It’s usually you asking this question as a new, exhausted parent because you’re up so frequently with your baby that you end up not knowing the difference of when your day starts and when it ends. There is no consistency, no patterns, and no set schedule, all things that we have come to crave over the years. If you’re anything like me, you have an innate need to plan at least a few things during the day to feel any sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately, in those first couple months of life with your newborn, even if you wanted some of those elements to come together, there are just so many factors that might work against you, so it’s important to give yourself some self-care and give your child some time and patience to learn the world outside of the womb.
Have you ever wondered why when you were pregnant your baby would be super calm during the day and then want to have a kick boxing marathon while you’re settling in for the evening? Babies sleep well during the day in utero because your movements help to rock and soothe them to sleep. Then at night when you’re not moving around as much, your baby wants to be up to have a party. Some of you reading this will know this is also true for after the baby is out of the utero! There’s an actual term for this – Day/Night Confusion. The good news is that Day/Night Confusion can resolve as early as 2 weeks. The bad news is that it can sometimes take up to 8 week to resolve.
So what can we do about this to help our little ones? For starters, let the daylight through when it’s daytime! Go outside for some fresh air or if you’re in the house then keep the lights on and provide lots of interaction with your baby. When it comes to night time, do the opposite –dim the lights, limit the noise and it’s never too early to start a bedtime routine to help give your child clues that bedtime is approaching. Over time, your child will learn to recognize these clues – check out my blog post on Bedtime Routines for more information on this!
Another factor working against us in those first couple (or few) months is that babies have an underdeveloped Circadian Rhythm. This is where we cue some raised eyebrows so here’s a quick science review (although I’m sure we’ve all learned this in some science class at some point…). The Circadian Rhythm in our internal body clock with a primary function of controlling our sleep and wakefulness. This system is influenced by external factors like light, darkness and temperature. So if babies have an underdeveloped Circadian Rhythm, in addition to Day/Night Confusion which also influences their internal body clock, it’s a perfect recipe for erratic sleep patterns and many restless nights.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel (yes, that’s meant to continue with the light and dark theme of this post)! Beginning at about 2 months of age, leading into 3 months of age, the Circadian Rhythm slowly starts to develop and this helps a baby to tell the difference between night and day.
In those early weeks the only thing your baby knows is what it feels like to be in utero, so give your baby and yourself some patience and time to learn what the world is like outside of utero, and the difference between night and day. Soon enough with continued healthy sleep foundations you will see those longer stretches of sleep.
Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant, Founder of Gentle Dreams
Disclaimer: The information/advice provided in any form of communication by Gentle Dreams is not a substitute for medical advice. The advice is for informational purposes only and is intended for use with common sleep issues that are unrelated to medical conditions. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or the health and welfare of your child.