Parent guide to newborn sleep
It may not feel like it to new parents, but newborn babies need a lot of sleep - as much as 18 hours a day. Premature babies need even more than that. Below are some tips and techniques for getting their newborn to sleep.
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It may not feel like it to new parents, but newborn babies need a lot of sleep – as much as 18 hours a day. Premature babies need even more sleep – as much as 90% of the day.

Babies grow best when they are sleeping soundly, laying down glucose and fat reserves to fuel their rapid growth and development. It is also the time when they adapt to life outside the womb and adjust their sleep-wake cycle.

Pre-born and newborn babies are a lot more active at night because they have not yet learnt that night-time is sleep time – this occurs only from about the sixth to the eighth week of life when the hormone melatonin is released to regulate the circadian rhythms that determine our biological clocks in relation to sleeping, eating, etc.

During the first few months of life, mother and baby need time to establish a feeding and a bonding routine. This gradually becomes a pattern initiated by social cues and hunger pangs.

Observing self-comforting behaviour and the way your baby transitions from a sleep state to an awake state is a good way to learn his personality and sleep patterns.

The sleeping cycle of your baby

Quiet alert to drowsy

Sleep states progress from quiet alert to drowsy. In this stage he may startle easily, but general household noises should not disturb him. In the womb, babies sleep in a fairly noisy environment with the beating of your heart and the gurgling of your digestive system to soothe him.

Light sleep

During light sleep your baby’s eyes will be closed and he will appear asleep, but with rapid eye movement (REM) and irregular breathing. During this time, the baby moves, sucks a dummy, a fist or their tongue and may startle with noise, light or movement. Generally they settle back to sleep quite easily.

Deep sleep

Deep sleep means that the eyes are closed with no eye movements, breathing is regular and except for occasional startles that do not arouse your baby, he does not move at all. Loud noises will not waken your baby and trying to feed him or wake him up in this state will only lead to frustration for both of you.

Establishing routine

A bedtime-bathtime routine is a good way to encourage good night-time sleep habits.

Bath your baby at the same time every evening. Most babies will be calm and relaxed and ready for sleep after a warm bath and bottle. Baby massage before or after bathing can also help.

Afterwards, put your baby to bed in the same place at the same time in the same way every evening

Be prepared to do night duty for at least three months; while many babies will sleep through before this, they will only do so when they are ready. Don’t be tempted to start solids prematurely, thicken feeds or change formula – despite the old, wive’s tales these tactics will not help.

Where your baby should sleep

Many parents worry about where their baby should sleep – really this is a personal choice and up to you. Some couples put their new baby in his own room from the start, while others have the cot in the room or co-sleep in the same bed.

As long as you and your little one are comfortable with your choice, it doesn’t really matter. Just be aware that if you do co-sleep or have the cot in your room, you may be disturbing the baby’s sleep as much as he disturbs yours.

Also, you should not have your baby in the bed if you smoke, drink alcohol or take any medication as this poses a smothering and/or apnoea risk.

If your baby sleeps in a cot

If your baby sleeps in a cot, swaddle him snugly and prop him between two side wedges (NOT pillows) to help him feel secure and position him correctly – but don’t surround him with pillows or anything that may create a smothering risk. Newborns should sleep on their backs as this is the recommended position for preventing sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

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