Why Your Baby Isn't Sleeping & How To Manage It

Getting sleep as a new parent seems like a losing battle. Your newborn won't sleep for longer than an hour or two at a time and that leaves you with no time to get anything done let alone get any kind of sleep. So why is this and how are you going to survive it?


Babies actually sleep quite a lot. In a 24 hour period they can sleep any where from 12-18 hours. However they do it in increments. While baby was on the inside they relied on your circadian rhythm and your melatonin (the sleep hormone) to get the sleep they needed to grow. They were also not needing to worry about being fed.


When babies are born their brains are functioning strictly on survival and for them, food is going to be the driving force to survival. Therefore their sleep patterns will be dictated by getting fed, digesting and getting hungry again. And because their bellies are so tiny to start, they digest quite quickly and feeding increments can average approximately every two hours, while your mature milk is coming in. Even if you are formula feeding, the increase in sleep won't be significant to get you several hours at a time.


We also find that many times, because feeding may not be going well due to a lack of support in hospital and supplementation being pushed over fixing problems, sleep will take a hit. Once everything falls into place with feeding and the other systems like breathing, heart rate, digestion and movement, baby will begin sleeping through the night. Which is not 8 hours, or 12 hours. Sorry. Sleeping through the night is defined as 5 consecutive hours of sleep, and hopefully that will happen at night. Also, this may not happen until baby is at least 4 months old. At four months baby will begin to produce their own melatonin and at 5-6 months baby will develop their own circadian rhythm. So even if you are going to try sleep training a reputable sleep trainer will give you tips but they won't suggest anything too intense until after baby is about 5-6 months.

Baby's Sleep Patterns

Infants, like adults have two different sleep patterns. A light sleep pattern or REM sleep and a deep sleep pattern or Non-REM sleep.

Light sleep would occur after baby has a good feed and has been burped and is ready to be put down again until the next feed. In this light sleep, which usually happens in someones arms, baby will twitch, shift, sometimes grunt and even half open their eyes or squawk. They are usually in this light sleep for approximately 20 mins. And because its a light sleep they will often wake up when put down, and now the cycle starts again. It is recommended that you or someone hold baby until they have dipped into the deep sleep.


The Non-REM sleep or deep sleep looks like slower rhythmic breathing with very little movement and noise. Putting baby down in this sleep state means baby is less likely to wake up and they will be in this state for approximately an hour. After that they will transition into a light sleep again. If they are hungry they will wake up, if they aren't they will just twitch and shift and grunt for approximately 15-20 mins and then back into the deep sleep state again.


Their sleep patterns are very similar to an adults, however when we transition out of a sleep state, even if we wake up we generally get back to sleep very quickly so we don't notice. Baby's are too immature to put themselves back to sleep so they will need your help to do that, either with feeding or some shhhh-ing and rocking


Understanding these states and what baby looks like in them can be confusing and take time to learn. But spending time with your baby will give you the insight to know if baby is just transitioning or if they are actually waking up to feed. It will take time but that's how we learn.


How To Get More Rest Despite All This

So how can we get you more sleep or rest to manage this sleep learning curve? Helping baby get acquainted to a 24 hour clock is one way to make it through this period. You can do this by making baby part of your routine. Take them shopping, and to appointments, wearing them can be helpful too to keep them close and happy and comfortable when you are out.


Reducing stimulation at night and creating a bedtime routine can be very helpful. Turn off the electronics, give baby a nice warm bath, a massage, a feed and some snuggles with dimmed lighting can move baby into a calm, relaxed state and hopefully down for a good few hours in the evening.


Expose baby and yourself to natural light. Its been shown that getting natural light during the day will help you actually fall asleep faster. Which is always a great thing for everyone. So consider getting outside for walks during the day. Even in the colder weather.


Infant massage as mentioned in the bed time routine has been linked to longer sleeps, less night waking and is a great way for partner to bond with baby that doesn't involve food and if baby is experiencing and gastrointestinal issues that can help and baby sleep longer too.


So how can we get YOU more sleep, not just baby but you. There is an old adage that says, "Sleep when the baby sleeps." And yes that's true. When you have help with you, after baby has fed, pass baby to your support person to burp and settle while you lay down and hopefully get some sleep. Also when things are in the early stages and you are trying to get into a routine, your main focus should be about recovery, feeding baby and resting. Laundry and vacuuming and any other household duties can be left or done by someone else.


When help is offered, take it. When family and friends offer to help you do not always say no. Have a list of things you may need picked up at the store or a list of things that need done. If you have visitors make them pay for the privilege of seeing your new precious human. They should bring dinner, or do some laundry or clean your kitchen. Too many times people come to visit and take on the duties of baby snugglers and in reality what is needed is helpers while you are the baby snuggler. As baby gets bigger and you are into a routine, then those helpers can change to snugglers.


Consider hiring a Doula for some rest if you don't have family or friends who can support you. Hiring a daytime doula can help you get naps and they can do chores around the house while you nap. A nighttime doula can help with feedings over night and settle baby after feeds so you can go right back to sleep.


Remember that infants are too developmentally immature to sleep on their own in the beginning. Being on the outside of your body is scary for them, and don't we all need to feel safe and secure to sleep well? Its no different for a baby has had their whole world change. They won't be this bad at sleeping forever, but they will need time. Good luck.



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