Babies need different amounts of sleep
In the first three months, babies sleep on average 16 to 18 hours evenly distributed over around six sleep phases per day. But every child is different, and deviations from the average are completely normal.
Some children are true “marmots”, others are difficult to get to sleep. Some go to sleep early, others take a bit longer – and others go to sleep for some time and then suddenly do not.
Some differences in childhood sleep patterns are innate: sleep needs are “cradled”, and sleep may vary considerably from child to child. As with adults, there are “late risers” and “short sleepers” in infants: some only need ten to twelve hours of sleep, while others can live up to 20 hours!
The baby has yet to develop its rhythm
In the first few weeks and months, an infant must learn to adapt to the day-night change and develop regular sleep and mealtimes. Like the need for sleep, the time when a child finds a stable sleep-wake rhythm is individually different and not least depends on a biological maturation process (growth, differentiation of the brain). Some babies also tend to be uneasy and struggling to find their sleep-wake cycle, which can be particularly stressful for parents.
Already in the womb, approximately from the 36th week of pregnancy, the fetus experiences different phases of sleep, dreaming and waking. The sleep-wake cycle that the unborn child has at the end of the pregnancy is initially continued by the infant after birth. The sleep and waking phases in the first weeks of life are evenly distributed over the day and the night. In the course of the first year of life, the proportion of being awake and experiencing becomes ever greater.
At around four to six weeks, sleep patterns gradually become more regular and the baby begins to adjust slowly to a day-night rhythm. Most children fall asleep at about the same time in the evening and wake up at about the same time at night and in the morning.
Babys learn to calm themselves
Even very small babies have some, albeit limited, ability to calm themselves down and fall asleep by themselves (for example, by sucking or lolling at their hands). This ability continues to develop in the first months. However, it also varies from child to child and depends on the level of individual development, the personality of the child and the behaviour of the parents.
Some children find it easy to go to sleep on their own after a few weeks, others need parental help for a longer period of time to rest. They seek a close physical contact, want to be held and rocked to fall asleep.
You can gently help your baby gradually become more independent when falling asleep, such as not falling asleep habitually on the chest or arm. As a rule, he prefers to lie down in bed to fall asleep and help him, for example, with a good night song and gentle stroking to find sleep.
Sleeping through takes time
The fact that children wake up several times during the first months of their lives is not only normal, but also important for their development. At this age, they sleep almost the entire night in a light sleep (REM sleep) that allows them to perceive their needs and wake up, such as when they are hungry, cold or diapers are full.
Waking up at least once is quite normal until the sixth month of life – your child needs one or more meals at night. After this time, babies can theoretically get along all night without breastfeeding or vials. Many people actually sleep through at this age – but what does that mean anyway?
“Sleeping through sleep” means that a child sleeps for at least six to eight hours at a time. So when it gets to bed at 7pm, it wakes up at 3am in the morning for the first time – so parents can not talk about a full night’s sleep. But also not “sleep disorders” – on the contrary: the nocturnal awakening is an expression of normal sleep development.
Even between the ages of six and twelve months, around 40 percent of all children still wake up their parents at least twice a night, according to a study by Swiss pediatrician Prof. Largo.
Sometimes parents need help
Many parents experience the first time with their child not only as a happy, but also as an extremely exhausting time. When children wake up very often at night, parents do not get enough sleep – sometimes over weeks and months. No wonder you feel tired, slain and perhaps depressed and discouraged (here we have written about the negative effects of sleep deprivation).
Talk to your pediatrician about your situation – Paediatricians know exactly what stress parents are often exposed to in the first few weeks of their child’s life and can work with you to find solutions. And do not forget: this first time is over!