How much will my baby sleep?
Newborn babies sleep a lot (up to 18 hours a day), but your baby will have their own pattern of waking and sleeping.
Their pattern is unlikely to fit with yours. Newborns cannot tell the difference between night and day, and it is very normal for them to wake up. You can expect to get up a few times during the night to feed, change or comfort your baby.
Even though this is normal it can be very hard to cope with when your body is recovering from birth and you are getting used to life with the newest member of your family.
Apart from being tired, if you are having sleepless nights, you may also feel:
- cross, stressed and more emotional
- unable to focus
- hungrier than usual.
A lack of sleep can also lower your immune system, so you are less able to fight off infections.
How can I cope with sleepless nights?
Having a good night’s sleep may seem impossible right now. But there are things you can do to make things a little easier, until your baby starts sleeping for longer stretches, or through the night.
Ask an expert
Around 2 weeks after your baby’s born your midwife will hand over yours and your baby’s care to a health visitor. During the first few visits your health visitor will check your baby’s development after birth and ask how you and your baby are sleeping. Try to be honest about how you are coping. Remember that it is normal for your baby to wake up at night. In fact, most babies are not ready to sleep for longer patches, let alone through the night, until they are at least 6 months old.
Your health visitor will be able to reassure you that your baby is sleeping as they should be for their age. They will give you tips and advice on what to do if you are struggling with sleepless nights. This may include your partner or a loved one settling your baby while you sleep, or asking friends and family for help with household tasks for a short while.
Talk to other parents
Talking to other parents with babies of a similar age or older can help you realise that you are not alone. Even babies that slept well early on can start waking up often again, sometimes because of teething or illness, but sometimes for no obvious reason. Try to ignore tips on how to ‘fix’ your baby’s sleep. Instead, focus on advice that can help you cope during this stage. Your baby will settle down to a better sleep pattern with time.
Follow safer sleeping advice
If you are a first-time parent, you may be anxious about the best way for you and your baby to sleep safely. If you’re not sleeping well, this can increase your anxiety levels.
There are lots of things you can do to make sure your baby is sleeping as safely as possible.
The safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot or a Moses basket, in the same room as you for the first 6 months, even during the day. ALWAYS sleep your baby on their BACK in a CLEAR cot or sleep space (free of bumpers, toys and pillows).
Some parents choose to share a bed with their baby. If you want to do this, try to follow the co-sleeping advice from The Lullaby Trust. These guidelines help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which used to be known as cot death.
Never sleep on a sofa, or in an armchair, with your baby. This can increase the risk of SIDS by 50 times.
Find out more about safe sleep for babies.
Sleep when your baby sleeps
It would be great to have at least 8 hours’ sleep in one go, but that may feel like a thing of the past right now. Be assured that, no matter how you are feeding, with time your baby will start to go longer between feeds and you'll be able to sleep for longer too.
Try to grab sleep when you can, which is likely to be when your baby is sleeping. You may be tempted to spend this time catching up on chores, but try not to. If you cannot sleep then just rest. Even half an hour with your feet up can help you to feel better.
Eat well and stay hydrated
Being tired can make you feel more hungry. When you are so busy looking after your baby and making sure their needs are met, you are also more likely to grab what’s quickest, rather than what’s healthy.
To make sure you have a balanced diet, which gives you the energy you need, stock up on healthy snacks that you do not need to cook or prepare. Raw vegetables such as carrots and celery, along with a pot of dip, can be a quick and easy snack. When you do get the time to cook make extra portions that can be whipped out of the freezer and heated up for a quick lunch or dinner. Soups and stews are a great way to get your five-a-day. Plus, they are easy to reheat.
Sweet snacks or processed foods may give you a quick boost, but you are more likely to crash later on when your sugar levels drop. Instead, opt for healthy snacks that sustain you for longer, such as a boiled egg, a slice of wholegrain toast, or a small handful of mixed nuts. Keep snacks such as sweets, cakes and biscuits as a rare treat.
Hydrate by drinking plenty of fluids, ideally 6-8 glasses of water a day. A cup of coffee may help wake you up, but try not to rely on it if you are breastfeeding. Caffeine is a stimulant and it can reach your baby through your breast milk, which may affect your baby’s sleep patterns. Stick to the recommended daily limit of 200mg of caffeine, opt for decaf coffees and teas where you can, and avoid energy drinks and soft drinks that contain caffeine.
Ask others for help
If you are breast or chest feeding during the night and you have a partner, they may be able to help you get more sleep, by winding your baby after feeding and settling them down to sleep again. This means you can go straight back to sleep until the next feed.
If you are using a bottle for expressed milk or formula milk, you could even try sleeping apart from your partner every now and again, if you have the space. That way at least one of you gets a full night of sleep.
If your partner works on weekdays, so needs to sleep well from Monday to Friday, let them do more at weekends. Perhaps they can take your baby downstairs for a few hours in the morning, or for a couple of hours after lunch, so you can catch up on your sleep.
