It's a common misconception that newborns sleep through the night. In fact, newborns typically wake up every few hours to feed. Yet, aside from hunger, there might be other things which bother your newborn baby.
If you find your newborn is fighting sleep, this article will explain why they might be struggling and what you can do to help.
Why do babies fight sleep?
There are a few reasons why your newborn may be fighting sleep. It could be that they're not tired enough, they're hungry, they're overstimulated, they're unwell or they may have discomfort from gas or colic.
Your baby might also be experiencing a developmental leap or growth spurt, which can cause them to be extra wakeful and fussy.
How to get a baby to stop fighting sleep
Newborn sleep at 0 to 2 weeks
1. Being nocturnal is "normal" for newborn babies
During the first 3 months of life, newborns generally sleep between 15 to 18 hours over a 24 hour period. Newborn babies are initially unable to distinguish night and day until they're at least 11 weeks old, and therefore, their sleep & activity patterns are unpredictable, with many babies being nocturnal.
2. Feed your baby every 2 to 3 hours
Newborn sleep is generally broken up into short bursts of sleep, varying in duration between 15 minutes and 4 hours. Newborns will wake at various times of day with no set sleep schedule and with feeds occurring every 2 to 3 hours on average (sometimes more frequently) due to their tiny stomach size.
3. Watch baby's short wake windows
Keep an eye on your baby's wake windows which will be very short during their first month. They generally only last about 45 to 60 minutes.
4. Let your newborn contact nap
By two weeks of age, you may notice that your baby will sleep for a more extended period, i.e. it may sleep longer in the morning but wake more frequently in the afternoon. It is common for newborns to be awakened easily and to become unsettled during the late afternoon hours. This is where contact naps can come in handy.
Some benefits of contact napping for newborns include promoting normal body rhythms, aiding in breastfeeding, and reinforcing the mother-infant attachment. Bear in mind that your labour was a tiring experience for your newborn as well and so they generally need a couple of weeks to recover from this journey into the world.
Newborn sleep at 3 to 5 weeks
1. Observe your baby's verbal and non-verbal cues
Newborns still need to frequently feed at this age and will continue to have short sleep cycles. However, you may start to notice some patterns emerging in your baby's sleeping and feeding habits.
It is important to observe your baby's sleepy cues, such as:
- going cross-eyed
- rubbing their eyes,
- rooting or sucking on their fist
- becoming less active
By now you may also be able to distinguish your newborn's cries. A newborn's cry can generally mean that they are:
- in need of a burp
2. Take your baby outdoors for naps
Being outdoors has many benefits for your newborn. The environment is stimulating and engages many of your newborns' senses like sight, sound and smell.
Napping in the fresh air whilst being worn or in the pram also has a calming, soothing effect on your baby. The movement from being rocked or walking can help newborns to fall asleep.
3. Try a dummy for sleep
Sucking is a newborn's natural reflex and provides them with comfort. It has a calming effect and can help newborns to settle better.
Try offering a dummy from about 4 weeks; there are various sizes and makes available for purchase.
Newborn sleep at 6 to 8 weeks
1. Be mindful of your baby's 6-week growth spurt
Your baby has reached a crucial milestone in their development, and you may have noticed them being hungrier (i.e. cluster feeding) and fussier then usual. This particular growth spurt happens around 6 to 8 weeks.
This is also an exciting time as your baby will soon start to smile if they haven't already done so. You may also notice them making cooing, squealing or gurgling sounds as their new way of communicating with you.
2. Relief any discomfort
Baby massage, colic meds, sucking on a dummy and tummy time may help relieve some discomfort. Babywearing your little cannot only be a great alternative to static contact naps at this age but can also help relieve any excess gas by your baby being upright.
Make sure to follow the T.I.C.K.S rule:
T is for Tight I is for In View at All Times C is for Close Enough to Kiss K is for Keep Chin Off the Chest S is for Supported Back
3. Try Dr Karp's 5 S's for Soothing Babies
The 5 S's are based on the idea that newborn babies are born 'primitive', meaning they are not yet fully developed. This is why newborns find it hard to self-soothe and why they need our help.
The 5 S's are:
- side/stomach position
Newborn sleep at 9 to 12 weeks
1. Try introducing a first simple bedtime routine
Your baby's started to develop the components of the circadian rhythm. This means that they are more aware of the day and night. Naps during the day become shorter and more spaced out, and your newborn will be able to stay awake for longer periods.
You can start to create a simple bedtime routine from about 8 to 9 weeks onwards that will help your newborn know when it is time to sleep. This can include a warm bath, reading a book and putting on some calming music or white noise.
2. Put your baby to bed slightly drowsy
From 9 to 10 weeks you can start to put your newborn down when they are a little drowsy but still awake. It can be helpful to transfer your baby into their crib or bassinet when they're starting to show sleepy cues, but if you don't feel comfortable doing so yet, try transferring them about 15 to 20 minutes after they've fallen asleep.
3. Let your newborn exercise through tummy time
Your newborn needs to have some 'tummy time' during the day to help them develop their head, neck and shoulder muscles. Tummy time can also help relieve any discomfort from gas and strengthen their cognitive skills. Half an hour a day is plenty of exercise for your little one.
Remember that this doesn't need to happen in one stretch. You can break tummy time up into 5 to 10-minute intervals throughout the day.
Get more tips on newborn sleep such as how to soothe an early waking baby and manage split night sleeping.
Do you have a question about infant sleep? Book an appointment with one of our baby sleep consultants to receive specialist advice on any issues you may have.
Miriam, Sleep Consultant
Miriam is a qualified Baby and Child Sleep Consultant who feels passionately about helping other mums experience the benefits of good sleep. Her approach is gentle, relationship-centred and research-informed.