newborn-sleep-timeline

Newborn Sleep Timeline

Whenever I see a picture of my boys when they were newborns, I get this funny little pleasant tickle inside me.  When I see my friends’ newborns on Facebook, I get all mushy and sigh. There is something so beautiful and so precious about those little tiny fingers and toes.  But then I remember the sleepless nights, the constant feeding, the sometimes endless settling to sleep, and my baby love-drunk body begins to sober up.

The first three months are such an exciting phase because so many moms and dads have such different experiences.  Some babies are expert feeders and sleepers right from birth, while others have difficulty learning to latch or sleep well.  Neither is wrong or right; it’s just differing experience.

To help you through these sometimes messy, chaotic and exhausting first few months I’ve put together a general timeline of babies’ sleeping and feeding development for the first three months. It gives you an inkling of what you can expect and where your baby is in his/her development with regards to their sleep. 

Newborn Sleep Cycle

First, let’s have a look at your newborn’s sleep cycles.  A newborn’s sleep is different from that of older babies and adults.  At around 4 months of age is when your baby’s sleep cycle will begin to mature to be more like an adult’s.  

Newborns have two stages of sleep that they cycle through, active sleep and quiet sleep. 

Newborn sleep cycles are so much shorter as well, lasting between 45 and 50 minutes. It is why newborns will catnap many times during the day as they are waking after one sleep cycle every time.

The best tip is not to rush in when you think your baby is awake. They might be in active sleep and getting ready to settle back into a quiet sleep.  Newborns make lots of noises while they are sleeping and can appear quite active during parts of their sleep cycles. Wait a few moments before going to get your baby and see if he/she is settling back down.  

Sometimes your baby might need a little shush-pat to help them drift back to sleep.  Newborns generally sleep anywhere from 40 minutes to 4 hours. It is always a good idea to wake your newborn if they are due for a feed.    

Before Birth

Sleep Hormones and Love Hormones

At 24 weeks’ gestation, your beautiful pregnant body is beginning to increase the amount of melatonin that it produces.  Now, if you’ve been reading my posts and watching my videos, you’ll know I talk about melatonin a lot.  

This wonderful hormone that helps our children and us sleep.  It also plays a very crucial role in your body during pregnancy and works hand in hand with oxytocin (the love and bonding hormone) during labour.  It is why women often go into labour during the night when melatonin production is at its highest.  

Melatonin helps to regulate circadian rhythms in your body, stimulate sleep and is antioxidant and anticarcinogenic. Meaning that along with helping you sleep well at night it also helps your body to stay healthy and fight disease.

Melatonin production occurs in the pineal gland and the placenta.  The pineal gland does not develop until after birth, so your baby is dependent on you for their melatonin needs.  Although they don’t produce their sleep hormones yet, they have receptors to receive this wonderful hormone from you, Mama.

While in the womb, your baby has exposure to melatonin through the placenta.  Your baby receives lower levels during the day and more at night times. Helping their begin their bodies to understand of circadian rhythms (which won’t start to develop until 9-12 weeks postpartum.

Your body’s melatonin production reaches its peak at the time of your labour, and your baby is born with a nice healthy dose of the sleep hormone making them lovely and sleepy the first few weeks while they transition to their new environment.               

Weeks 1-3

The Honeymoon Phase 

Awake Times – Your baby can probably only manage to stay awake for 60 minutes or less 

Feeding – Starting to go 3 hours between feeds as your baby gets more efficient at feeding.

Napping – Several times during the day with 6 to 8 hours total day sleep

Night Time – Feeding on demand during the night

You get home from the hospital, and everything feels surreal.  Your little one seems to be asleep constantly waking only briefly for a feed, change and then heading straight back to sleep.  

“Are they supposed to be this sleepy?” 

I had a past client ask me.  It’s so easy to forget how sleepy your new baby was.  It is the lovely effect of your maternal melatonin during labour.  

Your baby will also receive the hormone through your breastmilk while you are feeding them.  It is pretty helpful to have a cute sleepy baby for the few weeks while you get used to the newest edition of your family.   It is also beneficial as your baby will not be able to produce their sleep hormone until around 8 weeks of age. 

At this stage, your baby has no circadian rhythms or internal biological clocks set,  meaning this is not the time for schedules or routines; your baby does not follow the clock.  It’s time to feed your baby when they are hungry and put him/her to sleep when he/she is tired.  These first few weeks are a time to get to know one another, recover from labour, get feeding on track and see birth weight regain.  

They will want to sleep and feed little and often over the day and night.  It might feel messy, unorganised and chaotic. Don’t worry about any so-called poor sleep habits.  Let your baby fall asleep at your bosom; this is very natural and comforting for you and your baby.  It isn’t time to worry about sleep habits and schedules. 

Newborn babies find comforts in many of sensations that they acclimated to in the womb. Many call the first three months of life the 4th trimester because even though your baby has been born, they still prefer the comforts of the womb and simulating these sensations can help to lull your baby to sweet sleep.   

