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Newborns’ Sleep Plus the 4th Trimester

If we can’t sleep train newborns, what can we do to help them sleep better? The answer is – a lot!

We first need to understand the way they sleep. The picture below shows the time a baby spends in each type of sleep.

Newborn sleep is different from adult sleep and follows a different pattern. Newborns get into active sleep in the first 10/15 minutes of their sleep, unlike adults who enter a series of sleep stages, before they reach deep sleep. Newborns can wake easily in the first stages of sleep (up to 20 min), then they are entering a deeper sleep stage (quiet sleep) when they are unlikely to wake up.  After 30 minutes they start to come out of the deep sleep stage and will either wake up or continue to another sleep cycle.

Often when newborns wake in the middle of a sleep cycle, or at the end of it, you know they should go back to sleep. So what do you do?

It all comes down to the way we sooth them when they cry.

Babies cry, some more, some less, this is their way of communicating. The trouble for some parents is that they are not sure how to sooth their crying babies. Even second time parents struggle sometimes as every baby is different.

Before we try to calm or sooth a baby with any technique, we should look for a few thing:

  • Is baby hungry? When did he last feed?
  • Does baby need a change of nappy?
  • Is baby gassy?
  • Is baby hot/cold?
  • Is baby lonely?

If you attended to all of the above, your baby is tired and if they are not over tired it shouldn’t be long until you can sooth them to sleep.

Newborns needs their parents to help them fall asleep in most cases. This is where the idea of the fourth trimester came from and Harvey Karp explains it in his book The Happiest Baby on the Block.

In a nutshell Harvey suggests that newborns were supposed to be inside the womb for a further 3 months, for more development in the brain to take place. I like his ideas around the 4th trimester as he is encouraging parents to mimic the womb for the first few weeks of their newborn’s life, in order to help them sleep better. In Harvey’s words “As helpful as this fourth trimester experience is for calm babies, it is essential for fussy ones”.

A newborn should always be responded to when they cry as there is always a reason.

Once the internal clock has developed, we can work on sleep training that will suit the baby and their parents.

Let’s hold, rock, cuddle, sing to and swaddle our newborns until the end of the 4th trimester.

Love and peace