Pregnancy can be tiring, and moms-to-be are often eager to get a good night’s rest. Unfortunately, a developing baby’s activities may be anything but restful, especially when you are ready. Even when an expectant mom is sleeping, her baby may be moving and active. Some first-time moms might be wondering how to lull their yet-to-be-born baby to sleep before bedtime so they can sleep together. Others might even be concerned that something is keeping their baby awake, or worry that their baby isn’t getting enough rest.
Contrary to many myths, the baby doesn’t actually sleep when you do. Although the idea of a baby resting peacefully at nighttime certainly sounds appealing, there are a few reasons why it’s normal for the developing baby and mom to have different sleep cycles.
Babies have a shorter sleep/wake cycle
Unlike most adults, who are usually awake during the day and sleep for around 8 hours at night, a growing baby has a different cycle. Regardless of the time of day, a baby in the womb tends to exhibit a 30 – 40 minute sleep/wake cycle. This means that the baby will be active for around 30 – 40 minutes followed by a time of relative inactivity or sleep. This can be a reassuring thing for mothers of kicking babies to keep in mind, as even a very active baby is unlikely to stay that active for hours on end.
Every baby is different
Most moms begin to notice fetal movements at about 18 – 20 weeks. This time frame is widely variable depending upon many factors including how many pregnancies you have had and the location of the placenta. Once the baby starts moving, many expectant moms say their baby already has a personality. While it might still be too early for the baby to have favorite foods, books or cartoons, a favorite sleeping pattern might emerging. Often, each baby has his or her own unique cycles of increased activity and rest. It may take time for the baby’s own pattern to become noticeable, and it may not be very different from the average. Still, it can be a good idea for pregnant women to pay attention to their baby’s periods of movement and rest. Knowing your baby’s typical cycle may make it easier to plan to go to sleep for those times when your baby is usually restful.
It’s important to note that not all movement cycles are normal. If you notice in the late pregnancy (3rd Trimester = 28 weeks until delivery) that your baby has stopped moving for extended periods of time, or if there is any other sudden and significant change in the baby’s movement, it is best to contact your doctor or healthcare provider.
Quiet times make activity more noticeable
Although a baby may seem more active in the evening, that may not necessarily be the case. It can be difficult to determine whether a baby is actually being more active at night, or if any movement is just generally more noticeable to pregnant women when there are fewer outside distractions. If your baby’s cycle seems to include significantly more activity at night, it may help to try focusing on something else to see if the excess movement settles down.
If you’ve been wondering why your baby doesn’t seem to be sleeping when you do, be assured that there’s usually no cause for concern. While there’s no way to guarantee that your baby’s activity won’t wake you up in the night, timing your sleep for the periods when your baby is less active, or taking a mild sedative such as Benadryl or Tylenol PM might help you get a better night’s rest.
Always speak with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns. No pregnancy is perfect, but I hope your pregnancy is the very best it can be.
Be safe, be well and have fun!
David L. Berry, M.D.
Founder and Staff Physician
Austin Perinatal Associates