Does this sound familiar? You signed up for all of the prenatal classes, the nursery was set up months in advance and the baby name was locked in shortly after you found out you were pregnant…you ready were and waiting for your bundle of joy to arrive!
But then baby came home and your organized world turned upside-down! You know what size diapers to buy, how to feed your little one, and buckle her into her carseat…but sleep? That’s a still a mystery…
Newborn sleep is tricky for two reasons. First, newborns have nights and days mixed up, and until their biological clocks figure that out (with your help of course!), there won’t be much difference in sleep between the two. Second, babies need to feed frequently. This definitely puts a damper on long stretches of sleep.
But here is the good news…there ARE things that you can do to encourage your baby to be a good sleeper!
Here are 5 goals to work toward with your little one:
1.Make a clear distinction between daytime and night time
For the first 4-6 weeks, your baby will be up feeding every few hours. In the meantime, you can encourage your baby to transition to “normal” waking hours by keeping him in brightly lit and active areas during the day and creating a quieter and darker environment at night time.
2.Watch for signs that your baby is getting tired to prevent overtiredness
Newborns sleep 16-18 hours during each 24-hour period, including 4-5 daytime naps. During the first few months, your baby should only be awake 45-60 minutes in between naps, so a feeding, diaper change and a few minutes of playtime and then it’s off to bed again! Some signs that your baby is ready for sleep include: rubbing her eyes or nose, red-rimmed eyes, arching her back or twisting, pulling on her ears (usually not until 3 months), and of course, yawning!
3.Help your baby learn how to fall asleep without a sleep prop (feeding to sleep, rocking to sleep, walking-while-bouncing to sleep, etc.).
When a child uses a sleep prop to fall asleep, it becomes very difficult for her to fall asleep independently…which means for every wake up, you’ll have to recreate the same scenario that got her to sleep at bedtime for every night waking! When babies stop relying on their sleep prop to fall asleep, bedtime is quicker, night-wakings decrease (or are eliminated all together, depending on age) and babies will be able to put themselves back to sleep when they wake too early in the morning.
4. Swaddle your baby
If you have ever watched your baby sleep (something you probably do on a daily basis!), you’ve most likely seen him throw out his arms like he’s falling. This is called the Moro Reflex and swaddling can help prevent the baby from startling himself awake. As babies get older, however, some start to rely on that tight fitting blanket to lull them to sleep at which point swaddling becomes a sleep prop. It is best to start weaning your baby off of the swaddle sometime between 8-12 weeks of age.
5.Set up a calming bedtime routine
None of us come home from an evening out, walk in the door, and get right into bed, but often we transition babies to bed that quickly! Start with a bath, maybe give a little massage with some baby lotion, get her cozy in a sleeper and new diaper, sing a song and feed her. Do the routine in the nursery to start getting her used to her new room. Remember, it’s never too early to start a bedtime routine and it is a great way to cue the body and the brain to settle down for sleep.
Remember that your child is growing and learning every day and longer stretches of sleep are right around the corner! Assuming your child is healthy and gaining weight at a normal rate, night feeds will typically diminish between 11-13 weeks. Our biological clocks are programmed to be more alert and awake during the day and asleep at night…and babies are working towards this in the first 3 months of life. At about 6 weeks, their little bodies are beginning to adjust and will typically sleep 3-5 hours at a time. When babies are about 12 weeks old, most are able to consolidate their feeds during the day which will promote consolidated sleep at night. Once this happens, babies can sleep 10-12 hours at a time.
So in these first few months, use these tips to set a foundation for healthy sleep habits and you’ll be rewarded with a full night’s sleep soon!
Kim Schaf is the Founder and President of Sleep Training Solutions and the Midwest Regional Director (USA) for the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants (APSC). After completing an extensive training and mentoring program with one of the world’s most respected child sleep authorities, she became a Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant and offers expert guidance to resolve behavioral sleep issues for families in Chicago and across the country. Kim has a Master of Arts degree in Teaching and is a member of the American Sleep Association, the North Suburban Children’s Business Network and the Neighborhood Parents Network. She lives in a northern suburb of Chicago with her husband and two small children, both of whom are excellent sleepers.