Newborn Sleep Expectations – Why Newborn Sleep Is Unpredictable and What to Expect

Are you expecting a baby or have a newborn and wondering what you can expect from their sleep in these early weeks? Well, don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. I’m going to share with you exactly what newborn sleep looks like, what you can expect, and how you can best shape things for a future good sleeper.

The first tip I want to share with you is a little golden nugget that we were given by mother nature, and that is those first 48 hours after your baby is born, they tend to sleep a lot. The baby’s probably tired from their venture into the world and of course, a mother is going to be tired after what we go through to bring them into the world. So those first 48 hours are your chance to rest and recover.

So if you’re having your first baby, I would hold off on the family visitors and just say, “Just give me a couple of days, and then you can come and see the new baby.” Because you really need to recover.

So, take the advice and block that time out for yourself for that recovery. You’re going to be in a much better state to be an amazing mommy to that newborn who’s going to be demanding on you in those early weeks and you need to have your strength to do that.

Okay, but what sort of sleep can we expect from a newborn baby?

Well, newborns are typically unable to be awake for more than about 45 minutes to an hour at a time. So, if your baby is awake for longer than that, they’re probably going to start to get fractious and they’ll be fussing, perhaps crying. And sometimes especially as a new parent, we might not know why. And we often have that go-to solution, which is, “Oh, the baby’s crying, it must be hungry.” But sometimes they will just be tired.

It’s natural to respond to a crying baby with things like rocking them and feeding them and pacing the room with them. But sometimes you can do all these things and they’re still crying and they’re still fussing and it’s just that they want to be asleep. They don’t know how to put themselves to sleep. They have no idea how to get into that place. So they rely on us to pretty much do it for them in these early weeks. But knowing that 45 minutes to an hour is about the maximum wait time they can handle can really help you watch the clock. And if your little one isn’t fussing and seems quite happy, still get them down for that nap because when they do start crying and fussing, it’s possibly too late. And if they’ve gone past tired and into an overtired state, they may be wired and it’s much harder to settle an overtired baby than it is to settle a content, but tired, baby.

The next tip for you is to consider the daytime and nighttime environments. By helping to demonstrate those, you can set triggers and cues up for your baby and really help them to get their circadian rhythm, which is their body clock into a really good pattern and recognising night and day.

Make sure the room is nice and dark when it’s nighttime and when it’s daytime and time to be awake, make sure they’re in a light environment. Different seasons will require you to work harder at this. You’ll need to block out all the daylight creeping in during the summer months and you’ll need to turn on lights in the wintertime when it’s still dark in the morning.

It’s not just the light in the room that sends day and night signals to your baby, it’s also you as a parent, your ‘parent mode’, as I call it. You can have a daytime and nighttime mode as well.

When it’s daytime, you’re engaged, you’re animated and your face is expressive and you’ve got a full voice that comes out. You’re talking to them, you’re interacting with them. And that’s very much a daytime mode. When it’s nighttime, we want to take YOU into nighttime mode. And this is where you’re very bland and boring. The voice goes, and it’s nothing more than a whisper or a shushing sound. So, there’s no engaging, eye contact, or animated facial expressions. It’s just all bland. Not cold or stand-offish at all, just bland and boring. And being in that unengaging state helps your little one to calm and settle. They’re not expecting more from you. And again, it’s a trigger, it’s a cue, “Ah, this is how we’re in the day. And this is how we’re when it’s sleep time.” So it really will help them.

The next thing to know is that babies, especially newborns are likely to be able to sleep pretty much anywhere, which is great. So yes, they can sleep on the go. If they’re falling asleep after every hour of awake time, then they’re going to need to be pretty flexible and they will nod off on the go. Now, ‘on the go’ is one thing, but loud, crazy hectic environments are another thing.

Sure, your baby will potentially sleep in a loud environment, but that doesn’t mean they’re getting the best quality of sleep.

I remember with one of mine, when she was very tiny, possibly just a few weeks old, we went to a carnival and she was asleep in the pram and we were walking along with our toddler. There was a band and it was noisy and hectic. She was asleep, which on the outside would seem fine, right? You think, “That’s okay, she’s having a sleep.”

