This topic would have to be one of the most emotive. The expectation of a newborns behavior and sleep habits varies hugely from parent to parent. Some of us are more “laid back” in our approach, whilst some of us need more structure and rigidity.
I would advise most new parents to do some investigation of “what to expect” before the new baby arrives. You would be surprised at the number of new parents who had no idea that their baby was going to need so many feeds and be up so frequently during the night in the early days.
So… what is considered ‘normal’?
Once the milk has come in and the feeds have settled down, you can expect most babies from newborn to about three months of age to have around 16 hours of sleep over a 24-hour period.This is usually about 10 – 11 hours at night and 4 – 5 hours during the day.
Unfortunately, these sleep times are broken up into many smaller amounts, as a newborn will feed every 2 to 3 hours for the first few weeks at least. A recent survey conducted by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute showed that there is an incredible range on ‘normal’. For example, most babies by the time they are six months old will be having about 14hrs sleep over a 24 hour period, spread over 6 sleep episodes. They averaged 1.1 night wakes and were awake for around 30 minutes. By one year of age the average was 13.4 hours sleep over 4.7 episodes with 0.7 night wakes lasting 14 minutes.
Nature is a very clever old girl. I believe that things like pregnant women’s bladders are meant as part of ‘training’ to get up during the night and have broken sleep, as well as the ability to go back to sleep quickly. Those of you clever enough to go on maternity leave a reasonable time before the due date will also be practiced in the art of the afternoon nap – an essential tool in the new mothers survival kit. Being realistic about normal newborn behavior, is, I believe, the key to surviving these undoubtedly difficult first few months. This time does go very quickly though and babies are only babies for a very short period of time.
There are many books out there with strict guidelines about sleep training and schedules. Whilst this may work for some families, before embarking on a “battle” with your baby, I would urge you to just wait and see how it all pans out first. You may find that the natural schedule your baby creates for itself suits your families needs perfectly.
Babies, like children (and most of us adults) thrive on routine and consistency. A simple sleep routine is something I advocate; by this I mean that each time we put the baby down for a sleep we should follow the same routine. This may be as simple as feed, cuddle or play, then wrap, put down, turn the music box on and do some gentle patting or stroking. This whole routine should not take longer than a few minutes. Think about how you go to bed each night. I guarantee that most of us have a routine of some kind that helps turn our brains off each and every night. There are some very good websites out there with lots of useful information. One of my favourites is The Baby Sleep Site http://www.babysleepsite.com. They tackle sleep problems from newborn through to older children and are very compassionate and sensible in their approach.
A word of advice
My final bit of advice – and it may seem a bit odd – is to schedule a meeting with your husband/partner each week where after “stepping outside the square” you have a conversation about how things are going. Communication with your partner is the key, as well as making sure you do some pleasurable and memorable things each week: this can be as simple as going for a picnic together in the park. It is so easy to get caught up worrying about sleep deprivation etcetera, that you forget to actually enjoy this time. Before you know it, they will be at school and the baby stage will be gone. So, while there are many hurdles involved, there are also many enjoyable and memorable ones too.
By Angela Smith
Midwife & Lactation Consultant at Sydney Mother & Baby