Actions that help to calm your baby and trigger their calming reflex are:

1.       Swaddling

2.       Side or tummy settling (Always place your baby on their back for sleep)

3.       Sucking

4.       Shushing and White Noise

5.       Swinging and rocking

Use these five techniques to help settle your newborn when they are ready for sleep. 

Weeks 4-6

Starting to Get Fussy

Awake Times –  60 to 90 minutes.  Even if they aren’t showing tired signs, get them ready to sleep with your wind-down routine. 

Feeding – Baby will want to feed five to eight times during the day every 3 to 3 ½ hours.

Naps – Your baby will need three to five naps during the day 

Night Times – You might start to see longer stretches at night.  Your baby might begin to sleep in 3- to 6-hour stretches.  He/she will still feed on demand generally two to four times.   

It is where your newborn’s sleep may begin to get a little trickier.  All that lovely maternal melatonin that you gave your baby at birth has worn off by now, but they are not making their own yet.  You’ll start to notice that your baby has become a little more alert, can stay awake a little longer and is starting to take notice of the vast and marvelous world they now occupy. 

Along with this newfound wakefulness comes a new fussiness in your baby that you might not have experienced yet. However, if you are one lucky parent whose baby still sleeps everywhere and anywhere, enjoy your freedom while it lasts.  By 4 months of age, it will be essential to begin to respect your baby’s need for sleep. But for now, enjoy the flexibility you happily sleeping baby gives you. 

However, you will probably begin to notice an increased fussiness during this time, with increasingly more crying.  This crying usually peaks at around six weeks of age and then begins to lessen off again.

Start to familiarise yourself with your baby’s sleepy and tired signs.

Knowing their tired signs and keeping to their awake windows will help you from inadvertently having an overtired baby making the crying and fussing worse.    

Tired Signs

·   Eyes are not focusing

·   Yawing

·   Slower movements

·   Less vocal

·   Sucking becomes weaker

·   Less moving around

·   Closing fists

·   Fluttering eyelids

·   Arching back

·   Jerky Movements

Even if you can’t see any tired signs, put your baby down for a nap by the end of their awake time.     

Colic

Usually, colic begins a few weeks after birth and can be at its worst during this 4-6 week mark.  It is often incorrectly diagnosed as gastrointestinal difficulties.  

But true colic is unexplained and prolonged crying. It was first diagnosed using the rule of three, which is at least three hours of wailing, at least three times a week, for three weeks.  Colic is generally worse during the early evening when lots of babies experience fussiness.

What causes colic is unknown.  If you have a colicky baby, they can be inconsolable and challenging to settle.  It can be a very stressful and harsh time if you are spending hours and hours with a crying, screaming baby.  

Nothing is amiss with you or your baby.  It’s just a period to go through as best you can.  If you have concerns, see your doctor because colic needs to be diagnosed by a doctor.  

Do your best to settle them and get help when and where you can.  It can be a backbreaking experience and, coupled with sleep deprivation, can lead to exhaustion.  Take offers of help and seek professional assistance if you need too. 

Around six weeks, we usually see night sleep begin to consolidate.  

Your baby might start to sleep for some longer stretches in the evening.  Even newborns can become in tune with their environment. If you haven’t already, it’s a great time to nail down those soothing routines for nap time and bedtime.  Do they like the dummy and some rocking to settle? Or a patted bottom up on your shoulder? Maybe you send them a song and rock them gently.       

At around 6 weeks of age, your baby will begin to smile—not just a little wind grimace, but a real social smile in return of the love and affection you’ve been giving your baby all these weeks.  Social smiling is a vital development sign. This new awareness of life and people can also mean a reluctance to miss out sleep. 

Week 7-9

Starting to Settle a Little Bit

Awake Windows – 70 to 90 minutes

Feeds – six to eight during the day

Naps – three to five

Night Time – Feeding on demand; you might start to notice a longer stretch of sleep in the early evening. 

Around this time, babies start to produce their melatonin.  If you have a fussy and colicky baby, it should lessen off now, and the crying should settle down. 

 As your baby is producing melatonin, it’s a great idea to make sure you have a conducive environment for sleep.  Use blackout blinds for the windows or get breathable blackout covers for the cot and pram. Darkness stimulates the production of melatonin, that lovely sleep hormone helping your baby to sleep better and for longer.  

With the longer stretches of sleep happening earlier in the evening you’ll start o see an earlier bedtime developing.  Watching for earlier tired signs and begin to move bedtime to 6/6:30 p.m. with an awake feed at 10:30 p.m.

Week 10-12

The End of the 4th Trimester

Awake Windows – 90 – 120 minutes

Feeds – five to six feeds during the day

Naps – three to four naps during the day

Night Time – Feed on demand; you might be starting to see longer stretches of 4–8 hours. 

The last few weeks of the newborn stage signal the ending of the 4th trimester. By now, your baby will be starting to develop their circadian rhythms and biological clocks.  

