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Newborn Sleep: Expectations vs Reality

July 10, 2017

You've probably heard from friends, TV shows, books, or blogs a thing or two about life with a newborn. You probably know the basics - that babies sleep a lot but new parents are somehow still always tired.

Here are some of the expectations you've probably acquired about newborn sleep, and the reality you'll actually probably face:

Expectation: Babies sleep a lot

Reality: Babies sleep a lot... a little at a time

Yes, babies sleep a lot, around 18 hours a day give or take. But babies sleep in cycles, for anywhere from 30 minutes to 5 hours at a time. To help you adjust to this temporary phase of cycle sleeping that you too must endure, consider switching off with your partner so you both can get longer stretches of sleep.

Expectation: You'll sleep when the baby sleeps

Reality: You'll worry while the baby sleeps

The phrase, "sleep like a baby," obviously was not coined by someone with a baby, because babies are actually quite restless sleepers. This is largely due to their shorter sleep cycles, with them spending more time in the active sleep cycle (REM cycle) than adults. This is why you'll see them smiling and cooing in their sleep, but also why they wake up so easily. You will also probably freak out watching them sleep because of their irregular breathing patterns. Newborn babies have periodic breathing, characterized by the complete stopping of breathing for a few seconds, followed by rapid, shallow breaths until their regular breathing returns. Weird, but usually nothing to worry about.

Babies are noisy little sleepers, mostly because they breathe through their nose which, obviously, is quite tiny. This means it's easily obstructed by mucous or dried milk. This usually isn't a problem, but if it sounds like your baby is especially struggling to breathe, you may need to use a bulb syringe and clear out their nasal passages.

Expectation: Babies can fall asleep through anything

Reality: Babies DO NOT fall asleep through anything

Like children and adults, babies need cues and a routine to indicate that it's time to sleep. While they can't read a book under the covers, they can learn a familiar song that becomes a cue for sleeping. Begin from day 1 establishing a consistent bedtime routine to help them learn when it's time to sleep. A ritual of bathtime, changing into PJ's, singing a song, and being laid down will eventually become familiar to them and help them fall asleep quickly.

Expectation: You'll never get restful sleep again

Reality: This phase will be over before you know it

One day you will wake up in the morning after a full night's sleep and realize that you just got more than 5 hours of sleep. You will wonder when it happened: when did your baby start sleeping through the night? When did their stomachs grow and require less frequent feedings? And then, ironically, you might feel a little bit sad. For as much as you longed for a good night's sleep, part of you misses rocking that tiny baby in the chair, singing them back to sleep, and being the source of comfort to their innocent distress.

Sleep loss, worrying, new bedtime routines and frequent worrying are part of a short phase of parenthood that will be over before you know it. Enjoy the extra time (albeit in the middle of the night) that you get with your baby that so many couples long to have, and know that in a blink of an eye they will be bigger and you'll all finally sleep better... until they become teenagers.

Author Bio

Angela Silva

Angela graduated with her B.S. in Exercise and Wellness and is a NASM certified personal trainer who specializes in postpartum fitness and recovery. She enjoys writing, cracking jokes, and spending time with her family, preferably while fishing. She shares many of her life adventures on Instagram as @angelagrams