Published on 15th March 2019

Navigating your baby’s changing sleep pattern can be a challenging area of parenting - especially when you’re not getting much rest either. However, there are some simple ways you can begin to understand your baby’s sleep habits and what they require to be soothed. We’ve teamed up with Dr. Karp, one of America's leading pediatricians and child development experts, author of bestselling parenting book ‘Happiest Baby on the Block’ and inventor of the SNOO. Dr Karp shares his expert tips and advice on creating a sustainable bedtime routine, letting both you and baby get more quality rest.

Firstly, it’s important to understand how much sleep your baby needs and why. Whilst newborn babies can sleep up to 18 hours a day, this obviously does not mean new parents are able to treat themselves to the same amount of rest! “On their first day, most babies are alert for about an hour, and then they can sleep for 12 to 18 hours.” Dr Karp explains, “then a few days later they fall into the classic around-the-clock pattern of being awake for 1 to 2 hours, then sleeping for 2 or 3. And of course, that pattern is demanding on the body and mind of a new parent!”

A mismatched sleep pattern can not only affect the amount of sleep new parents are getting but also the quality of it, according to Dr Karp. He explains that adult sleep cycles “last around 90 minutes, whereas for a baby it is close to 60 minutes.” This discrepancy means that parents are often woken up in the middle of their cycle and are rarely able to descend into deep, renewing sleep that stops us feeling like we’re walking around in a foggy haze.

Babies on the other hand are getting plenty of rejuvenating sleep! In their first few months, babies  are spending about 40-50% of their sleeping hours in memory boosting REM stage of sleep, which is dramatically more than even the most well-rested adult. This is an essential part of their development as Dr. Karp points out. “For babies, everything is brand new and their headspace fills up with all the fascinating stuff they want to remember. (REM sleep) helps them sort through the wild events of the day to figure out which information to file away, and what to forget. Napping every few hours lets our budding geniuses process data from the day!”

However, a restful night’s sleep is not only essential for growing babies, but their parents too. Whilst sleep deprivation is often tossed around as jovial badge of honour for those with newborns, not getting enough sleep is no laughing matter and can have a detrimental effect on you as both a parent and a person. While it is hard to pinpoint exactly how much sleep new parents are missing out on, the results of one US survey suggested parents are losing 44 days of sleep during their baby’s first year.

Whilst many parents are able to battle through the sleepless nights thanks to a mixture of adrenaline and baby-loving hormones, for some the effects are tangible. For some women, a lack of sleep can either trigger or prolong the effects of postpartum depression and could also be a contributing factor to other mental health issues including anxiety. For couples, they could notice a deterioration in the in their relationship, despite this being one of the most joyous times they will share. Not getting enough rest can lead to a lack of both patience and libido, which is a combination likely to cause more arguments and less intimacy.

In some rare cases, the impact sleep deprivation can have on decision making processes can have devastating results. “Parents may understand safe sleep practices, but when exhausted and at wits end, they may be tempted to lay a baby down on the stomach or bed share because “she sleeps better that way.” says Dr. Karp “New parent exhaustion is a factor in some of the most tragic scenarios imaginable—shaken baby syndrome and infant sleep death - of which 70% occur in an adult bed, sofa or other unsafe sleep location.”

According to Very Well, postpartum fatigue may interfere with breastfeeding and cause your body to produce less milk. This can become a vicious cycle, as breast milk is an important component of a baby’s nighttime routine as evening breast milk contain lots of sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. It is also a prime opportunity for bonding with your baby which is highly soothing and can help them relax as you put them down for the night. Using a breast pump, such as the Elvie Pump, helps you create a supply of milk ready for your night feed, even if you are not going to be around. By expressing, your partner is also able to step in with the last feed of the evening, which not only gives them the chance for some quality one-on-one time, but also can give mums an opportunity to catch up on some sleep!

Dr Karp’s top tips to achieve a better sleep pattern for baby:

The 5 S’s

Across many cultures, the most calming tricks fit into 5 steps that imitate the rhythms of the womb, known as The 5’s:

Swaddling - Swaddling is the cornerstone of calming. It decreases startling and increases sleep and stops their arms wriggling around.

Side-Stomach position - This S can be activated by holding a baby on her side, on her stomach or over your shoulder, but they must sleep on their back.

Shushing - Babies don’t need total silence to sleep, play some rumbling white noise to mimic the blood flow in the womb.

Swinging - Lull your baby to sleep rocking in a rocking chair or using the SNOO, “smart” bassinet.

Sucking - Give a good feeding: sucking is calming and going to bed with a full tummy helps little ones sleep longer.

Establishing healthy sleep habits with the S’s actually teaches babies to be good sleepers. When you don’t give babies womb-like sensations for sleep, it’s actually jarring. That makes them go “cold turkey” on sleep cues they’ve come to rely on.

Both babies and parents rouse several times a night as part of our sleep cycles, so your goal with sleep training is not to stop these wakings, but to help your baby develop the skill to go back to sleep. SNOO was designed to have an 8-second delay before the sound and motion to kick in to soothe calming. This little delay lets babies practice falling asleep on their own!

If you don’t have a SNOO you will want to makes sure you swaddle (until your baby can roll) and are using a rumbly white noise for all naps/night. White noise has a sleep-inducing effect and also drones out distractions, internal and external. Your baby may miss being on your body… but white noise can help distract him from the fact that he’s not there.

Whilst a certain amount of sleep deprivation can be expected as a new parent, it doesn’t need to be the biggest obstacle for caring for your baby. By listening to expert advice, harnessing technology such as Elvie Pump and SNOO and listening to your innate parental instincts, you will soon be able to soothe your baby effectively and regain some precious shut eye, so you can enjoy every waking minute with your growing family.