It is hard to know before your baby arrives what life will be like when they are finally here. Just as it is impossible to predict what your baby will look like, there is no way to know how well they will eat or sleep during the first few months. Understanding what is realistic and normal in terms of sleep expectations with a new infant can help you survive this roller coaster. Read on to learn more about getting sleep with a new baby.
Elisabeth Allen is a full-time working mom of one toddler from Chicago who hosts the Bottomless MOMosa podcast. The Bottomless MOMosa podcast is a self-discipline podcast for newer working mothers struggling with stress and anxiety. In her weekly episodes, Elisabeth gives guidance from her own experiences as well as brings experts on the show to get their knowledge on how to overcome anxiety as a newer working mother.
New challenges and learning experiences
One of the biggest mysteries of new motherhood is “How much sleep am I going to get as a new mother?” The second mystery is, “When is my baby going to sleep through the night?”
Here are three expectations a new mother can anticipate when it comes to their sleep with a new baby.
1. You are going to be sleep-deprived for a couple of weeks, but your body will get used to it. The first 2-3 weeks with a baby are rough. It is not because you don’t get any sleep, but because your sleep pattern changes. If you are breastfeeding, you will be up every 2-3 hours feeding the baby. If you are formula feeding, you might get help from your spouse, which will allow you [to sleep] longer. Your body is not used to sleeping in short [spurts], which causes fatigue. Your body is getting used to the new sleep schedule. Fatigue and lack of sleep can cause anxiety, anger, and other mental health issues. Be aware of these feelings and give yourself grace when they come up. Feeling this way is normal, and all new mothers go through it.
2. If you can sleep “when the baby sleeps,” great, but don’t think you should be sleeping every time the baby naps. Many people are going to say this to you but ask any new mom, and they will tell you it just doesn’t happen. There is a lot on a new mother’s mind on top of “when is the baby going to wake up?” If you are going to nap, ask for help. Take turns napping between you and your spouse. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family or friends if you feel like you need sleep. Some signs [that you need] sleep are: anger outbursts, feeling frustrated, intrusive thoughts, feeling down or depressed, body aches, or signs of physical exhaustion. Delegation of tasks as a new mother is hard but is needed for this new life transition.
3. Don’t anticipate your child sleeping through the night. Every child is different, and what happens for one child [will not necessarily] happen for yours. There are children who sleep through the night after a couple of weeks, and then there are others who take much longer. I would embrace the new schedule and routine that you will establish as new parents. There are ways to help children sleep through the night sooner, such as setting naptime and bedtime routines, but there is no right formula in doing this effectively. If you want to look deeper into this subject, Google baby sleep consultants in your area.
New motherhood can be challenging, but every mom will tell you it is worth it in the end. The postpartum stage is short-lived, and every stage of motherhood brings new challenges and learning experiences.
There’s nothing more exciting than welcoming a new baby but sleep deprivation can take a toll on many new mothers. Even the fear of sleep deprivation can cause more sleep deprivation. Following a few tips to help your baby sleep better will help you sleep better sooner!
Babies are born without their circadian rhythm developed yet. As a result, newborns can easily have their days and nights mixed up. If you have a newborn who is ready to party all night, it can be difficult, but there are a few things you can do. In the morning and early afternoon, studies have shown that exposure to indirect daylight can promote the development of your baby’s circadian rhythm. Try and get out for a walk or even have the baby near a window. In the evening, keep the lights quite dim, even if your baby is awake.
Many babies struggle with reflux and silent reflux, which can make sleep much more challenging. Babies with reflux are often uncomfortable laying on their back, as it causes the stomach contents and acid to rise in the esophagus. This can be most difficult at night. If you suspect your baby may struggle with reflux or silent reflux, it’s worth seeking medical advice. The causes can range from tongue ties, intolerances, allergies, or may [result from an immature] digestive system.
Accept offers of help when you can. If you have a partner or someone who can watch your baby while you nap or go to bed early, take advantage of it! You’ll feel better. A sleep consultant with extensive experience with newborns can provide you with helpful advice and support based on your baby and family. It can make a big difference without sleep training or leaving your baby to cry.
Mary Foster is the founder of Sleepy Lambs Sleep Consulting, the Sleepy Lambs Sleep Academy, and the Sleepy Lambs Sleep Consultant Training Program. She has supported families worldwide with a strong focus on sleep science and emotional wellness. She leads a global team of Certified Sleepy Lambs Sleep Consultants.
Andrea De La Torre
Andrea De La Torre, Owner of Baby Sleep Answers. She is a baby sleep consultant and mom of 2 boys who fought sleep with a passion. She has worked with tens of thousands of moms to help them understand their unique baby’s sleep needs and find a way to help their families feel better rested. Her goal is to help moms feel confident about their choices in raising their babies, to help them feel supported and never judged.
Feeling alone and tired
Moms should expect change, BIG change. Long gone will be the nights when you’re able to focus on your own sleep. I like to tell moms to get rid of any concrete expectations, good or bad. You don’t know what kind of sleeper your baby will be. Perhaps, you’ll get what I call a “unicorn baby,” who loves to sleep from the very first day and never wakes you up unless they’re hungry. You may, however, get a baby that seems to fight sleep with a vengeance from birth and takes months to give you a long stretch.
