For at least the first three or four weeks, your newborn baby sleeps and eats and needs changing, day and night, and the sleeping and feeding are very closely related. Not surprisingly, the major concerns for new mothers and new parents are about sleeping and eating.
There is no right way to approach these anxieties as every baby is an individual, every parent is different and every culture has its own ways of dealing with newborn babies. But there are tips that can make it easier for you.
- The most important advice, apart from knowing that you can't really go wrong, is to look after yourself. The sleepless nights and responsibility of a newborn are demanding. Finding time to catch up on rest is essential as it is very easy to become exhausted and irritable.
- It's tempting to use your baby's sleep times to catch up on housework, but try to have a sleep or proper rest at least once a day; try to eat well and get some exercise and fresh air.
- Most newborns sleep about eight to nine hours in the daytime and about the same at night. That's about 16 to 18 hours out of every 24 hours.
- Newborns have small stomachs and must wake every few hours to eat. Breastfeeding babies feed a bit more often than bottle-fed babies as breast milk is digested more quickly than formula. Generally, your baby will wake and be ready to eat about every two to four hours. Then they drop back to sleep. You have to keep the same rhythm as your baby and the broken sleep of the first few months is tough.
- Sleeping is one thing your baby does not need you for. Your newborn can sleep in her own bassinette, pram, portable basket or cot as soon as she comes home. You can place a portable bed next to your bed at night so that it is easy for you to feed her as soon as she wakes and you can move it during the day so that she is near you. In the first five to six weeks, don't let your newborn sleep longer than five hours at a time.
- Co-sleeping can be risky for the newborn, especially if the mother falls asleep while feeding and there are soft pillows or loose covers around. You risk smothering or crushing your baby.
- As your baby gets older, it may be hard to break a habit that has been established if you started co-sleeping. Breastfeeding may be easier if your baby is sleeping in your bed in the first weeks but she may be able to smell your breast milk and get into the habit of waking more regularly for feeding. (Some mothers are happy to accept this.)
- Never put your baby into bed with a bottle propped for feeding (which can lead to ear infections and choking) and don't smoke anywhere near your baby.
- Ask for help from your doctor or community health centre if you are worried about anything at all and accept the support of family and friends.
Getting baby to sleep through the night is an aim of all parents. The sleepless nights don't last, but each baby has her own individual schedule. Research in Australia shows that by 12 months of age, only 38 percent of babies are sleeping through the night, 49 percent are waking once or twice a night and another 10 percent are still waking three or four times a night. So keep your expectations realistic.
By the time your newborn is three months old or weighs about 6kg, she will start sleeping for longer periods through the night (six to eight hours) without waking. Babies need to be able to last longer between feeds before they can sleep longer.
Between three to six months, some babies have two or three long sleeps during the day, while others still have short naps. Some sleep 12 hours at night without interruption, some manage eight hours while many others wake for fairly regular feeds. Many newborns have their days and nights confused but hopefully by six months of age most babies have learned to sleep more at night than during the day.