Newborn sleep is a hot topic amongst new mums and mums to be but what is actually realistic when it comes to newborn sleep?
In this blog we’ll cover off how to know if your newborn is tired and the top five tired signs you can look for so that you can feel empowered and educated.
If you’re pregnant or have just given birth to your precious newborn, congratulations! Welcoming a new life into the world is a momentous occasion and perhaps you’ve had the realisation, ‘I’m not sure what my newborn baby NEEDS from me’.
As your baby is too little to send a clear message (they are newborns after all) and have just made the big transition from the comfy womb to our big wide world, we need to do our best to notice their newborn sleep cues.
We know overtired babies are cranky, unhappy, unsettled, fussy babies who often won’t sleep when they need it and at times newborn tired signs can be subtle or hard to read. This is why being aware of our baby’s awake windows combined with tired signs is our best indicator.
Let’s start with awake windows for newborns, keeping in mind newborns are tiny and often sleep, eat, poop on repeat with very little actual “awake time” to play and engage.
A guide to awake times for babies from newborn to three months
- Birth – 3 weeks – 45 minutes
- 3-6 weeks – 45-60 minutes
- 6-9 weeks – 60-75 minutes
- 9-12 weeks – 75-90 minute
- 3 months – 1.5-1.75 hours
Use the above awake times to guide your days and weeks ahead in the ‘fourth trimester’. This is the first 12 weeks of your baby’s life in the outside world. They’re not set in stone and may vary +/- 15 minutes but you can use them in combination with the next point… signs of tiredness in newborns.
Top 5 tired signs in newborns include:
Redness around the eyebrows
Just like when you and I get tired, we might rub our eyes. Our little one’s eyes can become sore/tight and become a little red. Look for the little red “M” between their eyebrows as a tired cue.
Jerky body movements
Newborn movements are unpredictable as their little parasympathetic nervous system hasn’t learnt to relax through these motions. Watch your little one and notice their movements during their awake times and how they change towards the end of their awake period. Do their movements become more erratic?
Can’t hold a gaze
For a newborn their “play” is watching you. They observe you, watching your facial and body movements. When they are no longer able to maintain your gaze, they will turn away. This can be a sign of everything becoming too much for them and they are growing tired. They can also become over-stimulated and turn away, especially if a loving relative is being a little too in their face with loud noises and big facial expressions.
This can be a tricky tired sign. Some babies yawn after a good sleep or it can be a sign of boredom and needing a change of activity. Watch for yawning accompanied with other tired signs in order to recognise your newborns unique combination.
Grizzling and crying towards the end of awake window
Crying is our newborn’s only way of communication, so this can also mean tired, hungry, bored or overstimulated. It can be tricky and a little trial and error at the beginning.
Expert Tip: A good rule to determine whether your newborn is ready for sleep is to look for 3 tired signs over a 10 minute period in combination with age appropriate awake times.
At the start of this blog I mentioned newborn sleep is a hot topic and because it’s such a hot topic it can become a little overwhelming. Let’s now take some time to check in on newborn sleep myths.
Debunking common newborn sleep myths….
Spoiling your baby will create a “rod for your own back”
Closeness and proximity is an essential requirement of the fourth trimester. If we look at the “womb life to room life” transition we will note that in utero our baby has known nothing but a continuous supply of food, feelings of security in a swaddle- like environment that’s temperature controlled and has regular movement/swaying.
Is it any wonder our newborns love us to replicate all these things once they’re earth side? As a mum and professional who helps families every day, I can assure you that any external support provided to your newborn in the fourth trimester can be weaned off, if or when you and your little one are ready.
The newborn days go so quickly so my best advice is to soak up these precious snuggles, get comfy and watch some Netflix if they are struggling to settle in their bassinet during the day. Nothing is forever and we can ALWAYS change something that no longer becomes sustainable in the long-term
Teach a newborn to self-settle from the beginning
This is simply not age appropriate. Whilst there are some babies who can be placed in the bassinet or cot and fall asleep independently, this is not the case for all babies and your baby certainly isn’t broken if they need more hands on assistance to transition from awake to sleep.
Assistance could be in the form of sucking at the breast/bottle or dummy or could be in the form of hands-on assistance such as rocking, holding or patting. When it comes to putting a newborn down to sleep you can choose whether you focus on settling to sleep or settling until drowsy.
Give yourself permission to meet your little one where they’re at developmentally in their newborn weeks and months and then begin to reduce intervention around 3-4 months (or as you and bub are comfortable).
Expert tip: When it comes to hands-on assistance, I hold the motto of “it’s not a problem unless it becomes a problem for you”. Hold onto this thought when you receive (often unsolicited) well-meaning advice from others.
Start a strict routine from the beginning
Newborn sleep is unpredictable. They don’t have a functioning circadian rhythm which makes any sleep schedule unrealistic in terms of predictability prior to 12-16 weeks of age.
Strict sleep times will often lead to stress and frustration and make you feel like a “failure” before you’ve even started. Whilst sleep rhythms and patterns are important, especially when you consider awake times and tired cues, trying to impose strict sleep times is unrealistic. It’s these unrealistic expectations of sleep that can steal the joy of motherhood, especially in the newborn days.
Expert tip: You can work towards a feed/play/sleep routine as a guide, but don’t hold your baby out for feeds/sleep due to a set sleep schedule. Your baby doesn’t understand the clock and this can have negative impacts on establishing your supply in the early days and weeks of breastfeeding!
Feeding on demand
A newborn’s tummy size is TINY!
- Day 1 – size of a cherry
- Day 3 – size of a walnut
- 1 Week – size of an apricot
- 1 Month – size of an egg!
Did that just blow your mind on WHY newborns need to feed more frequently? Whilst breast milk is additionally easy to digest, this does not mean switching to formula will make your baby sleep longer by “filling them up”. There’s been countless research studies to dispel this sleep myth. Feed on demand, not to the clock. Your baby does not know time, only their hunger.
It’s easy to get caught up in all the opinions and advice available which is why knowing realistic expectations and signs to look out for can help prevent the dreaded overtired cycle.
Looking for more tips on newborn sleep? Check out the blog 5 Quick And Easy Ways To Calm Your Newborn to help relax and soothe your baby.
If you’ve just had a baby (or about to bring your newborn into the world) the first 12 weeks after birth will see you experience the fourth trimester. I want to be there for you during this time and help you feel more confident with your baby.
My Fourth Trimester Guide is designed from birth to 12 weeks and is filled with easy-to-read information on what’s needed to establish gentle and healthy sleep foundations. In the downloadable guide you’ll find details on popular newborn topics such as setting up an optimal sleep environment, feeding, awake times, swaddling and much, much more. Find the Fourth Trimester here.