What Is Sleeping Through The Night? Why New Parents Get Little Sleep And How You Can Get A Few More Zzzzs

28/09/2017 16:16 BST | Updated 28/09/2017 16:16 BST
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Newborn babies are all about feeding, feeding, feeding and they don't know what time of day or night it is. Their urgent need for milk at all-hours means in the early weeks of parenthood there is not a lot of sleeping for anybody.

Your baby's stomach is only as big as their clenched fist which is why they're constantly emptying and refilling it again. A newborn baby usually feeds every two to three hours and sometimes even more frequently in the early days depending on their own needs. Hopefully as your baby becomes more efficient at feeding they may go three to four hourly between feeds.


How much sleep do you think you should be getting?

So when does a new parent get to sleep? A lot of mums tell me for the first 3-4 months (sometimes more) they feel like they're living in fog. The huge demands on them both physically and emotionally from their baby can be overwhelming. They aren't getting enough sleep not because they're doing anything wrong but because a newborn baby could be feeding between an average of roughly ten to fourteen times in 24 hours. When eventually you do get your head down to sleep for five or six hours continuous sleep it may feel like the fog is starting to lift.

People are constantly asking new parents, 'Do they sleep through?'. But what does this mean? The expectation that a baby should be sleeping for a stretch of 8-12 hours is unrealistic. A baby's tiny stomach would be completely empty and they'd be dehydrated if they slept for this long. A realistic expectation might be if your baby slept from ten o'clock at night to three o'clock in the morning or from midnight until four or six the next morning but even getting them to do that takes time.

All parents know that when a baby really needs to feed they can't wait; they have no concept of time all they know is they're hungry. In the early days of parenthood this leaves new mums and dads very little time or energy for anything else other than caring for your baby and getting something to eat and a little shut-eye yourself. There will be days when getting a shower and brushing your teeth will feel like a big achievement in the little time you have between feeds - it is!


Napping and feeding in the day is key to a better night

Getting the right amount of nap time and milk during the day is part of the secret to a better night's sleep for you and your baby but it may not happen straight away. Your child's sleep needs will continually evolve throughout their childhood right into their adolescent years.

If your baby sleeps for longer than four hours at a time in the day it's likely they will keep you up to feed more frequently during the night. If you feel they've slept for too long during the day you can help them wake up gently and naturally by popping their legs out of their clothing and removing any blankets so they can feel the cool air on their little feet and legs. Whilst you talk softly to your baby turn up the light and feed them when they wake.

Each baby has their own ideas

Every baby is different and you'll find that things are constantly shifting in how and when you feed them and put them down for a nap. There will be patterns and mini-routines that may last a week or two but in the first year this is constantly evolving.

You can shape and influence your baby's day to day routine and acknowledge all you're doing to meet their practical and emotional needs. It's helpful to be flexible and accept that some days will be beyond your control and there's nothing wrong with going with the flow of what feels right for you.

Looking after your own health will help you to meet your baby's needs as well. New parents are amazing at how much they give to their baby. One day you'll look back and won't know how you did it, so take it one day at a time. Enjoy this special time as much as you can.

For more from author and former health visitor Sarah Beeson MBE go to sarahbeeson.org