Newborn sleep: expectations and reality


By Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns

When you’re expecting a baby, one of the things you know for sure is that infants wake up at night, so you expect your baby will, too. It’s normal, right? But once you have a real, live newborn in the house you can be floored by how totally disrupted your sleep becomes. You may have had no idea that lots of newborns wake up every hour or two …all night long, every single night. To make things even more of a challenge, they then only nap in twenty minute segments during the day. Only when you are actually living with a newborn do you really know what it means to be kept awake night after night after night, without any time during the day to recover your lost sleep.

New parents stress about their babies’ sleep, and for good reason—it’s a baffling time, and you feel so confused. You are unable to actually do anything that results in your baby sleeping on a schedule that’s anywhere near what you need yourself, and so you stumble through your days in a blurry, half-asleep state, stressing about your baby’s constant waking. Much of this stress is because many brand-new parents don’t understand what a newborn’s actual sleep needs are, nor how to help their baby achieve that sleep. And even parents who have already gone down this path with a first baby somehow forget exactly how difficult this time is (perhaps the sleeplessness carries a bit of amnesia with it?).

Your newborn will not and cannot sleep through the night

Believing that something is wrong with you or your baby because your little one isn’t sleeping all night and isn’t taking long, blissful naps is illogical. Your newborn baby will not and cannot sleep through the night. Your newborn’s naps will not adhere to any specific schedule. Newborns need to eat every few hours day and night. And their biological clocks are undeveloped. There are no shortcuts to sleep maturity. These early months will unfold in their own unique way.

The good news is that if you learn about sleep, and understand, respect, and protect your baby’s sleep needs, your infant will sleep as well as nature intended her to sleep. You can protect your baby’s sleep from outside influences that would disturb her natural inclinations, and you can help her to meet her own exact needs for sleep. It won’t be “through the night” (you got that, right?), but it can be good enough so that your own sleep deprivation is only blurring your life a little bit around the edges, and leaving you plenty of energy to enjoy these early months of your baby’s life.

(For specific sleep tips see my many other articles here on PregnancyMagazine.)

Elizabeth Pantley is a mother of four, grandmother, and author of the bestselling book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns plus 8 other books in the No-Cry Solution Series, which helps Moms and Dads through all key stages of parenting. Visit her at

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