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Newborn babies may sleep up to 17 hours a day, but most don't stay asleep for longer than two hours at a time. As a new parent, that means your night will be interrupted constantly.

Let's face it that is pretty exhausting! How do you get through the first few months without losing your sanity? 

Baby's sleep patterns explained

Your pregnancy may be over, but your baby is still developing at the same rapid rate as she did in the womb. Newborn brains develop really fast, and they sure have a lot of new impressions to process after entering the world and your family! Perhaps this is why newborns spend a lot more of their sleep in REM the "dream stage". Their sleep cycles are also done more quickly, and that is when they wake up. Your baby is probably hungry for your milk, physical proximity, or both when she wakes up. You'll also have wet and perhaps dirty diapers to deal with. While your baby's needs are being perfectly met, you are getting exhausted. The baby's short nightly waking periods are long enough to totally disturb your nightly routine. As your baby gets older, those nightly wakings will gradually reduce. This will happen faster than you think by eight weeks old, your baby may have dropped one or two night wakings already, and will also be awake more during the day.

What you can do to cope

My midwife used to say that both pregnancy and birth were wonderful and essential preparations for motherhood. I'm not as natural-minded and "zen" as she is, but she has a point. All those late-pregnancy discomforts sure have most expectant moms up throughout the night, irritated and tired. Heartburn, nausea, constipation, backaches and just plain insomnia are a few things that can have you awake all night. By the time your baby gets there, you are probably already somewhat used to nightly wakings one less thing to get used to. Still, the fact remains that having your sleep interrupted frequently takes a huge toll on your health and your mood. As a mom of two, my top tips to avoid sleeplessness are:

  • Breastfeed
  • Co-sleep
  • Sleep when your baby sleeps during the day, if you can

There are two scenarios that are very common, and that take much more time out of your night than necessary. Do you get up to nurse your baby in the nursery, and then rock your baby to sleep (possibly for hours)? Getting up, getting dressed, and sitting there to feed your baby are all acts that really disturb your night. Why not take your baby into bed with you, and nurse there instead? Having your baby in a co-sleeper or crib next to you means you will notice those nightly wakings much less. Rocking and pacing becomes less necessary as well in that case, in my experience at least.

Breastfeeding is obviously much easier on you during the night, because you don't have to get up and make a bottle. Breastfeeding also has many more important benefits but not every woman can breastfeed. If you bottle feed your baby, ask your partner to prepare the bottles at least some of the time. The "sleep when your baby sleeps" thing has already turned into one of those annoying cliches everyone advises. I got that advice myself when my first baby was born, and it totally worked back then. After the second was born, it was clear I couldn't leave my older child unsupervised, and of course she dropped her last afternoon nap right at the time her brother was born! One last tip is this to accept that the newborn stage of your baby's life is real taxing on your body.

It will pass, so you do not need to feel guilty if you are not capable of doing much at all during the day, besides taking care of your baby. Your own body is still recovering from pregnancy and birth anyway. Things will settle into a routine, real soon. I promise! These sleepless nights will soon be a distant memory. When that happens, you may be ready to start all over again and have another baby!

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