Along with your wind-down routines, now is a great time to start thinking about adding some schedule and structure to your day.  Your day won’t go precisely by the clock but think about adding some guidance and organisation to your day. 

If you have a colicky baby, you will see the crying practically switch off at the 12-week mark.  If your baby is still crying and fussing a lot, there may be some other causes such as reflux or gastrointestinal difficulties, allergies, or overtiredness.  You should have a doctor’s diagnosis for colic, and if the extreme fussiness keeps coming back, visit your doctor.   

12+

The 4th trimester is over, and your newborn is now a baby but is still considered an infant until 12 months of age.  This month from 12 to 16 weeks is a time of transition away from the newborn stage. Their sleep cycles will be developing and changing, and your baby won’t be as portable as they once were. 

Getting into a nice consistent schedule and routine can help the development of your baby’s circadian rhythms and help them to fall asleep quickly and at the best times.  Around 12 weeks, you’ll start to see the morning nap beginning at about 9 a.m. 

Below, parents have shared their experience of the first three months of their baby’s life.

Virigine

My daughter was an incredible sleeper at the very start.  The first 3 weeks she would only sleep curled up in my sweaty armpit (I had crazy hormonal nights sweats after birth), it was so sweet but also super scary as I was terrified to roll over her tiny body.  

She slept so good that I had to wake her for the night feedings; otherwise, she would have slept through.  The doctor told me that heavier babies usually sleep much better than smaller ones, and since she was so chubby (she was born 4 kg), I could skip a night feed at 2 weeks old, which was amazing.

At 6 weeks she started sleeping 12 hours straight, yup I realise I was one of the lucky ones.  My friend had told me not to pick up the baby as soon as she cried she said newborns cry a little between sleep cycles, so I did that.  I would watch her make little noises and observe. I only picked her up when she would wake up. I think it helped a lot. 

Abbey

I remember being in the hospital, and my daughter had slept for 10 hours on day 3.  The nurses came in and demanded that I wake her because her body couldn’t regulate. My mum’s advice was to let them sleep.  Both of my daughters started sleeping through early until 9 months, and then I don’t know what happened. 

Faith

My newborn stage started 2 months after my boys were born.  They were born at 30 weeks, so we stayed for 2 months in hospital before the boys were healthy enough to come home.  Because they were still so little, not even 3kgs yet we were on a strict 3-hour feeding schedule day and night and were not allowed to let them sleep until they gained more weight.  As their bodies were still so immature, they would sleep and miss out on much needed night calories.  

I would go to bed at 7 p.m. and set my alarm to express, and my husband would get up at 10 and then 1 a.m. to feed the boys.  I would get up at 4 a.m. for the last night feed. They started to take longer stretches at night when we were allowed to feed on demand during the night.  If one woke for a feed, we would wake the other. They didn’t sleep through until I did some gentle sleep training and then got rid of the dummy at around 5 ½ to 6 months. 

Ben

It was horrid.  My babies mum couldn’t get any sleep because my daughter was always up and down, up and down. She had reflux, and it would hurt her and wake her up. You would feed her, and she would spew it back up, so she needed twice as many feeds (instead of 8, she needed 16).  It was hard for her to keep anything down.  

She was always upset. She had to sleep sitting up; it hurt her less.  It was exhausting. She always had spew all over her. For the first 3 months, we didn’t know what was going on.  We got her adjusted by a chiropractor, which lessened the reflux, and she slept better. She would spend days and days with very little sleep and would be a mess.  Poor little thing. 

Greg

We had a little fella that cried every time we put him down. He only slept if we hold him.  Jodie and I were a tag team all night, 2 hours on, 2 hours off. But we got to see some cool old movies.

Candice

My son was a terror for 6 months. Koala bear cuddled us every nap day and night until this mamma tapped up and tried CIO. Two days later, he was brilliant.  My daughter, on the other hand, feels asleep wherever she wanted for the first 6 months. Then the bubble popped, and she would take over an hour to get to sleep every night. The joys of parenting.   

Cate 

You could say our firstborn was the “perfect baby” when it came to sleeping. She slept through the night (9+ hours) from 4 weeks. We would give her a bath, massage, story and feed then put her in her crib awake and she would self settle. She would sleep for hours during the day, and when old enough to sleep in a bed, she put herself to bed. A DREAM!!! 

People envied us!! So when we had our second little girl, 3 years later, we thought we had this all worked out… boy were we wrong!!! Let’s just say our second-born bundle of “joy” was allergic to sleep!!! She was an avid believer in the “Catnap” and didn’t sleep for longer than 45 minutes at a time, day and night. 

Our little girl has hip dysplasia, so I blamed it on that for a while, but I truly believe now that she simply was not a sleeper. Now she is in bed at 20 months, and she has decided that day sleeping is not a sport in this house. I’m totally not ready for this, but it is what it is, and we will survive. It just goes to show that even though 2 children can be raised in the same house, by the same people, have the same routine, and they can be SO DIFFERENT!

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