Newborns and sleep: the facts

Congratulations! You're a new mum! There are some things you should know about newborns and sleep...

If there's one thing that's a given, as a new mum, you need to forget everything you ever knew about sleep and relearn the lot. We're talking about how much sleep you get, when you get that sleep, how much sleep your baby will get and when he or she will get that sleep - the lot! We're here to talk you through it, with the help of some brilliant experts, and these guys really know their stuff. Don't worry, it's going to be fine!


How much does a newborn sleep?

In the first few days of his or her life, your newborn baby will sleep a lot. In fact, new mums often find their baby sleeps more than it’s awake in the first 24 hours. Sleep expert Tina Southwood says this is because birth is as tiring for the baby as it is for the mother. “It does vary from baby to baby, depending on the type of delivery they’ve had, but the birth can be difficult for them, and this leads to them being very sleepy,” she says.

At the start of their life, a baby's requirements are very basic – sleep, food, nappy change, cuddles - and usually, when your newborn wakes up, it’s because they're hungry. If your baby is having a particularly long sleep in those early days, Tina recommends waking him or her to feed. “I encourage mums to wake their babies to feed in the first couple of weeks, until their birth weight is up [babies drop an average of 10% of their birth weight in their first few weeks] and if you’re breastfeeding, doing this will help encourage your milk supply,” she says.

During the first few weeks of your baby’s life, they won’t know the difference between day and night, instead just sleeping when he’s tired and waking when he’s hungry or needs a nappy change. “So long as your baby has a small amount of awake time during nappy changes during the day, that’s all that is needed,” says Tina. “You cannot, and should not, try to keep your baby awake in the early weeks.”

As the weeks go by, there are easy things you can do to gently help your baby differentiate between day and night. You can make day time a little more noisy. Do active things, like vacuuming with music on in the background. Go out into the fresh air for a walk. Then make night time a peaceful, calm and quiet time. They'll soon, and quite quickly, notice the difference between the two.

How much should you expect to sleep?

Let's be totally honest here - sleeping in the first 24 hours after giving birth is hard! Despite the fact that you’ll be feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, the last thing you’ll want to do is snooze. You’ll have a million emotions sweeping through your head and some mums say they feel a ‘high’ for the first couple of days. Midwife Clemmie Hooper explains why this happens, saying, “Adrenaline will be pumping through your body – you’ll have just done this amazing thing, giving birth to another human being, and the adrenaline produced by your body can last for a good 24-48 hours.” It can be so hard to make ourselves switch off - especially when we want to update our friends by text and post cute baby photos on Facebook. “Take a post-birth playlist with proper chill out tunes,” suggests Clemmie. “Listen to it on headphones at 3am when you can’t sleep to relax your mind.”

In the first few weeks of being at home with your baby, it's important to get snatches of sleep as and when you can - no matter how hard it feels! Well-meaning friends tell us to "sleep when the baby is sleeping" but as annoying as this can be, there's actually a lot of sense in this advice. After all, newborns get more than enough sleep, so mums can too. It's easier said than done, though. You may have family and friends popping over to see you, you might feel pressure to get through the ever-growing mountain of laundry and you might feel anxious about your newborn in lots of ways. Hormone levels can dip, after the post-birth high, leaving you feeling low, which affects sleep too.

Ask family members to help with housework and anything else you feel you ‘have’ to do. Try to calm your racing brain (that post-birth chill out playlist will come in handy again) and tell yourself the best thing you can do for your baby right now is sleep. Even a half an hour power nap can make you feel lots better both physically and mentally. Half an hour is a tiny amount of time in a long day - so don't feel guilty about snoozing!

Do you have any tips for coping with sleepless nights and a newborn? Share them below in the comments! Now read Sleep in pregnancy: the facts and How much sleep should we be getting?

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