Newborn Sleep – Birth to 6 weeks
What a joyous moment when you first bring home a new baby. The weeks that then follow this can often be exhausting and overwhelming at times. The newborn age and sleep can bring its own challenges. However, there are things we can do as parents to help us stress less and enjoys this time more. There are things we can do to help our newborns maximise their sleep and gently start them on their way to becoming a happy sleepers for life.
I believe first and foremost, as parents, we need to set realistic goals and expectations from our newborns at this age. I believe that when we are aware of what is normal and what to expect from our children at their different ages, we are able to help them sleep better, because we are less stressed and there are fewer sleep surprises and challenges. This philosophy is just as true for newborns.
So then what do you expect from birth to 6 weeks?
* Your baby will be quite sleepy in the first few weeks. This is naturally due to their high melatonin (sleep hormone) levels. This often means they are very portable and will go to sleep quickly and stay asleep undisturbed. These high levels will start to drop off about week 3-4 and you will find your baby is starting to become for wakeful and from this age. Then by week 6-8 these high melatonin levels have dropped off to normal levels and now your baby has to start learning how to sleep a little more. Week 6-8 is often when you may have trouble putting your baby to sleep and keeping them asleep.
* Learning your baby’s tired sign and bed time’s cues start from birth. At this age sleep time cue can be small, with even a blank distant stair indicating that your child is tired and ready for bed. As the weeks go on and the more you can become in turn with your child’s tired sign, the more accurate bed time will be and the less likely they will experience over tiredness and overstimulated.
* Your child is very easily overstimulated at this age. Infants can become overtired quite quickly at this age. For you as a parent this means, if your child is in an overtired or overstimulated state, they will be very fussy and take longer to settle, go to sleep and stay a sleep.
* Babies cry for all kinds of reasons and for your newborn crying is a form of communication for them as they cannot yet speak. Sadly, crying is inevitable with infants and children, but what do their cry’s mean and what are they trying to tell you.
* Your baby has not yet developed a biological clock or circadian rhythm yet. Therefore, although mini patterns may be seen to occur in your child’s day they are not yet capable of a sleep rhythm and pattern like a 4 to 6-month old baby.
* Establishing feeds can be a challenge. Breastfeeding can be a challenge.
* Colic can also be a challenge, with symptoms peaking at 6 weeks.
* Newborn will often sleep 16 hours a day out of 24 hours.
* Awake period for newborns 45 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes (birth to 6 weeks).
* It can take your baby a full 20 minutes to settle into a deep sleep and may need some extra assistance to reach the deep sleep phase if they are fussy.
* A sleep cycle is 45 minute. At this age our babies may need a hand linking sleep cycles if woken up after a short sleep.
* Cluster feeding is a normal and important time for newborn babies. This helps establish breast milk supply, learn the skill of feeding and tank up for, hopefully, a good sleep. Cluster feeds often occur later in the afternoon and into the evening. Although this is such an important phase of development, it can also feel incredibly frustrating for a parent as it can continue for a few hours. Cluster feeding should dissipate by 6-8 weeks.
* Night bed time for infant can often be late at night in the early weeks, between 9-10pm. Bed time should get earlier with each week and by 6 weeks aiming for a 7-8:30pm bed time if possible. Working on encouraging an earlier baby when possible will help your child to sleep better day and night as well are reducing any overtired symptoms.
* It is common for your newborns overnight feed to be 2-3 hourly in the early weeks, with longer sleep periods of 4-5 hourly from 6-12 weeks starting to establish.
Unfortunately, as parents of a newborn you are highly likely to experience all of the above at some point and at times all in one day. But the whole purpose of this reading is to help you to cope and manage the situations as best as possible. As mentioned above, ‘the more we are aware, the better we can cope, the less stressful life is and the better equity we are to help our baby’s be happy souls’.
So now we have a general check list of what to expect in the early weeks, how can we help manage any stressful time, to then enjoy these moments more.
* As mentioned, sadly crying is a part of children’s lives, as this is a form of communication. It often helps to go through and check off the following list to see what your baby may need, eliminating each possibility in the following order:
- Are they hungry?
- Do they need a nappy change?
- Are they tired or overtired?
- Are they too hot or too cold?
- Do they have tummy / wind pain?
- Are they unwell?
Generally, you will find that you can solve your baby’s issues by attending to one of the first three. But if at any time your baby is unwell, they should be seen to by a medical professional as soon as possible. By learning your baby’s crying, cues and communication early on, you can reduce any unnecessary stress during this time and for years to come. It is a fact of life that babies cry, but it is also important to understand that not all cries mean that your child is in pain or needs immediate attention because there is something seriously wrong. Crying is a form of communication for your child from birth until they reach an age where they can verbally express what they need. Crying can also be an indication that your baby is overtired, overstimulated, uncomfortable, needing some attention or simply wanting to feel your touch. The more they grow the more you will understand what each cry means, and the less anxious you will be when your child cries, because you will know what they are telling you.
* Taking the time to respect and learn your child’s tired sign and bedtime cue is a very important part of parenting. This takes time and in the early weeks, I encourage you to use a combination of watching the clock and your baby. By keeping eye on the clock and monitoring your child’s awake time, this will help ensure they are not wake longer then they are about to neurologically cope with. This will also help ensure they are getting the back to bed before they become overtired and fussy. An overtired baby will take longer to get to sleep and then struggles to maintain a quality sleep.
