Six important things you need to know about your baby’s sleep patterns

Sleep is a critical part of life. It allows our bodies to rest and recover from the day’s activities, but it also plays an important role in mental health and emotional well-being.

Sleep deprivation can lead not only to irritability and moodiness but also lack of focus and attention span as well as decreased productivity at work or school. Newborn babies need sleep just like adults do, but their sleep patterns are different than that of adults: they spend more time sleeping than awake (up to 16 hours per day), and they have shorter periods of REM sleep than we do.

Those early months of parenthood can truly be a fog, with parents adjusting to broken sleep and babies trying to fathom exactly when they’re meant to be snoozing … and when it’s time to feed or play.

Senior nurse educator with Tresillian Family Care Centre Fran Chavasse says that baby sleep patterns and their development are intrinsically linked.

1. In utero, sleep patterns provide baby sleep clues for parents

If a mother can think and listen or talk to her baby and begin to be very conscious of what her baby’s doing [in utero] she will begin to recognize when her baby is awake and active and then asleep,” Fran explained on parenting podcast, Feed Play Love.

“When her baby is asleep and when her baby is awake and active is actually mimicking what that baby will be doing after birth. So if her baby is awake between two and four in the morning she can probably expect her baby to be awake between two and four in the morning after birth.”

2. Babies are born with undeveloped circadian rhythms 

Your circadian rhythm is the internal body clock that cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals and tells you when you need to sleep.

“In the first month particularly, [babies] don’t even have a day-night rhythm yet,” Fran revealed. “That’s developing.”

She stressed the importance of creating the right environment for your baby to learn when they should be asleep – and when it’s party time. More on that in points 5 and 6!

3. Babies are born with a very fast sleep-wake rhythm

“Their rhythm is what’s called free-running rhythm,” Fran said of babies’ two- to four-hour sleep-wake cycle.

“So they’ll just wake and sleep and wake and sleep for the first four weeks. By about four weeks, the baby is more awake in the day and will sleep more at night.”

Mother replacing newborn dummy in cot

4. A breastfeeding mum’s body helps regulate her baby’s sleep patterns

Melatonin is a naturally occurring human hormone and levels of this hormone increase in the evening. One of its jobs is to help us to sleep.

“We need melatonin to sleep,” Fran told Feed Play Love. “So our melatonin starts to rise in the evening and reaches a peak in the early hours of the morning.”

Breastmilk is melatonin-rich at night as our melatonin rises,” Fran said. “Babies have melatonin in their system, but it needs time to develop.”

While there’s often chatter about formula-fed babies sleeping well, it’s interesting to note that breastfeeding mums are helping their babies sleep via this mum-to-baby melatonin that is passed on via breastmilk.

5. Lighting and devices interfere with baby sleep

“One of the problems we have in our society is our use of blue lights in computers,” Fran told us citing “our phones and game consoles and computers and tablets” as other culprits.

She also points out that daylight savings and fluorescent lighting can disrupt the development of a baby’s circadian rhythm and affect mum’s sleep patterns too.

Fran said lighting can “delay the secretion of melatonin in breastmilk as well.” 

6. Expressing milk for night feeds can sabotage baby sleep

If you’re breastfeeding and pumping milk for your baby, it’s wise to make a distinction between the milk you express at night time and the milk you pump during the day.

“Breastmilk is high in melatonin at night, so it’s best to breastfeed at night,” Fran said noting that, “Expressing breast milk during the day for feeds at night [means] there won’t be any melatonin in it.”


Six important things you need to know about your baby’s sleep patterns. Six important things you need to know about your baby’s sleep patterns.

Six important that their development are intrinsically linked, parents can listen or talk in utero and begin being very conscious of what her baby is doing she will realize when her baby is awake active between two-four the morning-after birth.

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