Have you heard the expression, “Never wake a sleeping baby?” Maybe your mother-in-law or great aunt said it upon seeing your precious newborn asleep in the cradle. It’s a common myth — yes, myth — that is still being told today. Understanding why it isn’t always best to leave your baby sleeping can help you establish healthy habits right from the start. And starting good sleep habits with a newborn means you may avoid the pitfalls that send desperate parents looking for sleep training help later.
Let me clarify that I’m referring to healthy full-term newborns or very young babies, though at times this may apply to older babies and toddlers as well but likely for other reasons.
The first two weeks with a newborn revolve largely around getting used to life with a baby.
Newborns typically sleep for a majority of their days and nights. Sleep is vital for their growth and development. Our first goal is for the baby to regain their birth weight, and our second goal is for baby to be gaining about a half of a pound a week. Generally, once baby surpasses their birth weight, your pediatrician will tell you there’s no need to wake baby at night for feeds but can now let them wake you. This, then, is where the saying may hold true.
The early weeks of a newborn’s life are a perfect time to begin establishing good feeding habits by day so baby can begin sleeping longer stretches at night. The science of infant sleep shows us that newborns’ sleep develops in stages. The first consolidated sleep we see is a long stretch at night, typically a four to five hour stretch at the beginning of the night, like 7 to 11 p.m. or 8 p.m. to midnight.
However, when our babies are brand new and we are exhausted from the feedings and seemingly constant care of this new family member, it’s easy to be seduced into letting our little ones sleep long hours in the middle of the day. A tired parent who hasn’t showered, eaten a meal with two hands, or checked email or returned phone calls in days may find letting their newborn sleep four or 5 hours straight extremely seductive. But resist! The fact is, sometimes waking a sleeping baby is a must in order to establish or keep good routines around feeding and sleep in place.
Babies have a daily caloric need.
In the early days, your baby will likely be eating every 2 1/2 to 3 hours. If your baby is getting the bulk of their calories between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., you will likely see that long stretch of sleep develop after a few weeks. However, babies will make up their calories at night if they aren’t getting them by day. Allowing baby to sleep four or more during the day means skipped feeds. That means, less chance of a long stretch at night.
So, to put it simply, let feeds dictate whether to wake your sleeping baby.
During the day, if your baby is still sleeping and the three-hour mark since their last feed is approaching, start waking them gently. Open the blinds, turn off the white noise, remove their swaddle. You may want to gently stretch their arms overhead. Having baby alert and ready to eat will help them to take in a full feed. It won’t be long before your precious bundle is sleeping 4 to 6 hour stretches at night.