I expect my newborn to sleep between 16 to 18 hours a day in sporadic blocks of between 1 to 3 hours at a time. This range comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics general information page on baby sleep patterns.
Despite my expectations of 16 to 18 hours a day, my newborn baby barely slept the first 48 hours following her difficult birth. During our time in the hospital while my wife was recovering, our baby girl was consistently crying every hour. We loved the brief periods when our daughter would sleep peacefully, but the rest of the day consisted of frustrating attempts to get her to latch properly and get enough breastmilk.
Our newborn’s sleep schedule settled down after getting home from the hospital and following our decision to supplement with formula. I tracked my baby’s sleep patterns closely for the first two weeks and she slept between 14 to 20 hours per day with sleep sessions of between 20 minutes to 260 minutes. She only awoke to eat or complain about a dirty diaper during these weeks. After we were both confident in our baby’s ability to wake herself when hungry I stopped tracking our daughter’s sleep schedule so closely.
Every reputable resource including every nurse and pediatrician we spoke with recommended purposefully waking our newborn every three to four hours to feed her during the first two weeks of her life. Due to newborn babies’ small tummy size and their fast digestion of breastmilk, pediatricians are worried about health problems from newborns sleeping too long without eating.
After reading multiple academic journal articles including a prominent 2010 article in the journal Pediatrics, I am confident that newborns like my baby should sleep between 16 to 18 hours a night. I won’t be concerned if my daughter sleeps anywhere from 14 to 20 hours a night. Although our baby does sleep an average of 15 hours a night and she gets between 2 to 4 hours of sleep between feedings, my wife and I are still uneasy with her sleep schedule. We having a nagging feeling that we could be doing something better to help our daughter sleep.
I was relieved to read a study of more than 2000 babies in Australia and New Zealand. The authors found that more than 30 percent of parents felt their baby had a sleep problem even while the data indicated that the overwhelming majority of babies were sleeping normally. It feels comforting to know that my wife and I aren’t the only parents to be unnecessarily concerned about our baby’s sleep pattern.
From tracking our baby’s sleep schedule my wife and I realize that our newborn is very good at waking herself up whenever she is hungry. Unfortunately, she is also very good at waking the entire building up (by screaming) whenever she is hungry. Our unfounded concern with our newborn’s sleep pattern stems largely from our discomfort with loud crying. As soon as we accept her shrieking is just a normal part of being a baby I think we’ll become more comfortable with our newborn’s sleep schedule.