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Now that baby has arrived on the scene, your life as a new parent revolves around eating, pooping, and sleeping. And speaking of sleep, your sweet bundle of joy sure does know how to sleep deeply in those first few days of life! But what does a newborn sleep schedule look like after you leave the hospital and head home? What’s normal?
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Newborn Sleep Schedule – The First Few Weeks
As babies adjust to life outside the womb, they tend to sleep 12 to 18 hours in a 24-hour period. These are not usually long sleeping stretches. Rather, your baby will cycle in and out of sleep throughout the day and night in a series of short “cat naps” that have no noticeable pattern. Expect anywhere from 8 to 10 sleep and wake cycles in a 24-hour period.
Remember that your newborn’s brain is too immature to recognize the difference between night and day, so plan to sleep when your baby sleeps for the first few months (1).
Newborn Sleep Schedule – Behavior States
Although newborn sleep patterns are unpredictable, they are all comprised of 2 behavior states known as sleep states and alert states. Here are the states broken down:
Newborn Sleep Schedule – Sleep States
Your baby has relaxed, regular, and even breathing. Eyes are closed with no eye movements. Baby may occasionally twitch or make sucking movement with her mouth. During this state, babies aren’t easily woken. Now’s the time for you to try to rest yourself or accomplish mom jobs that need to be done.
During light sleep, your baby has irregular breathing and irregular movement. Eyes are closed and may be moving rapidly behind their eyelids. They may have more body twitches or make those adorable sleeping baby faces like smiling or pouting. They wake easily in this state and are more likely to startle if they are moved or hear a noise.
If your baby is coming out of deep sleep into light sleep, it might mean that he’s hungry or needs a diaper change. If you’re alert to baby’s cues and care for his needs quickly, it’s possible that he may fall back into a deep sleep state.
Newborn Sleep Schedule – Alert States
This is the state where they are awake but becoming sleepy. Their breathing becomes more irregular. They may rub their eyes, have their eyelids droop, and startle easily. This is the ideal time to try to put your baby down to sleep.
This is when your baby is fully awake and content. Their breathing is even. They are looking at you and taking in their surroundings. This is a great time to just engage and play with your baby. Talking, singing or simply smiling at them make this a great time for bonding.
This is when your baby is beginning to realize they need or want something. Their breathing starts to become more rapid. They are no longer looking into your eyes contently and instead make faces and begin to move their arms and legs erratically.
These are all signs that your baby needs something. They might be hungry, in need of a diaper change, or simply over stimulated. If you are able to determine baby’s need and satisfy them quickly, you just may get to skip the next state — crying.
This is, of course, when baby is crying. Babies cry as their last resort to tell you they just can’t handle whatever is going on. Hunger, discomfort, or boredom can all lead to tears. Sometimes babies cry to help get themselves into another state. Learn more about why do babies cry (and how to comfort them).
During the crying state you can use Dr. Harvey Karp’s “5 S’s” method to calm your baby if feeding and changing don’t help (3). They are:
- Swaddling – Wrapping a baby snugly. Ask your health provider how to swaddle correctly.
- Side or Stomach Position – Holding your baby on their side or on her stomach with gentle pressure on their tummy,
- Shushing – Making a shushing sound near your baby’s ear or other white noise.
- Swinging – Gently swaying, rocking, jiggling or bouncing your baby.
- Sucking – Offering a pacifier or clean fingers. (2)
Learning Your Newborn’s Sleep Schedule
Although there’s no set-in-stone newborn sleep schedule that you can plan on, the good news is that learning your baby’s different sleep stages and cues can allow you to adapt to them. As you get to know your baby better, you’ll be able to identify a loose sleeping schedule. And rest assured (pun intended 🙂 ) that as time goes on and your baby matures, a more solid pattern will emerge.
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(1) Hockenberry, M. J., Wilson, D (2011). Wong’s Nursing Care of Infants and Children. Ninth Edition. Elsevier Mosby Inc
(2) Simkin, P., Whalley, J., Keppler, A., Durham, J., & Bolding, A. (2016). Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide. Minnetonka: Meadowbrook Press.
(3) Karp, Harvey, M.D., (2017). The 5 S’s for Soothing Babies. Retrieved from https://www.happiestbaby.com/blogs/baby/the-5-s-s-for-soothing-babies.