From birth to 6 weeks an infant’s awake time is 45 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes by 6 weeks. Often in the early weeks an awake period during the day consists of a feed time, with a small wake period, before our babies are ready for a nap again. As they get older they are able to maintain more awake time and start to appear more wakeful. By helping to ensure your child is having the right amount of awake time for there age, this will help the time sleep well and be a much more settled baby.
* Be kind to your self mum and dad when establishing feeding, breast or bottle, as this process can take time. If you have any feeding concerns or weight issues, ask for help and make an appointment with child health nurse, medical professional or lactation consultant.
* Colic is defined as a condition that affects very young babies (often starting at 2 weeks) and receding by the age of 12 weeks.
A baby with colic has frequent spells of intense crying and is difficult to soothe. These period’s of being unsettled start to appear in the first weeks after birth. These babies are usually most unsettled in the late afternoon or evening (“witching hour”) and can remain this way for several hours. A colicky baby often finds relief by being walked around or placed over your legs while rubbing his/her back, but sometimes it feels like nothing will help soothe a colicky baby. A typical colicky baby may have a distended stomach, their legs will likely be pulled up towards his/her chest and he/she will look relieved when passing gas or a bowl motion. A bath and massage (with running leg motion, rubbing tummy in a clock wise direction etc) can help soothe an upset baby.
These signs seem to indicate that the discomfort is due to intestinal pain. Whether this is true or not researchers are still in some disagreement. In very severe cases paediatricians may prescribe medication to relax the bowels and ease discomfort. It is also thought that the distended stomach is caused by large amounts of air being swallowed during crying periods. Another possible contributor to colic is severe overstimulated. It is also considered that these babies interpret the world around them as stressful and by the end of the day all this stress and tension become overwhelming, resulting in a tired and cranky baby. This often comes down to your baby’s temperament which will be discussed below.
To help these babies, it is important to remain calm and give them lots of love and soothing time. They may need to be cuddled or nurse calmly for a longer period of time. You might find putting them in a baby carrier at this time is a good idea. Make the movements with your child calming and gentle. It is also important to let these babies soothe themselves by crying in a calm and supportive environment. Some experts believe that a child with colic often improves if they are allowed to cry undisturbed for just two or three consecutive colicky periods. In almost all cases colic is resolved by three months and time is the only real factor in solving this issue.
* Cluster feeding periods can go for up to 3 hours at a time. A newborn will often have these cluster feeds once a day. The following are quick tips on how to cope with this time of the day:
- Find a comfy chair
- Make sure you have plenty of water, food and entertainment at your finger tips
- Get comfy
- Make sure you have your phone beside you if needed
- As for help or make sure any other children in the house have food/drink or an activity while you are feeding
- RELAX and let your baby feed as they need!!
This is a good time to ask for extra help from family members or friends if available. This might be meal preparation, cleaning or tending to other children in the house. Whatever it may be, you will find that your friends and family will be more than happy to help out to reduce any unnecessary stress during your day or night.
* As well as respecting your child need to sleep and when, you are also able to help provide a happy sleep environment for them starting form birth. A cool (meaning not to hot), dark, quiet environment will help induce the feeling of sleep and cut out any over stimulation environments, preventing them for going to sleep when needed. This type of environment is especially important at times when your infant is overtire and overstimulated. This will help them to settle and wind down faster. An arms down swaddle, like your miracle blankets are often the most recommended for infants, as it well help them to gain a better quality sleep.
Parenting in these early days is all about bonding, love and getting to know each other. Your baby will sleep a lot during the first few weeks of life. Gradually, with each week that passes, they will begin waking up more and for longer periods of time. By 6 months, your baby will be laughing, playing with toys, grabbing at items and even moving around the floor when you put them down to play.
It can become very overwhelming at times trying to work out what your baby needs and when. Your baby’s needs are quite simple in the early days. All they need is to be fed, loved, and put to sleep when they are tired. As your baby gets older, these needs are still the same, however your child will become more effective at telling you what he or she needs. You will also become more in-tune with how to attend to and read their body language, cues and cries.
As your baby gets older (from 3-4 months) you will start to see a wake, feed, play, sleep pattern beginning. It is a good idea to start to implement a sleep schedule by 4 months if you haven't already. From 4 months of age a sleep schedule will be important for you and your child to regain some structure and understanding of what is expected in your day.
I recommend maintaining more of a baby guided sleep schedule until 6 weeks, using a combination of monitoring your baby’s wake times and tired cues. By connecting intuitively to your baby’s natural schedule before 6 weeks, this helps set the groundwork for later routine setting and building. You can also start to gently establish a regular bed time routine, even at this early age. This will help start establishing those all important bed time cues for your baby
Birth to 6 weeks can be overwhelming and challenging. But by allowing yourself the time to spend with your baby, and keeping in mind what to expect at this age, this will help everyone sleep happier and enjoy the tender age so much more. It is so important to parents to ask for help at any stage of their child’s life if needed. I think sometime in those early days we feel this pressure to be supper parents and manage life on our own, but I highly recommend leaning on any offered support if needed and asking your health care professionals about anything that is concerning you as a parent.
I am available to work with parent from 6 weeks of age if you need any extra support with sleep. From 6 weeks sleep can start to become more challenging and there is always support if you need.
The newborn age is so beautiful and the bonding with your child starts from birth, so enjoy this time with your precious new life!