Newborn Sleep: The Good, The Bad, and The Truth.
Updated: Jul 29, 2018
"Your baby is simply not ready to
sleep through the night yet."
All throughout my pregnancy, I remember thinking how amazing my body was, and how perfectly designed we are for childbirth. From the organs moving up in our body to make room; our breasts knowing when to produce milk; contractions starting when the baby is ready to make an entrance - it’s all pretty amazing!
At this point, I feel many of us stop exclaiming about how perfectly designed it all is. We focus on one flaw newborns have in particular: that our baby won’t sleep through the night. But how many of us stop to consider that this is part of the design? That this is exactly how it should be?
Scientists claim that babies must wake every 4 hours or so at the very least in order to take in the vital nutrients from a feed and to prevent SIDS, as a deep sleep can be dangerous to a baby who is not able to rouse themselves (as their breathing is irregular) and move away from dangers such as suffocation. This is why health professionals would advise you wake them if they’ve slept longer than 4 hours - something I think very few parents would actually do if everyone is having a nice kip!
Yet because we all know mums whose babies ‘sleep through the night’ from day dot, many of us assume we are therefore doing something wrong if our baby follows that natural pattern of regular night time waking. Plus, as new parents you are exhausted anyway, and you can’t help but long for the pre-baby 8 hour slumber! The truth is that some professionals say that a baby sleeping for 5 hours counts as sleeping through the night’. For some of us, we need to lower our expectations for our babies at this stage!
You may also hear that your baby will sleep slightly longer on formula because it has a much higher fat content and takes longer to digest. This is a big reason why many mums choose to ditch breast for bottle, and also the thought of your partner sharing the night feeds sounds appealing to any tired mum! However, not all babies sleep longer on formula so do weigh this up against the bottle prep you will have to do in the middle of the night, as even the prep machines seem to take too long when you’re shattered at 4am! Check out our pages on breast and bottle feeding for further advice.
If you do stick with breastfeeding, there will be no need to get out of bed for bottle prep; just latch them on and hopefully doze as they feed. As you cannot share feeds, your partner could do nappy changes instead to help you doze.
Regardless of how you feed your baby, if they are still regularly waking at night remember that they are doing it for a very good reason and they will grow out of it when they no longer NEED to wake at night. Your baby is not manipulating you. Your baby needs you. However, despite being told this by the midwives and health visitors, there will still be some people who advocate rushing the process and sleep training a baby in order to promote longer spells of sleep. Having heard many new mums with young babies discuss the ‘cry it out’ method (something you might be nagged to do by older relatives because back in the day that’s what they did) it must be said that this should not be considered until the baby is much older, if ever - but that’s another blog for another time!
At this age, your baby cries when they need something, and they might just need you. The cry is again perfectly designed to be hard to ignore! It makes us - particularly mothers - want to jump up and soothe our child. Understanding and navigating this world is overwhelming for adults, let alone your little one. You are not creating a rod for you own back by comforting your child when they cry; you will not have an 18yr old unable to ‘self-soothe’! Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for giving them a cuddle when they cry in the middle of the night, and try to remember that by responding to their needs, you are doing what you are meant to do. You are a mother - perfectly designed to meet the needs of your child, even if that need is just to be with you. Unfortunately, they may want to do this at 3am - but it won’t be like this forever. Babies will learn to sleep longer when they no longer need to wake up regularly as a protective method, and their stomachs will get bigger to cope with bigger feeds.
Of course, there does come an age when we should expect children to sleep through the night. And if yours already is, enjoy catching up on your own sleep! But if your baby is still waking regularly, don’t be hard on yourself - or your baby. And remember, this stage is normal and doesn’t last forever (thank goodness!).
Please like the post if you found the content reassuring and comment to show solidarity for other mothers who might be worrying about their baby's sleep!
There are some links below you may find helpful for more info and tips on newborn sleep: