The average newborn sleeps much of the day and night, waking only for feedings every few hours. It is often hard for new parents to know how long and how often a newborn should sleep. Unfortunately, there is no set schedule at first and many newborns have their days and nights confused. They think they are supposed to be awake at night and sleep during the day.
General guidelines about newborn sleep
- Newborns sleep about 8 to 9 hours in the daytime and about 8 hours at night.
- Most babies do not begin sleeping through the night (6 to 8 hours) until at least 3 months of age, or until they weigh 12 to 13 pounds. However, this varies considerably and some babies do not sleep through the night until closer to 1 year old.
- Newborns and young infants have small stomachs and must wake every few hours to eat. In most cases, your baby will awaken and be ready to eat about every 3 hours.
- How often your baby will eat depends on what he or she is being fed and his or her age. Make sure you talk with your doctor to determine if it is necessary to wake a baby for feedings.
Watch for changes in your baby's sleep pattern. If your baby has been sleeping consistently, and suddenly is waking, there may be a problem such as an ear infection. Some sleep disturbances are simply due to changes in development or because of overstimulation.
What are the different alert phases of a newborn?
Babies also have differences in how alert they are during the time they are awake. When a newborn awakens at the end of the sleep cycles, there is typically a quiet alert phase. This is a time when the baby is very still, but awake and taking in the environment. A few tips about the alert phase:
- Quiet alert time - Babies may look or stare at objects, and respond to sounds and motion.
- Active alert phase - Baby is attentive to sounds and sights, and moves actively.
- Crying phase - Babies can easily get overstimulated during the crying phase. It is usually best to find a way of calming the baby and the environment. Holding a baby close or swaddling (wrapping snugly in a blanket) may help calm a crying baby.
It is usually best to feed babies before they reach the crying phase. During the crying phase, they can be so upset that they may refuse the breast or bottle. In newborns, crying is a late sign of hunger.
How to Help Your Baby Fall to Sleep
Not all babies know how to put themselves to sleep. When it is time for bed, many parents want to rock or breastfeed a baby to sleep. A few tips:
- Establishing a routine at bedtime is a good idea.
- Be sure that the baby does not fall asleep while eating or in your arms. This may become a pattern and the baby may begin to expect to be in your arms in order to fall asleep. When the baby briefly awakens during a sleep cycle, he or she may not be able to go back to sleep on his or her own.
- Most experts recommend allowing a baby to become sleepy in your arms, then placing him or her in the bed while still awake. This way the baby learns how to go to sleep on his own.
- Playing soft music while your baby is getting sleepy is also a good way to help establish a bedtime routine.