I recently became a parent and you’d think that as a pediatrician, I was ready for a baby and everything that came with one. But after a month of being constantly woken up from sleep every 2 hours, as if my new child had come with a built-in alarm clock with no snooze button, I found myself asking: Will I ever sleep again?
If you’re like I was with a new baby, living on less sleep than you knew humanly possible with no end in sight, read on. I can’t promise you quick fixes, unfortunately, as I would have written this a lot sooner if I’d found one. What I can offer is encouragement that you’re not alone and some “what to expects” so that you know that your child is actually doing this baby thing right and that yes, you will sleep again.
First, expect to have a crying baby eager to eat every two hours when they send you home from the hospital. Some babies may push it to three or even four hours on occasion in those first few weeks, but expect two so those longer stretches seem like a bonus. It doesn’t matter if you’re breastfeeding or formula feeding or a combination of both. That’s because when they’re first born, your baby’s stomach is about the size of a cherry. It grows to the size of an egg by the first month, but this means it can’t hold a lot in there. So, short, frequent feedings lead to short, frequent naps. But as you watch your baby grow, their stomach is growing too, and that means that those naps will become a little bit longer.
Second, your baby will probably have no idea what day and night are. They will eat when they want and sleep when they want, regardless of when you want them to do it. But sometime around the one-month hump, you might notice a consistent stretch of sleep that lasts for four hours. Four blissfully uninterrupted hours. This may come with a catch, though, your baby has day and night mixed up. That longer stretch of sleep may be during the day. If this isn’t you, then consider yourself lucky. I think this was the most surprising thing for me. I was happy my baby was sleeping during the day while I was working, but had mixed feelings about the frequent awakenings I knew I was in for that night. This is common and has often sorted itself out by two months of age, if not sooner. For my child, it was like a switch just flipped around the 6 week mark. She finally knew when night was and what it was for.
And finally, if your baby doesn’t initially take to the bassinet, that’s okay. Keep trying. It may seem like every time you try to lay them flat they wake up and fuss, but it’s still the safest way for them to sleep. I know from experience that it seems easier to let them sleep in the bed with you but don’t give in. Babies who sleep with someone else or on their stomachs are at higher risk for suffocation, and a few hours of sleep isn’t worth that risk.
Having a new baby can be challenging, whether you’ve had others before or not, but keep up the good work. Take each night one at a time and know that there is a light at the end of that dark tunnel when it comes to sleep. I hope you feel the same as I do, that having a baby is still far and away the best thing in the world. Those smiles and laughs are worth all those sleepless nights!
If you have questions, or even if you just need some encouragement or to know if you’re on the right track, please reach out. Your pediatricians are here to help.