Parenting a newborn is exhilarating, sometimes frightening and always exhausting. His sleep patterns -- and yours, by extension -- aren’t yet determined during the first weeks of his life. Frequent night wakings are an unavoidable part of life during this phase. While midnight (and 2 a.m., and 4 a.m.) feedings may leave you feeling bleary, your newborn needs them to grow and thrive.
Newborn Sleep Basics
Don’t bother comparing your newborn’s sleep to that of your other kids or your friends’ babies: every little one is different. In fact, according to Dr. Jodi A. Mindell, associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, a newborn might sleep anywhere from 10 to 18 hours in a 24-hour period. That’s a wide range, but the typical newborn lands on the higher end; Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital estimates that a newborn sleeps an average of about 16 hours per day. His rest is spread out in chunks of sleep, though, typically lasting between two and four hours at a time.
Newborns at Night
While his age is still being counted in weeks rather than months, your baby wakes up primarily because he needs something. His stomach is so small that he needs to eat every few hours, which is why you can expect him to wake several times during the night. A few factors might influence the number of nightly wakings. According to KidsHealth.org, breastfed newborns get hungry more quickly than bottle-fed newborns, and premature babies get hungry more quickly than their full-term counterparts. If your newborn is breastfeeding or was premature, he might need to be fed every two hours, meaning you can expect as many as four or five feedings each night. If your baby is an especially sound sleeper, it might fall on you to wake him for a feeding, since a newborn shouldn't go longer than five hours without eating, according to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.
Handling Night Feedings
It’s not uncommon for newborns to sleep more during the day than they do at night, so when your baby wakes for a feeding, he might not drift off right away. Help train him to associate night with sleeping by being as uninteresting as possible during these feedings. As you feed, rock and change him, remain quiet or offer nothing more than some soothing humming or whispering. Carry him as you pace up and down a dim hallway or bounce him gently to soothe him into sleepiness. Try putting him down when he’s still awake to help him learn to fall asleep in his own bed instead of your arms -- but if he bursts into tears when his back touches the mattress, rocking him until he’s completely asleep might be least-stressful approach for everyone.
A Newborn's Sleep Environment
Minimize the chance that your newborn wakes up due to physical discomfort by making his environment as comfortable and safe as possible. Dress him in the number of layers that you’d wear to bed, then tuck him into a sleep sack for warmth and comfort. Place his crib somewhere away from external stimulation. He should have his own room with a door, rather than sleeping in a central area of the home. If he sleeps in your room, slip in quietly and go right to sleep rather than making noise or turning on lights while he’s sleeping. Keep his room cool, though never cold, suggests Dr. Mindell, and be careful to always place him on his back in a crib free of everything but a mattress with a tightly fitted sheet.