With over 25 years’ experience of working with families and their newborns, I’m often asked by my clients if I have any advice or tips I can share with them. I like to photograph babies within the first month of their life in order to really capture those early moments in time and the question most parents ask me at this point is ‘when will my baby start sleeping through?!’
Having worked as a private nursery nurse and post natal carer, amongst other roles, I’ve gained a good insight into what to expect in those first few weeks and how to help mum and dad encourage good sleep habits.
What can I expect?
Newborn babies sleep a lot! Expect your baby to be asleep for up to 18 hours over the course of 24 hours in his first few weeks. He probably won’t sleep for more than three or four hours at a time, day or night. This unfortunately means that mum and dad can expect some sleepless nights. This is a necessary phase for your baby and it won’t last long, though it may seem like an eternity while you’re sleep-deprived!
Babies sleep cycles are much shorter than ours. They spend more time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is a light, easily disturbed sleep. Once he is between six weeks and eight weeks your baby will probably sleep for shorter spells during the day and longer periods at night. Expect him to still wake up to feed during the night but he will have more deep, non-REM sleep.
Babies can develop good sleep habits from as early as six weeks. Encouraging good sleep habits from the start will help with getting your baby to sleep through the night.
Young children get overtired easily. When they do, they find it harder to get to sleep. Once you can spot those telltale signs of tiredness, you’ll be able to settle your child to sleep before grumpiness sets in. Children show they’re tired through changes in behaviour and it’s important to look for your child’s ‘tired signs’. This can help you reduce stimulation and start settling your child before overtiredness sets in.
Signs that your baby is tired might include:
- rubbing his eyes
- flicking his ear with his hand
- developing faint, dark circles under his eyes
- whining and crying at the slightest provocation
- staring blankly into space
- yawning and stretching a lot
- losing interest in people and toys
- being quiet and still
If you spot any of these signs of sleepiness, try first reducing stimulation by taking your baby to the place where he usually sleeps. Put toys away, talk quietly and soothingly and close the curtains. Your baby might only need a few minutes of quiet time before he’s relaxed and ready to sleep.
How you settle your baby to sleep is important. If you rock him to sleep every night for the first eight weeks, he will expect the same later on. If you leave him alone to sleep, he will expect that, too. Some experts advise against rocking or feeding your baby to sleep.
It’s up to you to decide what sort of routine best suits you and your baby. You’ll soon develop a sixth sense about your baby’s daily rhythms and patterns and know instinctively when he’s ready to go to sleep!