They call the first 3 months of your newborn’s life the 4th trimester. This is a time for bonding with your baby. Your main focus should be looking after yourself and enjoying lots of cuddles, making your baby feel loved, safe and content, as they adjust to their life outside of the womb.
Once you feel ready, for example: feeds are established and you feel you are more in control, you may want to start creating good foundations for your little one’s sleep.
Knowing what controls our own sleep and our baby’s sleep is a good place to start when thinking about creating healthy sleep habits for our children and also ourselves.
There are two interpolating forces for our sleep: our sleep drive (also known as sleep pressure, which is basically the longer we are awake, the more tired we are) and our circadian rhythms.
Sleep pressure is what makes our bodies want to sleep. It builds up throughout the day. The longer you are awake, the higher your sleep pressure levels are and the more sleepy you become. If you do not have enough sleep pressure, you will find it difficult to fall asleep or to stay asleep for long periods of time. Newborn babies’ sleep pressure builds up very quickly, hence the need for regular naps.
Our circadian rhythms follow a 24-hour clock controlled by our brain, which helps to control your sleep-wake cycles, body temperature, hormone release and metabolism . These are influenced by light and darkness as well as other environmental factors.
Very young babies aren’t able to distinguish between night and day. It can take babies 12 weeks, or sometimes more, to develop mature circadian rhythms. This can offer an explanation as to why their sleep patterns can be all over the place. We can, however, help to support the development of our baby’s circadian rhythm by creating positive habits and routines as well as helping them to distinguish between day and night.
Here’s how you can help your baby develop their circadian rhythm:
- During awake times, try to make sure your baby gets exposure to lots of daylight. This can be outdoors (make sure indirect sunlight) or indoors (open the curtains up when waking your baby in the morning and from naps). Don’t put pressure on yourself to be outdoors daily or for long periods of time. 15-20 minutes will suffice and fresh air and daylight will be good for you as well.
- Stimulation during the day. Enjoy doing activities with your baby in-between naps. Sing, play, whatever you like!
- Try to establish a regular feeding pattern in the day and try to feed your baby in a space with lots of daylight, if possible. Very small babies may fall asleep whilst feeding and that is okay.
- During the day, keep household noises to their normal level.
- In the lead up to bedtime, keep activity levels low and the lights dim in order to create a calming and relaxing environment conducive to sleep. If you wanted to, you could begin a bedtime routine consisting of a few activities such as bath time, massage, singing/story, feeding.
- During the night, try to keep a quiet and calm environment for any night feeds and nappy changes. If using a nightlight for feeds or nappy changes, try to use red or amber (not blue as this can inhibit the production of the hormone melatonin).
Most importantly, do not feel pressured to be in a routine or to get your baby sleeping better in the early months. The best advice I can give you is to enjoy this time, give your baby lots of kisses and cuddles as they aren’t babies forever x