Some babies are able to take long naps from the [beginning], and others will not give you a nap longer than 30 minutes until they reach seven or eight months. So how do we prepare? I like to focus on three things we can definitely expect.
1. Most newborns will need to sleep many times a day. Often, they shouldn’t be awake longer than 45 minutes, or you’ll have a screamy, overtired baby.
2. Most babies need a womb-like environment to feel comfortable sleeping. Think of a baby inside mommy. It is warm, comfy, loud, and cuddly. Replicate this as best you can using swaddles, mommy’s arms, white noise, shushing, heat, etc.
3. Eating will sometimes get in the way of sleep. Try to focus on nutrition first and foremost because hungry babies won’t sleep even if you’re doing everything else right! Study up on breastfeeding or formula feeding practices and lookup specialists around you for help with nutrition.
I’ll give one extra thing you can expect: feeling alone and tired. Many first-time moms feel like they’re doing something wrong when a baby isn’t sleeping and then feel isolated from the world. Be sure you reach out to other moms; they’re likely going through it or have gone through it. Please know you’re not alone.
It goes without saying that new moms should expect to have their sleep interrupted throughout the night. When moms wake up to feed or change their baby, it can often be difficult to get back to sleep quickly. Experts refer to this as “sleep maintenance insomnia.” The anxiety of getting back to sleep increases cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and often leads to insomnia.
Knowing this ahead of time, new moms can have a plan in place to combat middle-of-the-night insomnia. Reading a book, drinking a cup of chamomile tea, and practicing relaxing breathing exercises can lower cortisol levels and increase melatonin production (the sleep hormone), making it easier for moms to fall back asleep.
Although sleep deprivation is common among new moms, it is not something that should be taken lightly. Sleep loss can disrupt hormone levels, make it difficult to manage mood swings, and increase the risk of developing postpartum depression. Therefore, new moms should be sure to maintain a sleep schedule as close to their normal routine as possible and nap with their baby throughout the day.
Sleep disruption are quite common
First-time moms enjoy the early days or weeks [after birth] before what experts term the “fourth trimester.” As weeks progress into months and an infant begins to become more active and aware of its surroundings, sudden sounds can disrupt its sleep patterns. Thereafter, things can start to go south.
Infants up to three months old ideally sleep for between 14 and 17 hours over a 24-hour period. Sleep quality and sleep disruption are quite common for new moms, and getting between five and six hours of sleep each night is a challenge.
Surveys have indicated that, on average, new moms have reported sleep loss at a staggering 109 minutes every night for the first year after having a baby. One or both parents may have to get used to the baby sleeping in the same room or bed with them. This is also challenging as sleep patterns and timings, as well as biological clocks, may differ. However, as the child grows older, moms understand that there are new challenges to face going ahead as a child steadily becomes more active and the overall scenario begins to change.
Rest when baby naps
Lack of sleep as a new mom can be paralyzing. As a mom of four kids, I have been surprised each time at just how sleep-deprived I can be with a newborn.
From cluster feeding to a baby having their nights and days confused, you can be awake every hour during the night sometimes. Be sure to get some help if you can, rest when baby naps, and take care not to fall asleep while holding the baby. Find a good Netflix series to keep you company during the sleepless nights, and know they don’t last forever.
Lack of sleep can make everything else feel impossible and negatively affect your mood. Forget the chores and any extra commitments during this time—make everything as easy on yourself as possible. Hang in there, mama! Before long, you’ll start to feel like a superwoman when you can get three or four hours of sleep in a row. The hardest part usually only lasts a few weeks or months at most.
Gina Morris writes on the Steps to Self blog. As a working mom of four, she’s learned the hard way the importance of self-care. Her passion is helping other moms attend to themselves and live their best life.
Dr. Sarah Mitchell
Dr. Sarah Mitchell, Chiropractor by training but found passion empowering parents to teach their little ones to sleep and parent confidently day and night. She sought after sleep consultant in silicon valley and author of The Helping Babies Sleep Method: The Art and Science of Teaching Your Baby to Sleep. Find her at Helpingbabiessleep.com
Waking up every 3-4 hours
New moms should expect to wake up every 3-4 hours in the night the first few weeks of life to feed their baby. Newborns’ stomachs are particularly tiny, which means they can’t consume large amounts of food to sustain themselves for longer periods. In addition, the research shows that newborn sleep regulation is weak as their circadian rhythm system is not yet mature. Newborns tend to sleep in 3-4 hour stretches around the clock the first few weeks. They need roughly 16-20 hours of sleep over 24 hours.
Waking up every 2-4 hours at night
Expectations are a huge part of setting the tone of the early days of motherhood. I understood from the outset that babies are designed to wake frequently, especially in the early days.
Newborns need to eat every 1-3 hours, and small babies often wake up every 2-4 hours at night. It’s important to go to bed early yourself and take a nap whenever you can. This phase doesn’t last forever.
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