Though it's hard for new parents to hear, creating a sleep schedule for a newborn is typically not possible. However, understanding their sleeping pattern is important.
Sarah Sobik, M.D., M.P.H., IBCLC,
an outpatient breastfeeding medicine specialist at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, consults new and expectant parents about breastfeeding and other pregnancy and newborn topics at the Breastfeeding and Lactation Medicine Clinic
at ACH Southwest Little Rock Clinic
. She shared her tips and information about safe sleep for a newborn’s first month of life.
Shhhh, Baby’s Sleeping … A Lot
Newborns sleep, on average, 17 to 18 hours a day. Some babies have "high sleep needs" and can sleep 16 to 20 or more hours daily. Sobik said during the first week of life, newborns will sleep more. Around the two-week mark, they begin to be awake more. It is normal for nap times to vary, for example, 30 minutes for one nap and 2 1/2 hours the next.
Sleeping patterns change drastically as the baby grows, typically not normalizing until they are toddlers.
“That whole first month, parents should not expect to set a newborn sleep schedule,” Sobik said.
As they grow, feeding and sleeping impact each other. Sobik recommends that a baby not nap more than 2 or 2 1/2 hours during the day so a baby can feed more frequently, and then develop longer sleep stretches overnight.
“The more calories they get during the daytime, the better they might sleep at night, but that’s not for every baby,” she said.
Safe sleeping environment
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a baby sleep in the same room as the parent, parents or guardians for their first 6 months in a bassinet next to the bed.
Sobik said a safe sleeping setup includes the following:
- Place baby on their back
- Sleep on a flat, hard surface in a crib, bassinet or portable playpen
- No pillows or blankets
- Swaddle until about 2 months. They should then sleep un-swaddled in a sleep sack.
A safe sleeping environment also reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, defined by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) as “sudden and unexpected death, whether explained or unexplained, occurring during infancy.” According to a 2022 AAP report, 3,500 infants die annually in the U.S. from sleep-related deaths, including SIDS.
Other top ways to reduce SIDS include:
- Using a pacifier
- Not smoking
What is colic?
Colic is when a healthy baby screams and cries for no reason, more than three hours a day for at least three weeks. It is typical for a baby to cry less than three hours a day. There isn’t a specific cause for colic, but the AAP points to some possibilities, which include:
- Being unusually sensitive to stimulation
- Inability to self-soothe due to an immature nervous system
Sobik said there are things parents can do to treat the symptoms, which include:
- When crying starts, move the baby to a calm, cool, dark room
- Use white noise
- Shush the baby
- Letting a baby suckle on a pacifier
"It's tough because when you have a colicky baby, it can drive you crazy. It's hard for you to stay calm, and I think that also can trigger the baby to cry more," Sobik said. "It is important for parents to have a support system so they can take a break when they have a colicky baby. I often tell parents, as long as the baby is fed, in a clean diaper and has a safe place to lay, it is OK to walk away from a crying baby if the parent needs a break."
Babies tend to outgrow colic around 3 months. Here are colic relief tips for parents.
Learn more about safety tips from the Arkansas Children's injury prevention center.