It’s hard for any new mom to be up from 2 to 5 a.m., blearily watching her baby coo, while she blinks at the clock and feels like she’s slipped into another dimension in space and time. And then when your baby sleeps better during the day, well, it can make you want to hurl her Whoozit out the window.
But why does your baby think that daylight hours are the optimal time for sleep? They’re like little diapered vampires, eschewing the sun and opting instead to pass out mid-coffeeshop sing-along. I reached out to Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg, a pediatrician and parenting expert, for her insights on this somewhat crazy-making phenomenon. “Most babies have their days and nights confused to start with,” she says. “Meaning they sleep longer during the day, and are up more frequently at night.”
In addition to already having a confused body clock, there’s the whole hunger issue. “Baby needs to feed during the night hours. Their stomachs are very small, yet they are growing. Babies need to gain, on average, an ounce a day for the first few months of life.”
Also, just because you’re completely wiped out, doesn’t mean baby isn’t ready to party. “Parents often have unrealistic views of when baby should be sleeping through the night,” Dr. Jen explains. “Mainly because they are (understandably) exhausted, and your own internal clock wants you to get some rest.”
While it might seem like a logical solution to just try and keep your little one up during the day, Dr. Jen says this is a bad idea. “You will often end up with a cranky baby during the day, as well as at night.” She says if a baby is tired, it’s best to just let them catch some Zs. “I advise feeding, comforting, and letting a newborn sleep when they show signs of being tired. Babies sleep about 16 hours a day, and usually not for more than two to four-hour stretches.”
While you may think this means you shall never sleep again, and are resigned to a zombie life of watching Jane Seymour discuss Crepe Erase at 3 a.m., take heart, mom — this won’t last forever. Dr. Jen says that once baby is a month old, it’s good to start a night-time routine. Though not a strict schedule — more of a loose attempt at lulling your little one to sleep. “Turn off loud music and TV, dim the lights, and close the blinds or window shades to set the environment,” says Dr. Jen. “Make a night habit of quiet playtime. Read books, have a bath, put on pajamas, then feed and have some quiet bonding time before sleep. Having a routine will help baby learn by cues that it’s time for rest.”
I have a similar routine with my husband, to let him know the slumbering hour has arrived. Once Succession is over, I take my bra off through my sleeve, don a sheet mask, and ask him to bring me a glass of water I will forget to drink. While your routine with your newborn will likely differ from this, you get the general idea — it’s all about giving the right cues.
Having a little day-sleeper can be rough, I know. But it shall pass. Says Dr. Jen: “Be patient, and consistent. Soon baby will be sleeping better at night, and will be active more during the day.”