How to read the signs your newborn baby is tired

Closeup yawning baby

Newborns need a lot of sleep and get overtired very easily which can then lead to a very unsettled baby. So it’s important to know the signs to ensure they get enough shut-eye before it’s too late. Here are some simple ways to tell when your newborn baby is tired.

How much sleep?

Newborn babies sleep around 14 to 17 hours a day (well, at least they’re supposed to). Unfortunately they only do it in blocks of about 2 hours though (sometimes less!) in the first few weeks as they require frequent feeds and are very unpredictable – all of which can be really confusing for new parents.

Ensuring your baby gets enough sleep is not only helpful for establishing good routines and making things easier on mum and dad, but it will also help your bub to be healthier, happier, more settled and most importantly, to grow and develop properly.

Why overtired is bad

An overtired baby will be very hard to settle. They will most likely have colic (also known as unexplained crying) or display other signs of being unhappy such as arching their back, pulling their legs up and looking as if they are in pain. This can be not only incredibly stressful for parents and other family members, but the baby themselves suffers too as they now are unable to get the rest they so desperately need. Young babies who are overtired can also end up not feeding properly which then results in them waking up more frequently due to hunger. It’s a vicious cycle, so where possible it’s better to avoid it.

crying newborn boy

Reading the signs

Babies who are only a few weeks old can become tired a mere 45 minutes after they last woke up due to the stimulation they get from being awake. Monitoring their waking minutes isn’t the only way to keep on top of their sleep needs though; it is also important to recognise the signs that your baby is tired and put them to bed immediately once you see them.

Signs your newborn is tired include:

  • Pulling at ears
  • Closing fists
  • Yawning
  • Fluttering eyelids or not focusing eyes (a bit difficult to recognise in the early days)
  • Jerky arm and leg movements
  • Arching backwards
  • Frowning or looking worried
  • Sucking on fingers

From tired to sleep

Once you see signs that your baby is tired it’s best to try and get them into bed (or another place they normally sleep) as fast as possible. To help them go down without a hitch it’s also best to reduce their stimulation by talking in a soft and quiet voice, closing blinds or curtains, turning off main lights and reducing background noise as much as possible.

Why feeds are important

Unfortunately cries and grizzles from a newborn who’s hungry can often be mistaken for being tired, so it’s important to ensure your baby is getting enough milk. If your baby fed well within the last two hours (including bringing up wind) and is still upset they’re probably just tired. If you’re still unsure, try giving them another feed and if they only take a little then you know they need a sleep. These are of course general guides and don’t take into account other factors that may be upsetting your newborn such as illness or reflux.

Oops – my baby is overtired

We get it, you’re insanely tired yourself and might miss the cues that your baby needs a sleep, and suddenly you’ve got an incredibly overtired newborn on your hands. If this happens don’t worry, try these several techniques.

  • Swaddle – the pressure of being tightly wrapped up in a swaddle or sleeping bag can make babies feel secure and snug
  • Rock – rocking can have a very calming effect, as can movement in a car, pram or bouncer
  • Hold – the power of a mother’s touch is simple but effective
  • Feed – try not to let them fall asleep during the feed, so more of a top-up or taste
  • Dark – make sure the room is nice and dark
  • Sound – play some white noise, soothing music or a relaxing rainfall track

And if all of the above fail just comfort your new baby as much as you can and remember that tomorrow is always another day!

Does your newborn baby show any other signs of being tired?

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