fbpx
Skip to main content UVA Health logo of UVA Health
Healthy Balance

Maternity Monday: Sleep Schedules for Moms and Babies

Giving birth puts your body through a lot of trauma, and the baby has gone through an ordeal as well. Your body needs to relax! It may go without saying, but don’t make big plans in the days and weeks following baby’s arrival. Sleep is a priority! Visitors may come and go, but it’s OK to tell people it’s time to relax and ask them to come back another time.

Mommy and Baby Need Sleep

The new baby needs a lot of sleep, anywhere between 16 to 20 hours per day, says pediatrician Heather Quillian, MD. The baby’s sleep schedule will be disjointed and erratic, and you may not be able to predict when the baby will sleep. Your baby will only be comfortably awake for an hour or two at a time.

preconception, pregnancy and childbirth
Join us as we journey through preconception, pregnancy, childbirth and beyond in a series we call Maternity Monday.

Baby will let you know when they are sleepy. Watch for certain signs:

  • Yawning
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Fussing
  • Acting fidgety

Don’t be alarmed if baby sleeps for more than a few hours at a time, but remember your baby will need to eat every several hours, Quillian says, don’t allow or expect your new baby to sleep a full nights sleep (8 hours or more). If this is the baby’s sleeping habit, consult your pediatrician.

Mommy needs sleep, too. Doctors recommend lying down and resting every time baby sleeps, even if you don’t fall asleep. Your body has gone through a lot and needs time to recover. Pregnancy prepares you for a lack of sleep, Quillian points out. It’s rare to sleep through the night at nine months pregnant, and in the first months of baby’s life, mommy and daddy shouldn’t expect a full night’s sleep either.

Getting on a Sleep Schedule

Quillian admits it’s hard to get baby on a sleep schedule until about four months of age. A new baby doesn’t really understand the concept of daytime and nighttime, just that they feel tired and want to sleep. Don’t try to keep baby awake through the daylight hours to ensure they sleep longer at night. It won’t work and you will likely have a fussy baby.

A baby's crib or bassinet should have absolutely nothing in it. "Make it boring," says Dr. Quillian
A baby’s crib or bassinet should have absolutely nothing in it. “Make it boring,” says Dr. Quillian

During the early days and weeks, be sure to cuddle and snuggle your baby as much as you can. “There is no such thing as too much spoiling,” says Quillian. Baby loves to be held and needs the human interaction. The snuggling will help baby feel comforted and will promote sleep.

Baby may sleep as long as four hours at a time, but it may not be at night. It’s easier to adjust our schedule than to try to adjust theirs.

If you try to implement a sleep schedule too early, you may feel like you’re spinning your wheels, and, in fact, even at four months old, baby may not catch on. After a few months though, you can start a routine that implies to baby that it’s nighttime and time to sleep:

  • Keep your household at a manageable noise level during the day and quieter at night.
  • Turn the lights down low at nighttime.
  • Change baby into pajamas.

Remember, sleep promotes sleep, and babies may not learn how to sleep on a schedule if left to do their own thing. Do not leave them to their own devices, Quillian warns. With help from parents they will learn slowly over time that nighttime is sleep time. Getting a baby into a good sleep pattern can take some work, but it is worth it, Quillian advises. A good night’s sleep benefits everyone.

SIDS, Sleep and Safety

There is plenty of information out there regarding baby sleep safety and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) prevention. “Make sure there is a firm sleep surface; that’s the most important thing,” says Quillian. “A crib or bassinet will do. There should be nothing in it. No blankets, no pillows.”

Quillian adds that baby should be laid on his or her back, and pediatricians at UVA do not recommend any sleep positioners. It’s okay, she adds, to be swaddled in a light blanket or sleep sack, but keep the crib as boring as possible. All the things that make your bed cozy are an absolute no-no for your baby.

Having a new baby at home will be intimidating, and you may be worried about baby sleeping too much or too little. If you have any concerns, be sure to call your pediatrician.

Reply & View Comments Search Submit

Subscribe for Updates

Get stories & health tips every week

Related