What to Expect with Newborn Sleep

The basics of newborn sleep and how to cope.

As an expectant or new mom, I’m sure sleep is at the forefront of your mind. You’ve heard all about how sleep, while necessary to your well-being, will be a thing of the past for a while. You need to know just what you are facing, so let me  get you started with the basics.

What to Expect with Newborn Sleep

How Much Sleep is Your Newborn Getting?

During the first three months of life, a newborn can sleep anywhere from twelve to eighteen hours every day. But because her stomach is small and she is growing so much, that sleep will be punctuated by feeding and eventually some time of wakefulness. Those feedings will need to be every 2½ - 3 hours including 2-3 overnight feedings for the first several weeks.

What Kind of Sleep is Your Newborn Getting?

You may know we all get two different types of sleep that occur in regular cycles throughout the night: REM (more restless, active sleep, characterized by movements, facial expressions, sounds and irregular breathing patterns) and non-REM (quieter, deeper and more peaceful sleep, characterized by little movement and relaxed, regular breathing). A newborn passes through a sleep cycle every 30-45 minutes and because they are spending less time in non-REM sleep, it’s possible for them to rouse easier and more frequently.

When Does is Start to Change?

Between 3-6 weeks babies begin to lengthen their time awake during the day as well as lengthen their time asleep at night. If you are following a parent-directed sleep training routine like that in On Becoming Babywise, you will begin to merge the 2:00 a.m. feeding with the 5:00 a.m. feeding. Baby will wake for a 3:00 a.m. feeding and then sleep until 6:30 or 7:00 a.m.

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Typically around 7-10 weeks babies are able to sleep 7 hours in a stretch and may be able to drop the middle of the night feeding.  

What Should I Do in the Meantime?

For as much sleep as Baby is getting the first several weeks of her young life, you are getting far less. And certainly not any consistent or large chunks of sleep to give you the energy and brain power you need to care for your sweet new bundle. So how do you cope?

  • If you are breastfeeding, try pumping enough extra so that your husband can get up for the early morning feeding and give you an extra few hours of sleep. It’s amazing how four or five straight hours of sleep will feel after only getting two or three.
  • Despite all you have to do around the house, sleep when the baby sleeps as much as possible. It’s hard to let the housework go for a bit, but your state of mind is important right now and you need as much sleep as you can get. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your spouse or friends.
  • Start getting Baby on a feed-wake-sleep pattern as laid out in On Becoming Babywise. Develop bedtime routines to clue her into night-time sleep and day-time sleep as her circadian rhythms may be off at first and will need to be taught the difference between night and day.
  • Look for little moments of peace and be thankful for them. Notice when a friend calls or brings you a cup of coffee exactly when you need it. Pay attention to how your husband is loving you well and thank him for it.

Of course, no amount of research and advice can truly prepare you for what it's like to have a newborn, so go easy on yourself, rest while you can and trust your instincts. 

Know that this is a challenging time in any mother's life and you will get through it. It’s okay to feel like you are just surviving right now but trust me, it will not always feel that way.

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Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.

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