How Does a New Parent Sleep?

Canva Design DAFLAVkLKXsGetting a good night’s sleep can be challenging for anyone — especially if you have a new little cutie that always seems to be awake when you want to be in bed. So how can you finally catch some ZZZs? Well, first let’s dive into the sleep patterns of newborns.

Do babies really “sleep like a baby?”

If “sleep like a baby” means sleep soundly, then not really. Thing is, sleep is a developmental skill, just like walking or talking. Newborns sleep about 18 to 20 hours per day, but in short spurts. As they get older, they need less sleep, their sleep is more consolidated, and naps are less frequent.  

Transitioning into the world

Having been cozy in the womb for 40 weeks, newborns have been thrust into the bright, loud world, and they have not yet developed a circadian rhythm. What’s more, they have an instinctual need to be with mom or another close family member. They know mom’s voice, smell, and heartbeat, and being cuddled by someone helps with their state regulation and brain development.

Should you try to alter these patterns?

 Some might argue that you should be cautious about adopting sleep training strategies like the “crying-it-out” method (allowing your baby to cry until falling asleep, with no help from you). That’s because this could cause your baby to sleep through feeding times when it’s still very developmentally appropriate to eat in the middle of the night.

Safe sleep

 Regardless of whether your family chooses to bedshare, sleep train, or some middle-ground solution, it’s important to know the basics of safe sleep:

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:

  • Always place babies on their back.
  • Use a firm, flat surface, free of any cushions, pillows, or blankets.
  • Let your baby sleep in your room for the first six months.
  • Offer a pacifier.
  • Avoid overheating and placing hats on your baby.

Survival skills

So, the question remains — how do you get some sleep? Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Keep daytime bright and loud and nighttime dark and quiet.
  • Develop a consistent bedtime routine, regardless of your baby’s wake-ups.
  • Talk to other adults in the house about how you can share nighttime duties.
  • Keep necessary supplies for wake-ups within arm’s reach.
  • Try not to limit breastfeeding at night.
  • Limit screen time at night; instead, consider books or magazines with a reading light.
  • Avoid large meals at night.
  • Try sleep-promoting foods, like dark cherries/cherry juice, low-fat yogurt, milk, or whole-grain crackers.
  • Limit heavy exercise at night, but try to exercise during the day if you can.
  • Get help if you’re struggling. Sometimes sleep concerns and stress can be aggravated by postpartum depression or anxiety.

Remember that sleep issues eventually pass, and it’s normal to feel like the cycle will never end.

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