Today's post is authored by Emerald Doulas co-owner, and postpartum doula, Suzanne Lee. Suzanne is a bit of a Baby Whisperer, so when she talks about newborn sleep, we listen. Closely.
As a postpartum doula, I am frequently asked two questions somewhere in the first few weeks of working with our clients.
When we will finally get some sleep?
How do I know if I’m making enough milk?.
I'll completely leave Question 2 to our IBCLC and Infant Feeding Specialist, Victoria Facelli, to field during her consultations. However, sleep is something I talk about with all of our parents.
People often describe a good night’s sleep as "sleeping like a baby".
I have to laugh when I hear that because if we, as adults, really slept like babies, it would literally be like scene from “The Walking Dead” around our homes. Not good.
So, what's driving a newborn's sleep pattern? A few things...
A baby's sleep needs are directly tied to their feeding needs and their “internal clocks”. And those things are constantly regulated to life on the outside the womb, as they rapidly grow and develop.
A birth, their stomach is about the size of a glass marble. After the first couple of weeks, it rapidly grows to the size of an egg. This rapid growth needs two main things, food and sleep. Sleep is often something that infants do the majority of the day, but it's constantly interrupted by their need to eat (because, survival instinct).
In the first couple of weeks, its not uncommon for a baby to need to eat every 1.5-2 hours, and its also not uncommon for them to take 30-45 minutes to eat each feeding. This means, as a parent, you are constantly feeding a baby! At about 8 weeks, your baby may be alert for longer stretches of time, but still have the need to sleep every 2 hours or so.
This is the point where many parents hit a wall, and it's when a lot of parents lament, “When am I going to sleep again?”
It's around this time, which parents may try to manipulate their baby’s sleep in hopes it helps them sleep longer. We get it. It seems logical that, like adults, if their baby is really tired, then then they will sleep really, really well. But! Instead, they end up with an overtired, cranky baby on their hands.
Keeping a baby awake past their “sleep window” or withholding feedings on a schedule can set up a family for a harder time. We always encourage you to follow your baby. Babies know what they need, but they need your help to get there.
How are they asking for your help, without words? Read their cues.
Whenever your baby stops making eye contact with you, looks glassy eyed, or yawns, that means you are now within that sleep window. Helping your baby get to sleep is important at this moment; so, do what you can to make that happen. Begin your Sleep Rituals. If your baby is fussy, and starts mouthing at anything that touches his cheek, then feed your baby. As you continue to respond to your baby in this way, both you and your baby will be able to fall into a routine, together.
The first 8 weeks can be a rough, often trying, period for new parents. And, it doesn’t matter if this is your first baby or fifth, they all go through this. The first few weeks of life with a newborn are The Great Equalizer.
This is where your support team is most need.
Whether your team includes your parenting partner, friends, family members, or postpartum doulas; dividing up the days into shifts to allow times for resting and nourishment. This self-care is important for you, the parents. If you are feeling frazzled by the interruption in routine think about ways to support each other in getting more sleep during this period.
This may mean one of you goes to be at 7:00pm when the baby sleeps the longest, or it may mean one of you is geared to “party” at 4:00am when the little one will just not go to sleep. It also may mean you consider hiring overnight doula support, so that you and your partner can both maximize the sleep you're getting, and are ready to tag-team the daytime shift together.
Lots of families feel like they have to keep the same routine their family had pre-baby. It's easy to feel overwhelmed when they can’t exercise, cook a gourmet meal, meet a friend for coffee on the fly, keep the laundry under control, sleep 8 (consistent) hours every night, all the while keeping family and friends updated on social media.
This is the time to assess the most important things and Just. Do. That. This time isn’t forever, I PROMISE!
Sometimes it helps to think of your life, in this moment, on a timeline. Where are you in this point of your child's life? This time will be but a small blip on the timeline of many wonderful things to come.
Any time you get overwhelmed, take a breath and remember, this is a season of life and temporary.
And, if at any point, you're interested in adding a postpartum doula on your support team, reach out. We're here to help make life a little more simple, so you can focus on what's most important for your family.