What to Expect for Newborn Sleep

what to expect for newborn sleep
Christine Brown

Christine Brown

I remember the day we brought our twin boys home from the hospital. As we were walking out of the NICU, I was flooded with emotion and thought “I can’t believe they are letting me leave with these two babies! My husband and I were like “we have no idea what we’re doing!” See the picture below to see how F.I.N.E. I was doing!

Thankfully, my maternal instincts kicked in, but I felt perpetually unsure of myself.

I was feeding two babies a million times a day, pumping, changing diapers, trying to get them to sleep and loving on them 24/7.

Notice how I didn’t mention I was sleeping, brushing my teeth or showering? There wasn’t a lot of basic self-care going on in our house, but the babies were well loved! 

And we were exhausted and woefully uninformed about the realities of newborn sleep.

I hadn’t been around babies a lot and most of my friends didn’t have babies so I didn’t have any real-world insight.  Plus, I feel like parents don’t openly share about the challenges of newborn sleep. And until we are parents, we don’t think to ask! 

These are the thing I had heard about baby sleep:

  1. “Sleep like a baby.”  Whoever coined this term did not have a newborn!
  2. “Sleep when the babies sleep!” Ha! That’s funny unless you are a professional napper with a full staff to take care of everything else.
  3. “Sleep now because once the babies come, you won’t get a lot of sleep.” It was a reality check when I realized that newborns slept a lot, but their sleep didn’t align with my sleep needs. 

In hopes of helping you adjust to the first 8 weeks, I’m going to share with you what to expect for newborn sleep.  Knowledge is power! And in a time where you may feel pretty powerless and a little out of control, being armed with this knowledge can make a confusing time feel more manageable.

What to Expect for Newborn Sleep the First 8 Weeks?

Expect LOTS of Baby Snuggles

Newborns come from the warm, dark, loud womb where they were snuggled tight. Next thing they know they are in a bright world, which can be pretty jarring.  Your baby is going to want to be held A LOT.  And when your little love isn’t being held, a swaddle is key for sleep.

You CANNOT spoil your newborn!  Do almost anything you need to do to *SAFELY* get sleep for you and your baby.  Babies don’t have the ability to learn unhealthy sleep habits until they are 8 weeks old. 

Let your newborn fall asleep in your arms.  They are only this little once and those baby snuggles are the best!  Just make sure you don’t fall asleep while holding them!

Expect Your Baby’s Love Affair With Movement

Your newborn will likely LOVE movement sleep – it reminds them of being in the womb! Just makes sure you are monitoring your little one to ensure proper positioning for breathing and to ensure your little love isn’t overheating. 

Here are some ideas:
  • Use a swing or a bouncer to let your newborn sleep
  • Take your little one out for a walk in the stroller for fresh air and exercise while your little naps
  • Get out to visit friends and family while your little love naps while you are driving 
  • Pop your newborn in a carrier. This will help you get things done around the house or to get out and about

Parent Advice: you don’t have to be chained to the house trying to get your newborn to sleep in a bassinet for every nap.  Try to put your little one down in a bassinet or crib for some naps – usually at least 2 per day.  But aside from that, enjoy this magical time filled with baby snuggles!

Expect your newborn to not have a schedule

Newborns sleep A LOT – usually 16-20 hours per day. But their sleep is often unorganized and erratic.  It oftentimes looks like a cycle of feed, poop, play, sleep. You will find this repeated all day and night, normally in 2-4 hour cycles. Newborns are usually awake 45-60 minutes between sleep periods.

Naps can be 15 minutes to 3 hours long.  Each day will likely have a mix of short and long naps.  Don’t stress about the length of naps.  If your baby is sleeping longer than 3 hours at a time, check with your pediatrician to ensure that you shouldn’t be waking them to feed.

Even though the sleep won’t be on a schedule, ensure your little one is napping during the day.  Don’t believe the myth to keep your baby up during the day so they will sleep more at night.  This is one of the worst pieces of advice!  Your baby meeting their daytime sleep needs will help them sleep better at night.  Sleep begets sleep!

Parent Advice: If you put yourself in the type A category or if you thrive on a schedule, the lack of schedule can drive you crazy if you are trying to control it! My advice is to try to chill and follow your baby’s sleepy cues and wake windows.  

Expect Day-to-Night Confusion

Your baby doesn’t yet have an internal biological clock (aka circadian rhythm) that tells them the difference between day and night. We sleep at night, but newborns haven’t gotten that memo. 

Your baby will be up at night frequently to eat and this is completely normal.  Newborns need to eat at night because their tummies are so tiny and they are growing so quickly. 

The bright side? By 6-8 weeks, your little one should be giving you at least one long stretch of sleep (4-6 hours) at the beginning of the night.

Parent Advice: If you can accept that you are going to be a night owl until your baby gets this figured out, it makes it so much easier. 

Want to learn more about Newborn Sleep? 

Step 1: Download our Newborn Sleep Tips and join our mailing list.

Step 2: Sign up for a Newborn Sleep Jumpstart where you will learn everything you need to know to create healthy sleep habits from the start.

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