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Newborn Sleep: what's normal

It's a common experience for new parents to find that their baby prefers to sleep in close proximity to them, especially with their mother. This desire for closeness and comfort is deeply rooted in a baby's instinctual need for security and nourishment. As a new parent, one of the most challenging aspects of caring for your baby is understanding their sleep patterns. Newborns have distinct sleep needs and behaviors that can be quite different from adults. However, by gaining insight into their sleep patterns and the influence of circadian rhythms, you can better navigate the wonderful world of baby sleep. In this blog post, we will explore normal sleep patterns for new babies and ways to manage those tough newborn nights.

Why do new babies often want to sleep on their mum / caregiver?

1. A Sense of Security

After spending nine months in the womb, a baby is accustomed to the warmth, movement, and constant presence of their mother. Being close to their mum or caregiver replicates this environment, providing a sense of security and comfort that can promote more restful sleep.

2. Physical Proximity

Newborns have an innate need for physical contact and reassurance. The smell, touch, and sound of their mother or caregiver can have a calming effect, regulate their body temperature, and even help regulate their heart rate and breathing patterns.

3. For Nourishment and Bonding

Frequent nighttime feedings are a normal part of caring for a newborn. Having the baby in close proximity makes breastfeeding more convenient, promotes bonding between mother and child, and facilitates responsive feeding. This is also true for bottle feeding, especially for picking up on babies hunger cues.

Understanding Newborn Sleep Patterns

Newborn babies - typically up to three months old (what is called the '4th trimester') - spend a significant portion of their day asleep. However, their sleep is often fragmented and occurs in shorter cycles than that of older children or adults. On average, newborns sleep for approximately 16 to 17 hours a day, but this sleep is distributed unevenly throughout 24 hours. Babies at this stage often sleep for short durations, ranging from a few minutes to a few hours, before waking up again. This means that they can often fall short of the expectation of 'sleeping through the night' as they can frequently wake for feeding, comfort, or the end of a sleep cycle. Although less common, some babies will and do sleep through the night, although it is not unusual for this to change around 4 months time as there is a developmental change in sleep patterns around this time.

The Importance of Circadian Rhythms

Circadian rhythms are natural, internal processes that regulate the sleep-wake cycles of all living beings, including newborns. These rhythms are influenced by external cues, such as light and darkness, and play a crucial role in setting the body's internal clock, newborns have not yet developed a fully mature circadian system.

During pregnancy, the mother's body provides a regulated environment for the baby, including consistent light and darkness cues. However, after birth, it takes time for a baby to adjust to the new external environment and establish their own circadian rhythm. As a result, newborns have irregular sleep patterns that may not align with day and night. This develops over time, and can be helped by exposing baby to natural sunlight early on in the morning and getting as much time outside during the day as possible.

Understanding the normal sleep patterns of newborns and the role of circadian rhythms can provide valuable insights into your baby's sleep behaviors. Whilst their sleep may be irregular in the early months, establishing a consistent sleep routine, providing a sleep-friendly environment, and following safe sleep practices can help support healthy sleep patterns as your baby grows.

The desire for babies to sleep close to their mum is a natural instinct rooted in their need for security, comfort, and nourishment. Understanding why babies prefer this closeness and following safe bed sharing/co-sleeping practices is essential for the well-being of both the baby and the parents.

Remember, each baby is unique, and it's essential to be patient and flexible in adapting to their evolving sleep needs.

Did you know? We talk about baby sleep and sleep regressions in 2 of our Postnatal Classes ran from Beyond the Bump Hub in Leamington Spa.

In the 4th Trimester class we cover newborn sleep & in our Postnatal Plus + session we cover baby sleep, infant sleep, routines, and sleep regressions. Click below to book onto a session today

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