Everything you need to know about baby sleep in the first two weeks

In this episode, we chat about everything you need to know about the first 2 weeks of your new baby and how to make sure you're all getting the sleep you need!

In this episode, you'll learn:

  • The rules for the first 2 weeks (spoiler: there are no rules!)

  • What your hormones are doing

  • Setting the foundations for baby sleep

  • What to do about daytime sleeps

  • The fourth trimester and what that means for you and baby

Listen to the podcast:

Transcript of our podcast episode

Cat (00:00): This is a baby sleep podcast for parents by parents, occasionally functioning humans who really miss a good night's kip…

[Sarah: You will get a bit of pee in your face at some point  [laughter] Cat: Oh the joys of being a parent!]

I'm Cat Cubie, parenting blogger and journalist, and together with Sarah Carpenter, a paediatric sleep consultant. We are The Sleep Mums. We have written a book together called The Sleep Mums: Read It and Sleep, which is a straightforward, easy to follow, at-a-glance guide to helping you and your baby sleep better. It's informative, non-judgmental and it's funny too, because as a parent, sometimes you really just need to laugh. 

[Sarah: God yeah!] 

This is the first episode in our podcast series, The Sleep Mums. So it makes sense for us to start at the very beginning, not right at conception… we'll leave that to you guys! When you first brought your baby home, here are five things you need to know about baby sleep in the first two weeks.

Sarah (01:02):

The most important thing about the first two weeks of parenthood is that there are no rules…


Yeah. It's kind of like the spring break a parenting. Basically, in the first few weeks, if you want it to cuddle your baby all day every day, that is absolutely fine. If you really don't and you feel a bit touched out, which is quite a weird thing as a parent, but you can just feel physically overwhelmed by how attached you are to another being, also fine. If you want to dress your baby up as a strawberry and post it on social media, I would say acceptable...! If you want to close the door and not see anyone in person or online at all, you just go right ahead. It's really important that you just do what you need to do in those first few weeks. It's sort of about survival.

Sarah (01:50):

So during the first couple of weeks, you really need to just embrace the new normal. It's about you getting to know your new self, your new body, what you're capable of and really just working out who this little person is, who is now the biggest part of your life. 


Do you think there's too much advice that people should be trying to get baby sleeping in those first few weeks? 


I think people put a lot of pressure on themselves to follow what they've heard from other people or what they've seen other people do. And what they tend to forget is that the people they’re observing might actually have a baby who's much older. So, they put a lot of pressure on themselves to implement things, which their baby just isn’t ready for. It’s really important to try and take a step back and embrace the moment you are in and not worry about everyone else. 


I think that can be hard to follow, but good advice in general, because quite often you find yourself looking, as you say, at babies who are at completely different age or stage, or just a different baby and comparing yourselves to them thinking why is mine not like that or not doing that? And it’s simply because they’re different…

Cat (03:03):

The other thing that knows no rules in those first two weeks is the hormones in your body if you've just given birth. So, the next thing you need to know about those first few weeks is hormones. 


Some people really hit rock bottom and the can expedience the baby blues, when they just want to curl up in a ball and cry and, you know, they can feel so alienated by everybody, even their baby. And they just really don’t want to entertain any sort of communication or interaction. And then you have the opposite end of the scale as well, where people can be absolutely high on the birth. And they are the ones that look at their new baby, look at their new body and they just have a complete hormone buzz. Feeling elated about what they've achieved and what they now look like. It's just two completely opposite ends of the scale and neither one is right or wrong. It's such a rollercoaster that experience.

Cat (03:56):

Totally. And I think about the cultural imagery of having a baby, you know, this euphoria of birth and I think for a lot of people, that's not really the reality. It really wasn't for me, I would say with both of my babies and particularly on day four - but also actually for quite a long time after they were born - but day four for both of mine was absolutely shit emotionally. I was totally all over the place. I think for our first, it was a massive shock for my husband about how much I crashed, you know, I was having difficulty breastfeeding, we weren't sleeping… And I just crumbled and it was then that he spoke to his mates with kids already and they were like, ‘Oh yeah, day four mate, that’s the worst!’

Sarah (04:47):

I mean, I think we all forget that sleep deprivation is a form of torture. So if it's being used as a form of torture, you would expect it to make you crumble and cry, but when you've just had a baby you're just expected to get on with it. 


And you're often getting over that experience of birth. However it has been for you… and it can be a lot. 