“I would sleep next to the cot from Sunday to Thursday because my partner went to work early. He would then sleep next to the cot Friday and Saturday and sort the first feed of the day, so I could have a lie-in and catch up on my sleep.”
If you are finding it hard to stay awake during night feeds, and your partner can support you, ask them to talk to you while you feed your baby. This will help you not to fall asleep on a chair or in bed with your baby.
Ask family and friends for support with household tasks or food shopping if you are a single parent or your partner cannot help out. You could even ask them to look after your baby for a few hours while you have a shower, get some sleep, or just enjoy some alone time. You will most likely find that they are more than happy to help you out.
Life will feel pretty hectic, once you have had your baby. You may find it tricky to stay on top of things, especially around the house. This will be even harder if you are sleep-deprived, because your energy levels will be low, and you may not be thinking clearly.
Make life easier for yourself, and slow down. The main thing that matters right now is your baby. Leave the cleaning or ask someone else to do it. Do your food shopping online, and make simple meals. Sometimes, muddling through is enough.
“Batch cooking meals and storing these in the freezer is very useful, especially on the more difficult days when you don’t have any energy to cook.”
Create a soothing bedtime routine
Having a baby may mean tweaking your own bedtime routine to ensure you get enough sleep. It may mean going to bed early so that you have a few hours of sleep before the first feed of the night. If you struggle to drift off, a soothing bedtime routine can help you wind down for the evening.
These sleep hygiene tips may help:
- Go to bed at the same time each night.
- Have a warm bath in the evening.
- Read a book, or listen to an audiobook, rather than scrolling on your phone in bed.
- Make your bedroom calming (as well as baby-friendly) by keeping it dark, quiet and cool.
Do not take any sleeping pills or medications without speaking to your GP first
Speak to your GP if you are finding it hard to sleep and these changes do not help.
Do not take any kind of over-the-counter sleeping aid or medications that may make you drowsy before speaking to your doctor. This includes any sleeping aids/pills you may have been prescribed before.
Some medications can pass into your breast or chest milk if you are breast or chest feeding.
If your GP does prescribe something for you, it will likely be for a short amount of time and at a low dose. Do not share a bed with your baby if you are taking anything to help you sleep because this can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
Instead, you could try mindfulness or meditation apps. Your doctor might also suggest a type of therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBTi).
Remember this will pass
When you are having broken sleep and feeling overwhelmed, it can feel like the days roll into one, and the nights never end. It can help to focus on the fact that this will pass. It may be tough now, but your baby will start sleeping for longer and so will you.
Get help if you are struggling with your mental health
If one bad night can make you grumpy, it is no surprise that weeks or months of being sleep deprived can lead to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.
If you are feeling low, you are not alone. Up to 1 in 5 women develop mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth. More than 1 in 10 will have postnatal depression (PND).
It is natural to have a lot of strong feelings in the first few months after giving birth. But if your negative feelings will not go away, that could be a sign of something more severe.
Some parents may find it hard to talk about feeling low, at a time when everyone expects them to be happy, but no one is going to judge you. Tell your health visitor or GP how you feel. They can help you find the treatment and support you need to manage your symptoms and get better.
Find out more about your mental health after the birth.
Going back to work
You may find that your baby is sleeping better by the time you finish parental leave. If not, and you are still getting up a lot in the night, it can be tough to feel ready for your working day.
Some days will be better than others, but there are things you can do to balance your work and home life.
How will I cope with sleepless nights when I'm back at work?
Finding a good balance between the needs of your work and your family may help you to feel less stressed and more productive when you are working.
Flexible working is now the norm for lots of businesses and all employees have the legal right to request flexible working. You must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks before you apply. (These rules may be different in Northern Ireland.)
You may be able to work from home for 1 or 2 days a week. Or you could ask for hours outside of the 9-5, to take the pressure off and give you chance to catch up on an hour or two of sleep. Or if you can afford to, cut down on your hours or days of work, go part-time, or ask about a job-share set-up.
Your employer can refuse your request for flexible working if they have a good business reason, but they must deal with it ‘in a reasonable manner’.
Visit Gov.UK to find out more.
Plan your week
If you are sleep deprived, it can sometimes be hard to think what your own name is, never mind what you have to do at work that day. It may sound obvious, but getting organised can help you feel more in control of your time. Use an app, calendar or diary to plan ahead. Make a note to update it at a certain time each week. Set up automated reminders or make lists to aid your memory. Try to plan your day so you are doing the toughest tasks when you are likely to be feeling at your best.
Take a day off for you
A lot of new parents save their annual leave for days when their baby may need them. For example, when they need to get their vaccinations, or if they are poorly. You may also be planning your first trip away as a family.
But if you are sleep deprived, it’s good to take a half day or a full day off every now and again if it’s possible, to have some time to yourself.
Do something you feel would benefit you in this time, rather than chores. Whether you sleep, watch a film, or have lunch with a friend, spend your time doing things that make you feel a bit more rested and ready to go.