Sleep - The First Six Weeks

Your baby is a day old. The shock of having given birth has finally sunk in and suddenly you are faced with the reality of total unrelenting responsibility for a brand new baby. I’m guessing at this point you’re probably feeling massively overwhelmed by everything and what you’d love more than anything in the world is to curl up in bed, enjoy 8 hours of undisturbed sleep and regain some energy and focus. Then you find out that everything you have ever read in a baby book, or learned at an antenatal class is true. Babies definitely wake up. A LOT.

How Will My Newborn Sleep?

The first 24 hours post-birth often give parents a false sense of security as they may have one great night with lengthy chunks of sleep and an apparently contented baby. This is often called the ‘recovery sleep’ - essentially it’s your baby’s way of getting over the trauma of being born.

In the days that follow, parents often describe a sudden change and they become aware of just how often a newborn needs to wake at night. I say ‘needs’ because they do! The stomach of a newborn baby is the size of a marble, therefore they need small, frequent milk feeds in order to satisfy their hunger and gain essential nutrients. The big, wide world is also a massive culture shock for a newborn. The environment inside the womb is warm, dark, comforting and almost in constant movement. Suddenly they are having to experience cold air, light, a flat, motionless sleep surface and new noises, smells and sensations. Expecting them to adjust to this immediately is impossible. The key is to understand that frequent night waking is expected and very normal. The task is to find strategies to help you cope well with this as a family.

Arranging Your Sleep Space

First thing first, create a sleep space that is as convenient as possible. There are three options for sleep at night in a baby under 6 months; in a cot or Moses basket in the same room as their parents, in a side crib safely attached to the mother’s bed or sleeping in bed with the mother (co-sleeping). The Lullaby Trust offers full guidance for safe sleep in babies and it is essential that these rules are followed to ensure SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and other sleep-related risks are prevented.

Once you have chosen a safe sleep space for your baby, you may wish to consider what you might need to hand during the night. A changing area in the same room with nappies, creams and spare clothes would be very useful. If you are bottle-feeding, ensure equipment is sterilised and stored conveniently before you go to bed. If you are breastfeeding, have a basket with breast pads, muslin cloths, nipple cream close at hand. Finally, have your phone or a book available for some night feed entertainment and light which you can operate without having to leave your bed! These may all sound like simple suggestions but convenience really is the key to achieving as much sleep as possible!

Breastfeeding and Sleep

If you are exclusively breastfeeding, night feeds are solely down to you! However, your partner can help by settling the baby back in the sleep space after a feed, ensuring you have water and are comfortable and by getting up with the baby in the morning, allowing you an extra little while to rest. Sleeping as close to your baby as possible when breastfeeding (either in the same bed or with baby in a side crib attached to your bed) often makes night feeds quicker and easier. You can simply slide the baby over without having to sit up, feed lying on your side and slide baby back away once he has finished feeding. Again do ensure safe sleep practices are always followed. Often breastfeeding mothers, when asked the next morning, simply cannot recall how often or for how long their baby fed because neither mother nor baby fully awoke during a feed. Both were drowsy and sleepy, baby had a quick feed and went back off to sleep without disturbance! This kind of feeding will take a while to achieve so don’t expect this to happen on day 1 but it is absolutely possible!

Essentially the message here is that all newborn babies wake frequently at night, it is normal and of fact good for your babies development and wellbeing. The aim is to respond to their waking with comfort and nutrition as and when they indicate a need whilst ensuring your environment is set up for maximum comfort and minimum disturbance! Keep an eye on the blog as I’ll be adding a post later on which explores sleep in older babies and toddlers, so when you reach this stage pop back for a read!