I think I should probably give a moment to mention hormonal changes for blokes as well…


There’s huge hormonal changes for men. And they're also dealing with a whole new person in their partner. 


I think that's a really important thing to say - overarchingly as well - that often, different partners have very different experiences of parenthood and it can be a massive friction point because quite often you're not in the same place the same time. 



Cat (05:44):

The third thing you need to know by the first two weeks is that, although you shouldn't worry about how a baby is sleeping - or not, for that matter! - there are a few things that you can do to help lay the foundations for better baby sleep. 


So, firstly, day night /confusion, or the imbalance in your baby's very immature circadian rhythm. When they're in your womb, their body clock adjusts to your movement. During the day when you're on the move they are being lulled to sleep a lot more than they are at night. Then when you're lying down in bed at night, you're absolutely exhausted, but baby just suddenly decides to have a party kicking you! 


Oh definitely. My kids were total night-time partiers!

Sarah (06:30):

It is about that daily movement and lulling. So their circadian rhythm then has to settle and adjust. In the early weeks, you'll see that your baby will have these longer sleep stretches during the day and then be up more at night. 


It's almost a wee bit like they've come back from a nice holiday in Costa Del placenta! So is there anything we can do to help baby jet lag?

Sarah (07.01):

There are quite a few things that you can do. First of all, you really need to put your focus on to the days… which for a lot of people as a little bit hard to get their head round because they're coming, for advice on overnight sleep, and we're talking about the day times. 

You want to be swaddling for all your baby sleep. But it's not important at this stage where your baby goes to sleep. You can use the pram, the Moses basket, wherever basically, but swaddle! So, during the day, a nice tight swaddle and keep the lights on, plus keep the place nice and airy. You don't need to be away from the room, y can be chatting and be going about your daily business and your baby will be close to you…


 Just in case anyone doesn't know, what is a swaddle?


So, a swaddle is a large muslin swaddling blanket or a cellular blanket that you can use for swaddling and you are, basically, cocooning your baby back into the safe position that they would have been within the womb and keeping them snug. Obviously, doing it safely means you're protecting their hips and their movements. But essentially it just brings them back into that safe space and makes them feel that comfort. 


It can be quite a hard thing to master. When I saw midwives doing it, it looked a little bit like origami to me! However, there are quite a lot of good resources online to show you how to do it, or indeed products that, kind of, do it for you. 

Sarah: (08.32)

I would say one of our most heard phrases “Oh yeah, I tried to swaddle my baby and they didn't like it” and then I'll go along and see a client and swaddle their baby and they'll have a nice, big, long sleep. But I was guilty of that as well. 

[Cat: me too! – laughter] 

I did it with Harry knowing that it was one of my most heard phrases! So, with Harry I ended up having to pop back to hospital for something. And the midwife walked in and said, “why is this baby not swaddled?” And I said, “Oh, you know, I know you've heard it before, but this one definitely doesn't like being swaddled”. She promptly swaddled him and he slept for four hours. So it does work, it’s just having the confidence as a parent. 


It took me a long time to master and also a long time to believe every single person that said, ‘swaddle your babies, they’ll sleep better!” So, anything else we can do about baby jet lag? 

Sarah: (09.30)

The really, really, really important thing. I cannot stress this enough… during the day you need to wake your baby to feed, do not let baby sleep for hours on end. Okay. You want to be waking the baby up for regular feeds during the day so that then at night you can take advantage of those longer stretches when they're going down.


And is that every couple of hours, if your baby's gaining weight…?


During the first couple of weeks, I'd always say, don't let your baby go longer than two, two and a half hours between feeds. And that's really important, especially if you're breast feeding, because you're going to be getting that milk in and you're going to be establishing the feeding routine. If you’re bottle feeding then it will be closer to the two and a half hours that they'll go, but it's really important not to let them go over the two and a half hour during the day. 


So if you keep it nice and bright during the day, you also want to keep it dark at night during night feeds to kind of establish that this is daytime and this is nighttime… this is when we sleep!

Sarah (10:28):

It’s important to have the room nice and dark at night, we don't want the lights on, iPads going and TVs on. Podcasts are obviously great for overnight so pop your headphones in and have a little listen! 

As well with nappy changes, you know none of us are really ready to be doing these pitch black nappy changes but…


Oh god yes, especially with my son! Trying to deal with a night time nappy change in the dark is special.


Yes, you will get some pee in your face at some point! 


Oh the joys of being a parent!


