of parenting, it can cause parents to become exhausted and feel unable to cope, particularly if the baby has woken several times a night.
Every baby has their own sleep pattern and often babies do not have regular sleeping patterns until they are older. Newborn babies can vary greatly in their sleep pattern.
On average a one-month-old baby sleeps for a total of 16.5 hours in 24 hours, but the length of each sleep varies between babies. Your baby may wake wanting frequent feeds. For breastfed babies these feeds are important to help establish and maintain breastfeeding.
During the day some babies may only sleep for short times, while others wake for feeds every 3 - 4 hours. Babies usually have a wakeful time in the evening wanting to feed more frequently. Some babies sleep for long periods at night while others wake several times feeling hungry and needing frequent feeds.
Some newborn babies can be sleepy particularly if they are jaundiced. If your baby is sleeping for long periods, not waking for feeds, not feeding well, not having many feeds or is too tired to feed it is important to contact your midwife, doctor, Plunket nurse or other well child health provider.
If your baby is having only short sleeps they may become overtired. Overtired babies can be harder to settle. Your baby may be tired after a feed, change, play time and cuddle. It’s best to put a baby to bed before they become very tired. It can be easy to mistake tired signs and think they are wind or hunger.
A tired baby may:
It is important to settle your baby on their back and keep their face clear to help prevent SUDI (SIDS or cot death).
A baby’s sleep cycles are a mix of light and deep sleep. During active dreaming (light sleep) your baby may twitch, have irregular breathing, smile or make sucking motions with their mouth. During deep sleep there is little movement. It is common for babies to move about, open their eyes, cry or wake during their lighter sleep cycle then settle themselves back to sleep. If your baby wakes during this lighter sleep, it may help to give them a chance to resettle themselves.
All babies vary in how they settle to sleep. Newborn babies can fall asleep in bed, being cuddled, rocked or fed and then have a good sleep. Some babies have a pattern of needing to be rocked or fed to go to sleep and wake crying soon after being put down.
This can be because they were with you when they went to sleep and when they wake during the lighter part of the sleep cycle they are now in a different place. Baby may then become more wakeful, wanting you to rock or feed them before they can go back to sleep.
By falling asleep in bed your baby learns that bed is a familiar place and that if they wake between sleep cycles they may settle back to sleep again on their own.
Once your baby is feeding well, the following may help you settle your baby to sleep:
You may like to start teaching your baby the difference between night and day. Make day feeds fun with time talking and cuddling. Make night feeds quiet with no play time or talking and keep the lights dim. Having a regular routine before going to bed at night may also help settle baby eg a bath, massage, feed and quiet cuddle.
If, once you have put your baby to bed, they start to grizzle or cry you may want to help them settle by gently patting or stroking them. Some babies take longer than others to settle. If they continue to cry or seem distressed, it may help to pick them up, comfort them, feed them if they are hungry and then try putting them back to bed.
Many babies are snuffly or noisy sleepers.
It is common for babies to have irregular breathing patterns when they are asleep ie breathing quickly followed by short pauses. This is normal. If your baby is breathing more quickly than usual, wheezing or grunting when breathing, or you are concerned about the breathing pattern, go to the doctor.
If you are feeling tired, try to get some sleep or rest during the day when your baby is asleep, rather than rushing around or doing housework. If you have older children, ask trusted friends or family/whānau to help to give you some time to rest.
If you are concerned about your baby’s sleep, you cannot settle them, they are not feeding well or difficult to wake, talk to your midwife, Plunket staff, other well child health provider or doctor.
It’s said that the first three months of life are like the fourth trimester of pregnancy. Find out how to simulate a womb-like experience for your new baby on the Raising Children In New Zealand website, Sleeping: The First Few Weeks.