Anonymous wrote me that her second son is three weeks old and is sleeping like a champ. It's freaking her out, because her first son had his days and nights mixed up and seemed not to sleep, pretty much ever, for the first 11 months of his existence.
Babies are weird.
This is confirmed by reports from two other friends with new babies, one of whom sleeps at night (sort of) but hardly at all during the day at four weeks, and the other of whom seems to sleep around the clock at five weeks.
Moral of the story: Babies are people, too.
And they haven't read any of the baby books. So reading the books can give you an idea of what *can* happen, but if you start to think it *will* happen you could be disappointed or demoralized. And if you think that's what *should* happen you can start to think there's something wrong with you or your baby when it could just be normal human variation.
Now, serious lack of sleep can indicate a problem, so you should do some troubleshooting to see if there's anything you can figure out and fix. But at the same time, know that it's possible that everything could be fine and your baby still might not sleep the textbook way or amount.
Some common problems that could be affecting your baby's sleep:
Reflux: Choking or gagging or spitting up a ton are classic signs of reflux, but waking up screaming is another sign. Try propping the head of wherever your baby sleeps so the head is above the feet, and if that helps, your baby could have reflux. (Another classic is that the baby can sleep for hours in a stroller or swing or bouncy seat but not lying flat.) Talk to your doctor to get some relief.
Caffeine: If you're consuming lots of caffeine and nursing, it could be keeping your baby up. The half-life of caffeine in a baby's system is 96 hours. (Yes. That wasn't a typo. They're teeny little humans.) I am so sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
Developmental spurt/Growth spurt: If your baby is 3 weeks or 5 weeks or 8 weeks or 12 weeks, they could be in the middle of a growth (eating constantly) spurt or developmental (learning new brain skills) spurt. It should be over in a few days to a week, and things should improve.
Environmental conditions: Too cold, too hot, too bright, too noisy, too quiet, too alone, etc. Chances are if it annoys you, it could be preventing your baby from sleeping. (Remember also that your baby just came from being in constant contact with you, so if you expect your baby just to go cold turkey in sleeping alone in a quiet room, you might not have success right away.)
Hunger: I mean, duh, but sometimes we forget how often babies actually do need to eat. Forget all the crap about how many pounds babies weigh and how long they can go without eating. It's not research-based, especially with breastfed babies, so it's just as much conjecture as anything I could tell you or your MIL or the checkout lady at the grocery store. If your baby keeps waking up and seeming hungry, feed them and see if it works.
What have I forgotten? I'm trying to think of things that are common and reasonable to diagnose and easily treatable.
And, of course, feel free to talk about how your baby slept as a newborn, if you can remember. My first one hardly slept at all during the day. My second one seemed more textbook and couldn't stay awake for more than two hours.