So, you're aiming to have a 12 hour night and that's going to start sometime around six to eight in the evening to 6 to eight in the morning. Now that is not 12 hours of sleep. That is a 12 hour window that you're referring to as your night window.

[Cat’s kids interrupt]


Keeping it real!

Cat: (11:48):

So you mentioned milk feeds and that brings us quite nicely to the fourth thing in those first few weeks, which is milk and feeding. I mean, it's likely as a new parent, you'll probably spend a lot of time worrying about whether your baby is eating enough. Actually, scratch that, even with a four and a two year old I still worry about how much they're eating! Feeds are such a big deal when it comes to sleep, though, I would say they deserve an episode in their own right, so we'll do that next week. But for now there are a couple of things you can focus on. 


The most important thing is waking them to feed during the day, you wouldn't want them to go any longer than two and a half to three hours. It's okay to let them go a little bit longer overnight if their weight gain is okay. But remember every baby is different and the circumstances in their delivery dates and type of delivery can affect how long they might sleep between feeds…. but it’s really important to try and avoid any snacking.

Cat (12:42):

Each week, we will put a listener's question to expert Sarah. However, to start things off as this is our very first episode, we thought it made sense to look back at some of the messages that I anxiously sent to Sarah when my children were just born. So, so here it goes, “He's so sleepy. I know I need to wake him up and keep him awake for feeds, but I'm really worried about him getting back to his birth weight because I had such problems with Indy and I'm so, so, so tired. How do I keep him awake?” 

So, do you remember what you said, Sarah?

Sarah (13:25):

Every baby, as with every child really, it’s important to try and stay calm and not compare what's happened to you with your previous experience. The important things when you are feeding are to, you know, keep them awake to make sure they take a full feed. So, you want to strip them back, strip them off down to their vest or nappy so that they're not too warm and cozy, rub their hands and feet, make sure that you’re burping your baby thoroughly - and again we will come back to that in the feeding episode - tickle their ribs, rub the palm of their hand and give their little ear lobes a little tug (gentle!) all whilst you’re feeding to keep that good, deep suck going. And these things apply for bottle feeding as well, it’s not just breastfeeding. You want to keep your baby awake for the duration of a bottle feed too. 


Basically, as a parent, you're going to annoy your child for the rest of their life and you start in those first few weeks by trying to keep them awake!

A lot of people will find it quite strange that we talk a lot about baby sleep and here we're talking about keeping baby awake, but actually that's as important, isn't it? 


Absolutely, getting that awake time versus sleep time is really, really important and making sure that you've always got a full baby. But don't forget that good sleep does lead to more sleep, but it has to be the right kind of sleep. So, you're not looking for a dozy five minutes on the breast or bottle. That's not going to lead to a proper deep sleep. 


Yeah. It took a long time for me to get my head around that because, obviously, you just want your baby to sleep. So, you think if they're taking a wee cat nap, then that's okay beause at least they're getting some kip but actually it’s as much about quality as quantity. 


And the thing is that we're not saying that there will never be a chance for a cozy, cuddly catnap. There will be, it's just doing it at the right time of day.

Cat  (15:21):

And finally, the last thing you need to know about the milky haze of those first few weeks of having a baby is the fourth trimester - as if pregnancy wasn't like 365 months long as it is - what is the fourth trimester? 


The fourth trimester is the 12 week period after you've had your baby. You know, some people have heard of it, some people haven't, but we all experience it. It is when your body is going through all the huge physical and emotional changes, you're adjusting to your new role, your baby is going through the biggest physical changes as well. And, especially with the little girls, they're going to see quite a lot of hormonal changes too. 


It's sort of a transition period from inside to outside for both you and baby. And you know your baby is literally very closely attached to you for those first few months. 

Sarah (16:29):

Yeah, and it's when your baby has been all cozy inside your womb, you’re recreating that coziness on the outside. That's why swaddling really works well. 


And that's five things you need to know about baby sleep in those first two weeks. The truth is newborns are really hard, getting your head around it all is really hard. I mean, five kids between us and a ton of experience and we, we still find it hard! So please don't put pressure on yourself, try to listen to your body and your baby. Rest, recuperate, recover. You're doing really well. 

So, that was the first proper episode of The Sleep Mums: The First Two Weeks! We hope it helped. And if it did and you know, someone else it might help, then please spread the word, please leave us a review… We're on a mission to help all parents and guardians get a good night's sleep. 

It's not a dream. It is possible with The Sleep Mums. Thank you for joining us. Sleep soon.

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