The truth is when little ones are asleep, but in that kind of environment, a part of them is aware of that. They’re not getting the same deep quality sleep as they would get in a more restful or calmer environment. And typically it’s the calmer daytime environment that leads to a better night’s sleep as well. So if you find your little one is very wakeful in the night, it could be because even though they may be sleeping in the day, it may be in a rather hectic environment, so they’re not getting the quality of sleep they really need.

Now, I’ve one more newborn sleep tip for you and this is a great one.

So, very early on, from around 2-3 weeks old, try to get into a rhythm of feeding upon waking. So, when your baby wakes for the day, they have their milk and then they play, and after their wake time, they go to settle to sleep. And then when they wake up again, they feed upon waking. And the beauty of this feed upon waking is that it has so many benefits.

First of all, you don’t start a routine or habit of feeding your baby to sleep. So if they’ve been awake for a while, then you feed them and they nod off, that could be because you left it too late for them to go back to sleep. But you and your baby could become reliant on using milk as a means to get to sleep, which can, in turn, lead to overfeeding.

It can also lead to digestive discomfort because they’re filling up with milk and then laying down and it’s not very comfortable for the digestive system. And all sorts of other problems can accumulate if feeding to sleep, or right ahead of sleep becomes everyday practice.

Of course, feed your hungry baby, whenever they’re hungry. But if you can try to get that feeding to take place in a rhythm of – wake up, feed, play, sleep, wake up, feed, play, sleep – you’ll definitely help your baby to develop really healthy feeding and sleeping rhythms.

It might not go perfectly every time, but it’s definitely a good practice to adopt if you can and simply being aware of this will make you more vigilant and more mindful of it.

Here is a little story for you about my first… when the sleep deprivation was horrendous when he was first born, and just to share with you how I wished I could have had that first 48 hours for recovery.

It was a rather exhausting birth and he was in neonatal. I was unfortunately disturbed in the middle of the night when I was trying to get that rest and I was moved from a private room to a ward, which was completely unnecessary. That room was still empty in the morning, it wasn’t needed for anybody else, and I should have been left to rest and recover, but I wasn’t. And not only did that cause an emotional upset for me at the time, it kind of had a spiral effect that pretty much led to six months of some degree of postnatal traumatic stress. It was a trauma that spiralled from there.

Because I couldn’t get that sleep, the sleep deprivation built up during that first week of my baby’s life while we were in the hospital. I was in the worst mental place that I’ve ever known because of sleep deprivation. And I remember what it felt like. I remember describing it to my husband as feeling worse than how I felt when my dad died. That’s how much sleep deprivation messes with your head and I would never want to be in that place again. I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody, which is why I do what I do. It was an awful state to be in. So I urge anybody having a baby to try to ring-fence that first 48 hours to recover for yourself. It’s so worthwhile.

So let’s recap on those tips:

1. First 48 hours – rest, recover and get that sleep that your little one is hopefully going to let you get.
2. When your baby is awake, they shouldn’t really be awake for more than 45 minutes to an hour before it’s time for them to go back to sleep again.
3. Don’t wait for them to tell you they’re tired, they don’t do that, or if they do, it’s when it’s too late. The only time they tell you they’re tired is when they’re overtired. So catch them at the opportune window after 45 minutes to an hour and get them off for a sleep.
4. Get that environment setup and your parent mode practised so that you can help your little to distinguish day and night. And try to have them sleeping in restful or somewhat calm environments rather than really hectic environments in the day (or at least if not all of the time, most of the time).
5. The rhythm of feeding upon waking is going to serve you really well in the long run.

So I hope these newborn sleep expectations are going to really help you get off to an absolutely amazing start with your new baby.

Right now, the best thing you can do is jump into our Sweet Dreams video series. It’s a completely free series. If you just click HERE you can get instant access and it’s going to really give you more in-depth knowledge and tools that you can use to guide your baby to be an amazing little sleeper.