Those early months of parenthood can truly be a fog, with parents adjusting to broken sleep and babies trying to fathom exactly when they’re meant to be snoozing … and when it’s time to feed or play.
Senior nurse educator with Tresillian Family Care Centre Fran Chavasse says that baby sleep patterns and their development are intrinsically linked.
6 must-know facts about your baby’s sleep patterns
1. In utero sleep patterns provide baby sleep clues for parents
“If a mother can think and listen or talk to her baby and begin to be very conscious of what her baby’s doing [in utero] she will begin to recognise when her baby is awake and active and then asleep,” Fran told Shevonne Hunt who hosts our parenting podcast Feed Play Love.
“When her baby is asleep and when her baby is awake and active is actually mimicking what that baby will be doing after birth. So if her baby is awake between two and four in the morning she can probably expect her baby to be awake between two and four in the morning after birth.”
2. Babies are born with undeveloped circadian rhythms
Your circadian rhythm is the internal body clock which cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals and tells you when you need to sleep.
“In the first month particularly, [babies] don’t even have a day-night rhythm yet,” Fran revealed. “That’s developing.”
She stressed the importance of creating the right environment for your baby to learn when they should be asleep – and when its party time. More on that in point 5 and 6!
3. Babies are born with a very fast sleep-wake rhythm
“Their rhythm is what’s called free-running rhythm,” Fran said of their two to four-hour sleep-wake cycle.
“So they’ll just wake and sleep and wake and sleep for the first four weeks. By about four weeks, then the baby is more awake in the day and will sleep more at night.”
4. A breastfeeding mum’s body helps regulate her baby’s sleep patterns
Melatonin is a naturally occurring human hormone and levels of this hormone increase in the evening. One of its jobs is to help us to sleep.
“We need melatonin to sleep,” Fran told Feed Play Love. “So our melatonin starts to rise in the evening and reaches a peak in the early hours of the morning.”
“Breastmilk is melatonin-rich at night as our melatonin rises,” Fran said. “Babies have melatonin in their system, but it needs time to develop.”
While there’s often chatter about formula fed babies sleeping well, it’s interesting to note that breastfeeding mums are helping their babies sleep via this mum-to-baby melatonin that is passed on via breastmilk.
5. Lighting and devices interfere with baby sleep
“One of the problems we have in our society is our use of blue lights in computers,” Fran told us citing “our phones and game consoles and computers and tablets” as other culprits.
She also points out that daylight savings and fluorescent lighting can disrupt the development of a baby’s circadian rhythm and affect mums sleep patterns too.
Fran said lighting can “delay the secretion of melatonin in breastmilk as well.”
6. Expressing milk for night feeds can sabotage baby sleep
If you’re breastfeeding and pumping milk for your baby, it’s wise to make a distinction between the milk you express at night time and the milk you pump during the day.
“Breastmilk is high in melatonin at night, so it’s best to breastfeed at night,” Fran said noting that, “Expressing breast milk during the day for feeds at night [means] there won’t be any melatonin in it.”
And as we now know, your baby needs melatonin to know when to sleep … and to feel sleepy!
Thank you, Fran, for putting a fresh spin on setting babies – and families – up for a little more sleep … and for sharing her development-focused intel on littlies’ sleep patterns.
Need some more baby sleep advice? Our Parent School sleep experts can help. Click to find out more or book a one-on-one session.