One of the first questions new parents ask is “when will my baby sleep through the night?’ Life with a newborn can be exhausting for parents. Believe it or not, most newborns sleep about 16 out of 24 hours. Unfortunately, it’s only for an hour or two at a time. There are some very good reasons your baby will wake often.

Why Do Babies Wake So Often?

A newborn’s sleep cycle differs from an adult, lasting about 2 hours.  At first, your baby’s tummy is tiny. Breast milk is easily digested, so it’s natural for your baby to wake often.  It’s necessary for babies to eat at least 8 times and up to 12 times in 24 hours. Instead of expecting a fixed distance between feedings, count the total number of feedings in 24 hours, as feedings are rarely evenly spaced. Just like us, babies have large meals and snacks.  Sometimes babies cluster several feedings together, and then take a nice long nap.

To ensure your baby is getting plenty of milk, you’ll want to offer the breast whenever you baby shows signs of hunger such as increased activity, sucking hands, licking and rooting.

Overfeeding in the evening in the hopes of getting extra sleep seldom works, so long as your baby is getting plenty of breastmilk during the rest of the day.  This practice is common among sleep deprived new parents, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against it because it may increase the risk of SIDS, especially if a breastfeeding baby is given a large meal of infant formula at bedtime.

Sleep training methods are not appropriate for newborns.   Many child behavior experts do not approve of sleep training at any age. In the newborn period, sleep training has been associated with poor weight gain and failure to thrive. Unmet needs and excessive crying can increase stress hormone levels and alter brain function. The fight-or-flight reaction takes over to shut down learning and bonding.

Babies learn to trust when their needs are met promptly and consistently, beginning in the newborn period. Behavioral scientists agree that you really cannot spoil your newborn, as older relatives may suggest. Newborns should be held and cuddled and fed whenever they desire.

Tips For Coping

So what are new parents to do? Newborns respond well to skin-to-skin and cuddling. It’s ok and natural to allow your baby to fall asleep at the breast or in your arms. Many parents choose to wear their newborns because they sleep more and are calmer when kept in close physical contact. It’s no mystery why that’s true when you consider all mammals keep their babies close. When you do need to put your baby down, wait until your baby is soundly asleep, which may take up to 30 minutes, and ease your baby to a safe sleep surface.

Part of the beauty of breastfeeding is that it can calm and soothe a fussy, sick, or overtired baby or toddler. Hormones that promote relaxation and bonding are produced by both mother and baby during feeding. While you’re nursing, you might find yourself thinking about how you can catch up on all the things you haven’t been able to do since the baby came. Take advantage of the natural hormone boost and nap when your baby naps. Believe it or not, studies show breastfeeding mothers actually get more sleep than mothers whose babies are artificially fed. This may be because they tend to keep their babies closer at night, either placing them in a separate sleep space beside the bed or co-sleeping.

Sleep when your baby sleeps is excellent advice.  This can help reduce the sleep deficit that all new parents experience.  You’ll have more success changing your own sleep schedule than changing your baby’s in the first few weeks.

It’s a good idea to spend your first couple of weeks as a new mother resting, recuperating, and practicing breastfeed.  Schedule your visitors. When family and friends offer to help, be prepared to ask for specifics like preparing a meal or doing a load of laundry, so you can take care of yourself and your baby.

You may be concerned your newborn has her days and nights mixed up. Actually, newborns don’t differentiate between day and night. Keeping lights on during the day and keeping the room dark at night during waking may help to establish sleep patterns. Your newborn depends on you to provide sleep-inducing melatonin through your milk in the evening.  At about 4 to 6 weeks of age, babies begin to produce their own melatonin as their Circadian Rhythm develops. If your baby was born before 40 weeks gestation, it may take longer.

Each baby is unique. Some babies will begin to sleep up to 5 hours at night after the first month, a process you cannot accelerate, since it is dependent upon your baby’s individual needs.   Although better sleep may occur more frequently as your baby grows, it’s common for babies to have periods of waking at night throughout their first year.