You never thought getting a newborn to sleep would be easy, but if you find erratic habits are taking over your life, make some adjustments
A newborn sleeps. A lot. Every day, 16 and a half precious hours are taken up by slumber. But when the other seven and a half are metred out every couple of hours and need the same amount of prep as a Lady Gaga costume change, it may feel that your new arrival is awake for much, much longer.
Don't worry – even at a few weeks old, there are tricks to make her sleep/wake cycle smoother.
1. Distinguishing day from night
There are no clocks or lights in the womb, so babies emerge without knowing the difference between night and day.
Solution: Your baby’s body clock takes a few weeks to adjust so, in the meantime, concentrate on maintaining your energy levels. ‘Keep chores to a minimum for the first few weeks, eat slow-release energy foods, such as nuts, bananas and porridge, and sleep whenever you can,’ says midwife Mandy Gurney, founder of Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic.
Eat slow-release energy foods, such as nuts, bananas and porridge, and sleep whenever you can
2. Long and frequent feeds
Some babies can take up to an hour or longer to feed and, no sooner have you fed, changed and settled her, than she’s awake for more food.
Solution: Be breast aware. ‘Feel how heavy your boobs are before you give a feed,’ says Alison. ‘Newborns should take between 20 to 30 minutes on each side to get what they need. After that, gently take her off and feel your breasts. If they’re empty, it’s a good sign.’ To maximise the short window you have between feeds, don’t change your baby at night unless she needs it.
3. Hard to wind
Wind can stop your baby from sleeping, which then leaves you and her exhausted. Signs your baby has wind include pulling up her knees, squirming, crying and arching her back.
Solution: Notice how she feeds. ‘Is she taking in too much air? Is the latch right? Does the formula agree with her? These are all questions your health visitor can answer,’ says Alison. Gripe water – an old-fashioned remedy with herbs and sodium bicarbonate – could help, as it breaks down air bubbles.
4. Sleep all day, awake all night
You’ve moved from your baby waking every few hours around the clock to her sleeping longer in the day. This can be frustrating because, while you might enjoy the downtime in the day, you pay for it at night.
Solution: To shift her body clock back, you need to show her the difference between night and day. ‘In the day, interact, sing and talk to your baby but, at night, do the opposite – no talking or eye contact,’ says Mandy. While it may be tempting to let her sleep for long periods in the afternoon so you can get something done, don’t.
5. Crying and waking a lot
If your baby is tired, hungry or uncomfortable, she will tell you in the only way she can, by crying. ‘If you get into a snack/snooze habit – where your baby only feeds a little before falling asleep – she will keep waking up hungry, won’t get enough quality rest and be constantly overtired and upset,’ says Mandy.
Solution: Don’t let her nap mid-feed. Try tickling her feet or changing her nappy to keep her awake,’ says Alison. Soothers can extend feeding times, while rocking, singing or placing a muslin with your smell in her cot can encourage sleep. ‘It’s fine to use whatever helps in the first six weeks – it’s more important you get the timing right, rather than the technique,’ says Mandy.
6. No routine
You may be exhausted and struggling to work out what to do next, never mind think about a routine. But having some sort of order to your day can really help.
Solution: Routine doesn’t mean strict timetables, it’s about giving you a guide. ‘Once feeding is established, it’s good to follow a three-hourly pattern that involves feeding, nappy changing and sleep, and make sure you get some fresh air, too,’ says Alison. It also means you can get in a bit of time to catch up on that Game of Thrones box set, too.
Do you have any top tips for establishing a sleep cycle? Let us know below.