Ask any parent what the most significant change is in their lives once a baby arrives, and the answer is pretty much universal. Sleep. When they get it, how much, how long their baby naps for – it becomes an obsession. So what can you expect when it comes to sleep and your one-month-old baby?
Considering newborn babies sleep on average for between 14 and 17 hours each day, you’d be forgiven for wondering why you’re so tired. The reason, of course, is that they sleep in relatively short bursts. They frequently wake, including at night – which means you do, too. The term ‘sleep pattern’ is a little optimistic when used about a tiny baby, but here’s what you should remember in the first month.
They’ll sleep most of the day
Your newborn will only be awake for short periods during the day – anything between 40 minutes to an hour and a half. It’s tempting to try and keep them awake for longer in a bid to get more sleep at night, but babies don’t work that way. All that will happen is they’ll become over-tired – and that makes it even more difficult to settle them. Look for the signs that your baby is ready to sleep again, and at this stage just go with it.
Newborns don’t know the difference between night and day
You’ll often hear new parents say their baby seems to sleep all day and stay awake all night. The fact is, small babies can’t help it. The movement they feel in the womb, as their mother goes about her day, sends them to sleep. When she’s resting, they wake up and became livelier. Just think how often you hear pregnant women say they’ve been kept awake all night by the baby kicking!
You can help your baby adapt by making sure they get lots of light and social stimulation during the day. Take your time when it comes to feeding and changing them. Then, at night, keep lights dim and interaction to a minimum to encourage the baby to go back to sleep quickly.
They’ll regularly wake for feeds
If your newborn is breastfed, they’ll want a feed every two or three hours to start with. For bottle-fed babies, three to four hours is more usual. The days of imposing a feeding schedule right from the start are long-gone, and parents are encouraged to feed on demand. This does mean you’ll be up several times each night during the early weeks.
After feeding, your baby will generally go straight back to sleep – but it’s likely to take you a little longer, which is one reason you’ll be so tired. If you’re a breastfeeding mother, consider expressing some milk and getting your little one used to a bottle. It means you can have a night off occasionally.
You can’t ‘train’ a small baby
Crying is the only way your newborn has of communicating with you. In time, you’ll learn to differentiate between “I’m hungry”, “I need changing” or “I’m bored”. For now, though, when your baby wakes up and cries, they need you. He or she can’t ‘cry it out’. They don’t know how to self-soothe and get themselves back to sleep. They cry – you run to calm them. That’s how it works.
Rocking them to sleep might not be wise
New babies love being held while they sleep. While they’re in your arms, they’re more likely to fall rapidly and soundly asleep and stay that way. They’re secure and happy. It’s a special feeling for us parents too. However, if your baby gets too used to this, you’re storing up sleep problems for further down the line. Babies need to learn that crib is also a safe, warm and comfortable place to sleep. Hard though it might be, you need to lay the foundations for good sleep habits from the start.
Swaddling can help
There’s a lot of controversy over swaddling. It can make a baby feel safe – it reminds them of being in the womb. However, it needs to be done correctly and is only advisable during the early weeks. If your baby regularly wakes between feeds and you know they don’t need a nappy (diaper) change, they’re neither too hot nor too cold, and they’re not sick, it could help. Follow the recommended guidelines and see if swaddling leads to better sleep.
Change your sleep pattern
Once you’ve got a baby, it’ll be a while before you get to crash out in your bed and enjoy eight hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep. So, in the early days, the solution is simple – when the baby sleeps, so do you. Even 20 minutes is worth having. You might say you feel groggy when you wake after a nap – but if you’ve got a newborn, ‘groggy’ is normal anyway. Don’t use baby’s nap times to catch up on housework, laundry or washing the dishes. Lie down, curl up and snooze.