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Posted by: Andrew on February 04, 2013 | 3 Comments
If you are a parent of a newborn, you've probably heard the same question from well-wishing friends and family over and over again:
"So, is your baby sleeping through the night?"
And, if your newborn baby is like most newborn babies, the answer is probably a resounding "no."
I remember when my first daughter was born, wishing that people would stop asking this question almost as much as I wished that she would actually sleep through the night so I could honestly say "Yes, she's sleeping through the night, thank you very much. In fact, I feel so incredibly rested and full of energy!" (Said a parent of a newborn, never.)
But alas… it took my daughter close to a full year before she came anywhere near my pediatrician's definition of sleeping through the night - which was sleeping 6 hours or more without interruption.
One of the things that I remember from those dark, sleep-deprived days (and nights) was needing to know what normal baby sleep really was. I mean, of course I had lots of friends who would proudly share (obnoxious) things like this:
"Celebrated baby's 1 month birthday today by putting him to bed at 7pm and having a relaxing evening with my husband. It's so nice to have a baby that sleeps through the night! Oh that reminds me, how's your baby sleeping?"
Needless to say, after I stopped spitting nails long enough to think about it, I really started to wonder how long should my newborn baby be sleeping? What is a normal amount of sleep for a newborn? So, I did some research, and it turns out my baby was actually pretty normal, and those obnoxious friends of mine with newborn babies who slept all night long were very, very unusual.
So here's what I learned:
Newborn babies should really only be sleeping for a maximum of 2-4 hours at a time.
Newborn babies don't know the difference between night and day, and their stomachs aren't very developed yet, so most newborn babies need to eat about every 2-4 hours to get enough nutrition - day or night. So for newborns, this "need to feed" dictates most of their sleep/wake cycle, and limits the length that most newborns will be able to sleep at a time.
Newborn babies usually sleep for up to 16 hours a day.
Again, because most of their time is spent feeding and growing, when they are not feeding, they are usually sleeping and this takes up most of their time, in the first month or so.
A newborn's sleep schedule can be stressful and challenging for parents.
I didn't need to do any research to figure this one out. My daughter taught me this truth as soon as we brought her home from the hospital and the sleep-deprivation started to set in. For the first month of her life she really only slept for about 2 hours at a time, and would never nap in her crib. So, I know for a fact that the stresses a newborn baby can put on parents are both significant and real.
Generally speaking, sleep gets easier as your newborn grows and develops.
This is also purely anecdotal, but my experience of raising a newborn is that those early months are the hardest. In my experience, the first couple weeks of being a new dad were an awesome and amazing ride of adrenaline and new experiences. Then, it gradually got harder and harder, and the fact that my daughter wasn't sleeping well made it even more challenging. The stress of sleep-deprivation lasted a while, but then something shifted in her or me (or both of us) and it just started to feel easier. She started to sleep longer at a time, which meant that I started sleeping longer at a time, and before I knew it, she was sleeping through the night and everything just seemed to get easier and more enjoyable.
How to encourage your newborn's healthy sleep.
There are a couple very easy things that you can do to encourage your newborn to sleep.
1. Probably the most important is helping him learn that daytime is the time when he is more active and gets to play, while nighttime is a time when things are quieter and more restful. This may not happen overnight, but it's important to avoid nighttime stimulation as much as possible. At night, you can often safely avoid eye contact, limit diaper changes, and even skip the burp after night feedings which will help keep night as boring as possible - which is what you want. Keeping the lights low, and using a quiet, soothing voice at night also helps your newborn learn the difference between day and night which will help start good sleep habits.
2. Even though your baby is still very young, it's not too early to start setting a bedtime routine. Setting and following a flexible routine that changes as needed can send important signals to your baby that bedtime is near and it is time to start getting ready to sleep. Many parents use white noise to signal bedtime, as well as bathing, reading or singing.
An important note about the word "normal" and babies.
This article aims to explain what is "normal" sleep for a newborn baby. That being said, "normal" is a word that, at least personally, I really really dislike - at least when used about babies.
Please remember that there are lots of babies who do not sleep the "normal" length of time, and who are perfectly healthy. Whatever is defined as normal is also culturally specific - so what is considered normal in one culture may be abnormal in other cultures. Even my own daughter didn't sleep through the night until she was nearly 1 year old, and this is definitely not "normal" according to my pediatrician and my experiences with friends who have had babies. But, this once horrible sleeper has now grown into a perfectly happy, well-adjusted, kid who most nights usually sleeps very well.
So, it's important to remember that the details of what is considered "normal" baby sleep are only guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. If you are worried about how your baby is sleeping, the best thing to do is talk to your baby's doctor for specific medical advice.
Finally, If you have an older baby, stay tuned for my next article about how much sleep is normal for your 1-3 month old baby.
About the Author:
Andrew Dolbin-MacNab is a father, web developer, and one of the founding members of Pediasleep, a leader in the production of white noise and other soothing sounds to aid the healthy sleep of infants, cosleepers, and parents. Having successfully survived his daughter and son's early sleep problems with the help of white noise, he is also an expert on infant sleep problems and their solutions.
Pediasleep can be found online at http://www.Pediasleep.com.
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