This may sound like a "Thanks for the revelation, oh wise one," kind of statement, but newborn babies need a lot of sleep.
Seriously. A boatload.
The reason I tell you this is because, although parents are aware of that fact, a lot of them are not aware of just how much we mean by "a lot."
In fact, many new mothers that I've worked with aren't even in the ballpark. They assume that babies, newborns anyways, nap a few times a day, and sleep for a sporadic, interrupted 10 hours or so a night.
While that's technically somewhat accurate, there are a lot of factors to consider into the equation.
How long are those naps, first and foremost. How long is baby awake for when he wakes up at night? Is he getting stretches of long, deep sleep at times, or is he almost always waking up after 45 minute stretches?
If baby's taking three 1-hour naps a day and not sleeping soundly at night, chances are, your little one needs more sleep. A lot more. I'm talking up to another six or seven hours a day.
You heard me correctly. According the the National Sleep Foundation, newborns need upwards of 18 hours of sleep a day. That means that baby is spending the vast majority of the day sleeping. I typically recommend that newborns stay awake for about an hour between snoozing sessions.
18 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period only leaves 6 hours of awake time, so you've barely got the opportunity to get him up, get him changed, get him fed, and maybe a little bit of play time before it's time to put him back to bed. And then there are all of the unforeseen situations that require an extra bath, or nights when he's sick and not sleeping well, or times when he takes forever to finish a bottle.
So I'm not exaggerating at all when I say that baby's primary activity should be sleeping. Don't worry, he's not just killing time in there! His body is hard at work building a bigger, stronger baby!
When I present this information to new parents who are having trouble with their baby's sleep, I usually get the same reaction. "He doesn't seem to want to sleep. We put him down and he fusses and cries until we pick him up again. We give him every opportunity to sleep, but he doesn't seem to want to."
It's a fair point. If baby's so tired, why doesn't he sleep more?
Newborns have a very different sleep cycle than adults or even toddlers. For the first three months of life, they're establishing their circadian rhythm. (The internal human clock that synchronizes us with the 24 hour day.)
Some babies develop this cycle like champs, and some... some not so much.
For those that don't, there's the potential for a nasty cycle of sleeplessness and irritability. Baby can get overtired, which can cause a secretion of stimulating hormones. So baby's already tired, and now he's fired up and irritable, which makes it harder for him to get to sleep, and the cycle perpetuates itself.
So just because your baby seems unappreciative when you put him down for a nap, it doesn't necessarily mean that he's not tired. He may just need a little encouragement to get back on track and into the rhythm.
On the flip side, it's virtually impossible for a healthy newborn to get too much sleep, so if you're unsure about how much down time he needs, it's always better to overdo it and adjust accordingly. It's easier to cut back on baby's sleep than it is to encourage more of it.
As a new parent, it's tough to limit your awake time with your baby to only 6 hours a day, I know, but there will be plenty of time for giggles, tickles, squeals, and all of those other precious moments. You'll get a lot more of them with a well-rested baby.