Many new parents want more sleep, and one way to get that would be if their babies would sleep peacefully through the night. In fact, so often when asking a new parent how they’re getting on, well-meaning friends, relatives and complete strangers in the street focus on how much the baby is sleeping: “is she good?” usually means “does she sleep through the night?”
In fact it’s completely normal and, biologically speaking, healthy for newborns not to sleep through the night: a difficult truth for new parents to hear. The stomach capacity of a newborn is 5-7ml, and breastmilk is highly digestible, so it’s normal and necessary for a baby to wake to feed at least two or three times a night. All that feeding supports the rapid growth and brain development that goes on in this stage, as well as helping to boost the mother’s milk supply. Formula fed babies could also be fed little and often to mimic this frequent refuelling which is appropriate to the baby’s growth and capacity.
SIDS research also shows that babies’ light sleep helps them to arouse quickly in response to any changes or risks in their environment. This may reduce their risk. This is why it’s recommended that babies who sleep alone are put down to sleep on their backs, where they may not sleep as deeply or as long, but are at a lower risk of cot death. It’s also recommended that babies sleep in their parents’ bedroom until six months of age, when the risk levels drop.
The other safe sleeping guidelines are:
- Place your baby on its back to sleep, in a cot in a room with you
- Do not smoke in pregnancy or let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby
- Do not share a bed with your baby if you have been drinking alcohol, if you take drugs or if you are a smoker
- Never sleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair
- Do not let your baby get too hot or too cold, keep your baby’s head uncovered, and place your baby in the “feet to foot” position
- Breastfeed your baby
There are some great resources on sleep, including the Infant Sleep Information Source, which is fully-evidenced. We haven’t even got into some of the more controversial practices such as bed-sharing and swaddling here, but perhaps those are posts for another day.