Your Baby's Sleep During the Fourth Trimester
The fourth trimester is the 3-month period of time when babies biologically should still be in their mamas’ bellies, but instead they’re with us in the world, unable to tell day from night or sleep in ways that make sense.
This period is oftentimes confusing for new moms: on the one hand, you’re blissfully happy that your little one is finally here. But on the other, you realize what true sleep deprivation feels like (and why it’s used as a form of torture). Some moms are instantly enamored with their babies and love all the cuddle time, while others just want to be alone for five minutes. Either way, it’s okay and it’s totally normal.
If you’re currently in the throes of the fourth trimester (or about to give birth), let’s talk about what you can expect when it comes to your baby’s sleep:
I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you to review the latest safe sleep guidelines. (And here are my thoughts on products like Rock-n-Plays, swings, and sleep positioners/cocoons -- not only are they unsafe but they’re super difficult to transition away from).
The first six weeks of your baby’s life are all about healing, catnapping when you can, and getting to know your baby. In a word: survival. As much as you’ll want to focus on sleep, there’s not much you can do right now. If your little one loves to snooze all day but party all night, that’s normal. (Just don’t try to limit daytime sleep in the hopes that he’ll sleep more overnight--it won’t work). Don’t go out of your way to introduce unnecessary sleep associations, but don’t stress out if you need to do so.
Around 8 weeks, you should start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. While your baby’s sleep will remain inconsistent, she should begin to differentiate between day and night. WOOHOO! This typically means that nighttime stretches become a bit longer (4-6 hours). Slowly begin to introduce naps in a consistent sleep environment (crib/bassinet instead of stroller/baby carrier), even if you start out by focusing on one nap per day. Also ensure that LOTS of naps are happening -- babies this age usually can’t stay awake for more than 45-60 minutes without becoming overtired. Use a timer on your phone to keep track of awake periods if need be.
Between 2-3 months, nighttime sleep continues to consolidate. Again, we’re not talking 12 hour stretches here, but you should all be getting more shut-eye (especially if your baby has mastered falling asleep independently at bedtime). I always advise families at this stage to chat with their pediatricians about how many nighttime feeds are needed, as sometimes it’s okay to let go of a few overnight snacking sessions.
As you likely know, around 16 weeks there’s a big sleep regression. The silver lining: at this age, you can--and should--begin to put your baby on a more consistent sleep schedule. The downside is that the regression oftentimes exacerbates underlying sleep issues, such as needing to be fed/rocked to sleep. (Learn more about the 4-month regression and how you can survive it here).