One of the most important things for a new baby – and a new mummy – is sleep. Here we discuss sleep and your newborn for the first six weeks with baby sleep expert, Jo Tantum.
Firstly congratulations on your new bundle of joy! You will quickly realise during the next few weeks that everyone you know (and some you don’t!) will try and share their words of wisdom. My advice is to use this time to enjoy your baby and get to know and understand them better. And thank everyone sweetly for their fantastic advice.
I always tell parents that new babies are like a blank piece of paper; they are brand new in this world and are learning about it, just as you are learning to be this new little person’s parents. So trying to work out what they want and why they are crying will completely take over your life.
When you bring your little one home, they won’t understand the difference between night and day for a few weeks, which means they may want to sleep all day and party all night! So to try to help them to adjust to this, make sure you follow these rules.
Days are light and noisy, with people chatting, the TV on, going out and waking for feeds.
Try to wake your baby at least every three hours during day time so that they get the feeds they need. This promotes breastfeeding, as it encourages your milk production. If you let your baby sleep all day, they will miss out on feeds, then wake in the night to catch up.
Nights are calm, quiet and dark.
During the night, you should let your baby sleep as long as they want to (unless your midwife/paediatrician tells you differently). Up to about four to six weeks of age, your baby will have dirty nappies in the night as well as during the day, so you will need to change your baby’s nappy. This will stop when their body clock adjusts to knowing the difference between day and night.
Your baby will usually want to sleep – a lot!
Your baby will be asleep more often than they are awake, especially in the first two weeks, so take advantage of this and rest yourself. I always suggest to my mums that the first morning feed is naked to improve skin-to-skin contact, then let your baby go straight back to sleep in their crib and you can go straight back to sleep too.
During the day your baby will only be awake for one hour at a time between naps.
That’s just enough time to change their nappy, feed them and have a little chat and play with your baby before another nap time. Most people don’t realise how much sleep babies really need. They naturally need around five to six hours of sleep over four or five nap times. Babies get upset when they are tired and parents can’t work out why they are crying. It’s usually because they are overtired and overstimulated, so take them to a quiet room, draw the curtains, swaddle them (always use a light, breathable stretchy material) and let them go to the land of nod.
During the first couple of weeks, most parents want to have their baby downstairs with them until they go to bed. You can start a bedtime routine with a bath or top and tail, a lovely massage, pop their PJs on, have a feed somewhere quiet and comfortable and then swaddle and settle them into the Moses basket or crib whilst you and your other half eat and relax. Later on, you can start settling baby in your room, or in their nursery until you come to bed, settle them in your room ready for the night. Newborns will naturally need 10-12 hours of sleep at night, waking two or three times to feed. This will total 17-19 hours out of the 24.
This feed is a really great idea as it helps you and your baby to sleep better. All babies naturally have one long sleep during each 24 hour period, which extends as they get older. They should be able to sleep for a four to five hour stretch, so wake them out of a deep sleep just as you are ready to go to bed, feed and resettle them. This means the long stretch occurs when you have your long stretch of sleep. This helps improves milk production and of course, you are all more rested.
It is a wonderful and overwhelming time when you have a new little person in your life. Try and listen to your instincts and remember that your baby doesn’t just cry because they are hungry. It’s usually because they are tired too, maybe have a dirty nappy or wind. So start to get to know your baby better by watching and listening for their sleep and feeding cues and soon you will be an expert on your own baby!
Jo Tantum is the UK’s leading Baby Sleep and Twins Expert. She is Author of ‘Baby Secret’
Jo also heads up Prestige Parenting, an agency for Maternity Nurses, Nannies and other household staff.