How Are Newborn Babies Supposed To Sleep?

While most newborns spend much of any 24 hour period napping or sleeping, they only do this in a truly healthy and developmentally optimal way if they do not feel insecure, unhappy or distressed in any way. Infants need to be close to at least one of their parents to feel safe. Their sleep cycles are quite different from those of adults with more time spent in dream and lighter sleep, which means they wake more frequently – this is one of Mother Nature’s survival techniques for infants. Unfortunately many health professionals and parents don’t understand this, though there is abundant research on the matter. Consequently, many parents try and ‘force’ babies to sleep independently, for longer stretches and through the night, way before they are ready for this. As a result, babies feel less safe and secure – and resist sleep and wake more frequently due to stress. Adults experiencing tension often have disturbed sleep patterns too, so this is hardly surprising!

Newborn babies’ sleep also aligns to that of their mothers if they are looked after in what is commonly called kangaroo mother care or skin-to-skin care. If baby is cradled close in the arms, lies snuggled close to mom and/or preferably placed with their naked chest and abdomens placed directly against their mothers’ chests (also preferably not covered by clothing), mother and infant soon develop a bond that allows for better sleep for both, best development for baby, improved breastfeeding, minimal crying, no stress and happier families.

Breast babies (and often those on formula too) need to feed quite often at night – this is all part of Mother Nature’s ‘survive and thrive’ strategy, as breast milk is so excellent for brain growth. They mostly multi-task and sleep at the same time! The best way to deal with this is to tuck them into bed with one and feed whenever they need to. Both mom and baby sleep better and in time babies sleep patterns will become more mature. Never expect them to be like an adult’s before adolescence though (!) as it takes that long to fully mature. That does not mean that babies will continue to wake 1-2 hourly until puberty though!

One of the most important questions a parent needs to ask when worried or upset about any change to a baby or child’s routine, is “what changed when the problem started”, because that often helps one know the cause and also find the cure, or at least how to improve matters. Sleep issues are THE most common query parents approach me with and it is important to state that sleep training is almost always a harmful technique, that many little ones simply don’t need as much sleep as their parents have been led to believe and that finding practical ways of all getting sufficient rest, even if not in one long stretch, is what is called for.

If you’d like to understand more about how and why babies sleep as they do, why not buy our Baby and Toddler Sleep Guide – you can download it and we promise you that you will find a lot of support, sense and sensitive techniques to help you, your baby and the whole family sleep well. There is also our Sleep like a Baby Workshop where we will take you through an innovative presentation that is sure to change the nights in your home for the better.