Our culture tends to obsess about how to get babies to sleep more. Although there may be tips and tricks, the fact of the matter is that a healthy newborn wakes frequently! However, if you’re having trouble with a waking baby, know that you’re not alone. Continue reading to learn more about baby sleep and how to help your baby gain some sleeping skills.
Sleep: What to Expect from a Newborn
It’s critical that new parents have realistic expectations about how newborns sleep. A one-month old baby, for example, will sleep in short bursts, taking naps throughout the day and the night. This is healthy and normal, and this is not a problem that needs to be fixed. In fact, newborns have had the same sleeping, feeding, and waking behaviors since the beginning of time. What has changed is our culture and our perceptions about babies, as well as the demands of modern life that lead to new parent sleep loss.
Although newborns spend the majority of their days and nights sleeping, the reality is that their sleep occurs in short periods, ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours for the first several weeks after birth. If you feel like you are struggling with a one-month old baby that will not sleep, it is important to recognize that newborns wake frequently for specific reasons.
Reasons Why Babies Wake Up
First and foremost, newborns must wake frequently to eat. A baby's stomach capacity is very small in the early months after birth, so frequent feedings are required in order to keep up with their demand to eat. Sleep and feeding are completely interconnected for newborns and young babies. In fact, a one month old baby will need to eat throughout the day and also during the night as a result of hunger and growth demands. As babies get older, they’ll gain the ability to have longer stretches of time between feedings, thus resulting in longer sleep stretches.
The other reason your baby wakes frequently is for safety. A newborn’s sleep cycle is unique in that it is short and consists of only 2 stages: light sleep (active sleep) and deep sleep (quiet sleep). These short sleep cycles of 45-60 minutes allow for frequent wakings which are protective in nature. A baby that wakes frequently requires check-ins from their parents; this ensures that the baby is safe.
Although it’s hard for you as the parent to be continually woken up every couple of hours, try to remind yourself that this is how newborns were biologically designed to survive. If our babies did not require continual care and feeding every 2-4 hours, they would be at risk because they are completely dependent on their caregivers for every aspect of their survival.
How to Equip your Baby with Better Sleeping Skills
Give them access to their hands
In order to help your baby gain some better sleeping skills, you will need to support your baby’s ability to self soothe. Most babies will attempt to self soothe by using their hands to touch their face, touch their hands together, or suck on their fingers. If your baby doesn’t have access to their hands, they can’t learn how to self soothe. Therefore, it’s important to give your baby access to their hands from birth. Try not to use baby mittens or hand coverings, and if you choose to swaddle your newborn, swaddle your baby with their arms up to give them their hands for comfort.
Give them time
Because your baby was held in your womb for approximately 9 months, they need some time to learn how to sleep in their own safe sleep space. Learning any new skill takes time and practice, so it’s up to you to help your baby learn to sleep somewhere besides the warmth and comfort of your arms.
To help your baby with this skill, practice laying them in the crib or bassinet frequently. Place them in their own sleep space and if they are slightly drowsy, stay close and put a hand on their chest. If the baby begins to fuss, gently pat and begin “shushing”. Providing repetitive sounds and slight movements will help calm the baby and help them to fall asleep. The more times you repeat this process, the more your baby will come to understand what to expect when placed down for sleep. Not only that, but you’ll be able to slowly remove some of the comfort techniques as you determine your baby’s ability to relax, self soothe and fall asleep independently. Be patient with your baby during this process, as it may take a while to get to a place where you can put them down without fussing. A consistent routine is the key to helping your baby know what to expect as they learn how to sleep on their own.
Understand their biological needs
Newborns are born with complete dependence upon their caregivers. They require frequent feedings, frequent diaper changes, and ongoing soothing. Therefore, the first days and weeks of life with a newborn are spent supporting the baby’s transition from womb to world. This typically means that your baby will prefer to be held over being put down in a crib or bassinet, and you will probably feel like your baby sleeps a lot throughout the day and night. Although it can sometimes feel very frustrating that your one month old baby isn’t sleeping the way that you would like, try to remember that there are biological reasons for the waking, and that sleep is a developmental skill that your baby will reach when they are ready.
Take Care of Your Own Sleep Habits
In the meantime, the best way to manage this time is to ensure that you are paying close attention to your own sleep habits. Having a newborn means that you will need to attend to your baby’s needs every 2-4 hours at least. Because this will look very different than your normal sleep schedule, there are a few things that can make the first month at home with your baby a little smoother.
- Take frequent naps. Make an effort to rest several times during the day when your baby is sleeping, and go to bed early each night. The goal is to achieve 4-5 completed sleep cycles (90-120 minutes) for yourself each day.
- Line up help at home. If you have friends or family who live close by, schedule times for your “village” to come to your home to help with your baby and household chores. While your help preps a meal or two or does some laundry, you may be able to take a much needed daytime nap. Also, if you know that your help is “on duty” with your baby, you may be able to take an extra long shower or sleep without one ear listening for your baby’s cries.
- Try not to get pulled into the pressure on social media. Remember that your baby is unique, and they will sleep when they are developmentally ready. Try to set realistic expectations for your one month old and remind anyone who asks that your baby is acting exactly the way a one month old is supposed to.
As the saying goes, “The days are long but the years are short.” When you are in the thick of things with your one month old, you may feel like you will never sleep again. But, take comfort in knowing that this time is so short in your baby’s growth and development. Before you know it, your baby will reach exciting milestones that make this parenting journey so rewarding!