April 19, 2022 5 min read
The average newborn sleeps 16 to 20 hours a day. Looking at how sleep-deprived most parents are, it probably doesn't feel that way. And that’s because infant sleep is characterized by 1 to 4 hour stretches followed by 1 to 2 hours of time awake. Plus, your baby can’t really tell night from day, so their daytime equals their nighttime sleep.
A newborn’s erratic sleeping pattern can take a toll on your own sleep, especially if you’re breastfeeding. To survive (and thrive) during your baby’s first months of life, it’s a good idea to follow these 9 science-backed sleep tips for new parents.
Commonly shared (and often disregarded) advice is to nap when the baby naps. Unfortunately, many new parents will rather use a baby’s nap time to catch up on chores. But getting rest is more important since lack of sleep can increase your risk of depression and low milk supply. A study of 23 moms found that moms who nap are more rested and have more positive interactions with their infants. While napping when the baby does isn’t always feasible, try to grab as many nap opportunities as you can, at least in the first couple of weeks postpartum.
Be it from your partner, family members, or friends, new mothers should have every right to ask for help in order to get the sleep and rest they need. In fact, a study involving 200 Iranian mothers who attended teaching hospitals found that the bigger a mother’s social network, the lower her risk of postpartum depression. Postpartum depression has been linked to stress and lack of sleep, so these results make perfect sense taking this into account.
Newborns have an immature sleep-wake rhythm that needs time and cues to adjust to the 24-hour world. It takes approximately 9 weeks for newborns to slowly start developing sleep-wake cycles that resemble that of adults, i.e. to start sleeping for longer stretches at night. Exposure to sunlight and play during the day and dimming the lights at night can help make this process as quick as possible. The baby’s internal clock needs these environmental signals to develop a mature sleep-wake cycle.
It’s a common mistake for new parents to wake up at the same time to tend to the baby. A better idea is to take turns with feeding and diaper changing. After all, every task becomes easier when it’s shared. This may be harder to do if you are a nursing mom. But even breastfeeding moms can choose to take nightly breaks by supplementing, especially if you’re starting to have serious consequences due to sleep deprivation. A study published in theItalian Journal of Pediatrics found that when both parents share the burden of bedtime routines, everyone in the new family sleeps better and longer.
Formula feeding and supplementing can work well for some parents. But if you can exclusively breastfeed, definitely do so for the sake of your sleep. Studies have consistently shown that exclusively breastfed infants sleep more, and their parents get 40-45 more minutes of sleep than parents giving formula. A possible reason may be that breast milk has melatonin. The concentration of melatonin in breast milk also increases at night.
Your pediatrician will give you guidelines on when, how, and if to sleep train. Sleep training, while initially stressful for parents and babies, was found to result in better quality sleep with fewer awakenings per night. Sleep training usually starts at around 6 months of age. It can entail putting the baby to bed when sleepy but still awake and not responding immediately to cries so the baby can learn to self settle.
Sleep hygiene helps promote healthy sleep at any stage of life, and that also includes the postpartum period. Sleep hygiene refers to healthy habits that are conducive to good sleep, like keeping the bedroom dark and cool, avoiding caffeine before bed, evening relaxation, and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. A 2020 study on 40 women about to give birth found that those that followed common sleep hygiene practices reported better sleep and had greater confidence in managing their baby’s sleep.
Becoming a new parent is stressful enough on its own. If you allow stress to get in the way of enjoying your new family life, it can reflect on both your and your baby’s sleep. A study mentioned earlier that was published in theItalian Journal of Pediatrics has found that maternal stress can create problems in a baby’s sleep patterns. New parents who report less stress (because they have more social support) also had less difficulty in establishing healthy sleeping routines.
If your partner is a habitual snorer, their snoring can make your already existing sleep debt worse. You can handle this by either sleeping in separate rooms or by finding a solution to their snoring. Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea and needs to be treated with conservative measures (e.g. weight loss, avoidance of alcohol, sleeping on the back) or with CPAP therapy. Another option is mouthpieces such as the Good Morning Snore Solution tongue-stabilizing devices. These are clinically proven to prevent snoring and are easy to use.
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