If you haven’t had a good night’s sleep since your baby was born, you’re not alone. Sleepless nights are a rite of passage for most new parents. But don’t despair. You can help your baby sleep all night. Honestly!
Follow these tips so you AND your baby can get some Zzz’s.
Developing a rhythm
Newborns sleep 16 or more hours a day, but often in stretches of just one to two hours at a time. Although the pattern may be erratic at first, a more consistent sleep schedule will emerge as your baby’s nervous system matures and he or she goes longer between feedings.
By age 3 months, many babies sleep up to five hours during the night. By age 6 months, nighttime stretches of nine to 12 hours are possible.
Encouraging good sleep habits. For the first few months, middle-of-the-night feedings are sure to disrupt sleep for parents and babies alike. But it’s never too soon to help your baby become a good sleeper. Here’s how:
Encourage activity during the day. When your baby is awake, engage him or her by talking, singing and playing. Surround your baby with light and normal household noises. Such stimulation during the day can help promote better sleep at night.
Monitor your baby’s naps. Regular naps are important — but sleeping for large chunks of time during the day may leave your baby wide awake at bedtime.
Follow a consistent bedtime routine. Try relaxing favorites such as bathing, cuddling, singing or reading. Soon your baby will associate these activities with sleep. If you play bedtime music, choose the same tunes each time you put your baby in the crib.
Put your baby to bed drowsy but awake. This will help your baby associate bed with the process of falling asleep. Remember to place your baby to sleep on his or her back, and clear the crib or bassinet of blankets and other soft items.
Give your baby time to settle down. Your baby may fuss or cry before finding a comfortable position and falling asleep. If the crying doesn’t stop, speak to your baby calmly and stroke his or her back. Your reassuring presence may be all your baby needs to fall asleep.
Consider a pacifier. If your baby has trouble settling down, a pacifier might do the trick. In fact, using a pacifier during sleep may reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). But there are pitfalls, too. If your baby uses a pacifier to sleep, you may face frequent middle-of-the-night crying spells when the pacifier falls out of your baby’s mouth.
Expect frequent stirring at night. Babies often wriggle, squirm and twitch in their sleep. They can be noisy, too. Sometimes fussing or crying is simply a sign of settling down. Unless you suspect that your baby is hungry or uncomfortable, it’s OK to wait a few minutes to see what happens.
Keep nighttime care low-key. When your baby needs care or feeding during the night, use dim lights, a soft voice and calm movements. This will tell your baby that it’s time to sleep — not play.
Respect your baby’s preferences. If your baby is a night owl or an early bird, you might want to adjust routines and schedules based on these natural patterns.
Keeping it in perspective. Some babies sleep for long stretches at night right from the start, only waking for feedings. Others have trouble lulling themselves back to sleep. Take as much time as you need to understand your baby’s schedule and ways of communicating.
If you’re frustrated with your baby’s sleeping habits — especially if your baby still needs attention several times during the night by age 6 months — ask your baby’s doctor for suggestions.
Remember, getting your baby to sleep through the night isn’t a measure of your parental skills. It’s simply a goal you’re working toward. The result will be a good night’s sleep for everyone.
For links to great books on developing healthy sleep habits for your baby, check out these great books:
- Solve your Child’s Sleep Problems, by Richard Ferber is based on Ferber’s research as the director of Boston’s Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital, the book is a practical, easy-to-understand guide to common sleeping problems for children ages one to six.
- The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer, by Harvey Karp believes fussy babies suffer from what he calls the “fourth trimester,” and recommends a series of five steps designed to imitate the uterus. These steps include swaddling, side/stomach position, shhh sounds, swinging and sucking.
- Nighttime Parenting: How to Get Your Baby and Child to Sleep, by William Sears offers advice on issues such as deciding where babies should sleep, what foods may help children sleep, tips for single parents, and getting children to bed without a struggle.
- Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Marc Weissbluth teaches parents the basics of sleep science and helps them find their baby’s optimal window for falling asleep both for naps and at nighttime.