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July 27, 2018

Having realistic expectations can really help you get through the early days of parenthood, writes Baby Sleep Consultant, Emma Purdue in part one of a two-part series...

When it comes to newborn sleep, the media often portrays this very relaxed situation where a new baby is placed gently in their cot and easily takes a nap while mum has a cup of tea and reads a magazine. The reality for most of us could not be more different.

A newborn baby is born with absolutely zero ability to self-settle to sleep, so you can usually forget about placing them awake in their cots and expecting them to fall asleep unaided. Nor can your new baby link their sleep cycles together, so say hello to short naps. He or she has no way to calm themselves down once upset, and this will be your new job. Get used to spending a large chunk of your day shushing, patting, holding, bouncing, walking and nursing. All of this means realistically your newborn needs a lot of help when it comes to nodding off.

Neurologically speaking, your newborn baby is confused. They probably have their days and nights mixed up and want to sleep all day and stay awake and party all night. Or you’ll notice their sleep is very disorganised and sporadic – both of these things are 100 per cent normal, I promise you. Despite having no ability to self-settle, your newborn needs a lot of shut-eye. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 14 - 17 hours of sleep over 24 hours. That’s a lot! Many new parents I speak to panic about their baby’s sleep hours. They add up the minutes and stress about ways to force their baby back to sleep to meet that goal.

In reality, you can’t force a baby to sleep. As parents, we can help and assist them, but if they are wide awake and content, chances are this is just their newborn disorganisation and they aren’t yet ready to fall asleep. The best indicator you can use to know if your new baby is getting “enough” sleep, is their temperament, and whether they are meeting developmental milestones. An alert but content baby who is meeting all their milestones is fine, but conversely, a baby who cries a lot, and isn’t very content or happy, is probably tired or hungry. Be reassured that you have to severely deprive a child of sleep over a very long period of time to delay their development. I promise you, a few unsettled weeks out of your baby’s life while you find your feet in these early days is nothing. Please don’t panic.

Newborn sleep timeline (First 12 weeks)

0 - 3 weeks

Your baby might be very sleepy due to the presence of maternal melatonin. Wake your new baby for feeds every three hours during the day to help reverse day/night confusion. At this stage, your baby can stay awake for 40-60 minutes. 

3 - 6 weeks

That sleepy phase has passed and your baby might “wake up.” Night sleep is the first part of baby’s sleep to develop. You’ll see chunks of sleep at night around week six. Don’t be disappointed if these are no longer than four hours! Crying peaks at six weeks, hang in there.

6 - 9 weeks

Your baby will outgrow the need to cluster feed, and might appreciate an early bed time between 6pm and 7.30pm. Naps may be 45 minutes long, and your baby can stay awake 60-90 minutes. The first nap should be easier and day/night confusion should have resolved by now.

9 - 12 weeks

This is a good age to focus on assisting your baby until they are drowsy but not fully asleep. This will gradually encourage your baby to learn to self-settle to sleep. Your baby can stay awake for approximately 90 to 100 minutes between naps. Enjoy the first 12 weeks, they fly by!


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