mom watching tv and holding baby who won't sleep through the night
New Baby Night Waking Parenthood

Why Newborns Won't Sleep Through the Night

By Alysa Dobson

So you’re out and about with your first baby and you run into that smiling, elderly woman at the grocery store who asks you the two standard new baby questions: 1) Is he a good baby? And 2) Is he sleeping through the night yet? And like most new mothers, your answer to question one will likely depend on your answer to question two.

All new parents dream of the day when we will once again catch a full 8 hours of sleep.

As the first few weeks pass in a blur, most of us can’t wait until sleeping through the night becomes the norm for our babies. Each baby is different, but most are capable of sleeping through the night, for 12 hours, somewhere between 3-6 months. If you have a newborn and are feeling pressure from that well-meaning old lady or anyone else who asks you the two standard new baby questions, here are the reasons why newborns should not be sleeping through the night.

3 Reasons Why Newborns Won’t Sleep Through the Night

Image courtesy of kit4na / CC BY-2.0
Image courtesy of kit4na / CC BY-2.0

1. Newborn babies do not have an established circadian rhythm or body clock

This means that they have day/night confusion and they don’t sleep according to natural biological rhythms. Instead, because newborns are neurologically immature, their sleep does not follow a schedule. Newborns don’t reach a very deep sleep and they don’t often sleep for long stretches.

2. Lighter sleep is safer sleep

New parents may feel pressure from others to lay their baby on his tummy, in the prone position, to encourage a deeper sleep. Research suggests that babies who sleep on their backs are far less likely to become victims of SIDS because they are more wakeful. Therefore, wakeful newborn sleeping is a protective factor for SIDS. Similarly, a baby who is not accustomed to prone sleeping, who is placed on his tummy to sleep, is at an 18 times greater risk of SIDS on the first or second occurrence of tummy sleeping.

3. Newborn tummies don’t take the night off

Breastfed babies need to eat as often as every one-and-a-half to three hours. While newborns who are bottle fed require 15-20 oz of formula over a 24 hour period. Because their tummies are little, they need these feeds in small amounts throughout the day and night. Generally, for healthy babies, if the need to sleep is greater than the need to feed, we allow babies to sleep through a feeding and catch up afterward. However, newborns that are premature or underweight will need to be monitored closely. Often parents will be instructed by their pediatrician to wake an infant for scheduled feedings to ensure that baby is getting enough to eat and growing well.

If you find yourself in the trenches of newborn, round-the-clock parenting, rest assured this won’t last forever.

It’s normal for infants under 6-8 weeks to have unorganized sleep and day/night confusion. As babies reach the 6-8 week mark, nighttime sleep begins to organize and babies tend to sleep for longer stretches. When infants near 4 months, their day time sleep also begins to fall into a schedule and this is when you can generally expect to see your baby nap 3 times a day and sleep for 12 hours at night. If you teach your child the skill of independent sleep when he’s developmentally ready to learn it, you will be reporting proudly to anyone who will listen that yes, you have a good baby and indeed he is sleeping through the night.

Our next reco: Rethinking the 4 Month Sleep Regression

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