Sleep like a baby…really?
Establishing a calming routine before bed is important!
When I brought our oldest Corri home from the hospital, I thought I knew about the sleep patterns of infants. After all, I had the degrees to prove that I was an “educated” Mom! The truth is, nothing can prepare you for the lack of sleep that new parents usually experience. Quickly my plans to reorganize my closets during Corri’s long daytime naps (don’t newborns sleep all the time?) went by the way side. Yes, newborns DO sleep a lot…just in very short intervals. Corri never slept long enough for any reorganization of closets, and when she did sleep I was too tired to reorganize. Oh, the lessons of a new parent!
Sleep is VERY important for our babies, and for you! There are some sleep tips for new parents that will help your baby “learn” to sleep and establish good patterns for the future. I firmly believe that our children are largely sleep deprived because of our busy schedules. Good sleep is essential for healthy children, clear through the teen years! Many of the healthy sleep habits you establish with your young children will result in healthy sleep habits for a lifetime.
The first 3 months of a baby’s life there is no real routine. Anything that you read that tells you that you can establish or “force” routine at this age is mistaken. I do not think that baby sleep training books are valuable at this age, and they can really be destructive to your baby’s establishment of good sleep habits. Your job as a parent during the first year is to help your baby realize that the world is a great place! When your baby cries, you need to respond. Baby will quickly learn to trust you and feel loved. You cannot spoil a newborn! You CAN spoil an older child, but that discussion is for another day!
Newborn sleep patterns are different from adults. They have sleep cycles that are much shorter than ours, and have longer patterns of active sleep rather than deep sleep, especially in the first 3 months. Parents often complain that their infant will “cat nap” . This is a fairly normal pattern during the first 3 months of life. Very young infants do not know how to self soothe either. Those skills develop after the first 3 months also. Here are a few tips that will help establish good sleep habits for the future. Remember, there is light at the end of the tunnel, life will become easier after the first few months.
1. Know your baby’s sleep cues…do not let your baby become over tired.
Most parents in the beginning have a bit of a difficult time learning sleep cues. Newborn babies should not be up longer than an hour and a half to two hours maximum. If your baby becomes overly tired, it is much more difficult for your baby to sleep! Look for your baby to rub at his or her eyes, begin to blank stare and not engage, yawn, and fuss. When you see some cues, take a look at the length of time your baby has been awake. The next time your baby is awake, start the process of putting him or her down for a nap 15 minutes earlier. This way you never miss the window of opportunity, an overstimulated baby does not sleep well. You often will feel like all you have time for is a feeding, a diaper change, a small amount of interaction and then your baby is ready to sleep again!
2. Swaddle your baby.
Newborns until the end of the 4th month have a reflex that causes them to startle. You often will see your baby twitch, grimace, have a sweet sleep grin and jump during the early active sleep pattern. The twitching and jumping or moro reflex as it is called, will wake your baby. If you swaddle using a light blanket or a swaddle sleep sack, your baby will not wake with a startle as often and will feel more secure. Many moms and dads will tell me their baby does not like the swaddle. I encourage you to try it again. Try swaddling your baby before a nursing or feeding, or before you begin to rock your child to calm. Most of the time babies will relax into the swaddle and love it! They look like a cute baby burrito!
3. Try white noise.
Babies heard white noise inside mom’s womb during the entire pregnancy. This sound is very calming to a newborn. My 2nd daughter loved the sound of a blow dryer. She was a fussy baby, and quickly my blow dryer became part of the decor of my family room. Now, there are white noise machines, white noise phone apps, and white noise CDs that parents swear by, a much better look than the blow dryer! White noise can be part of a “switch” that helps soothe a fussy baby. You might even try getting your face down by your baby’s ear and “shsh shsh shsh”, which will work too.
4. Provide day and night/ light rhythm.
Many newborns get their days and nights mixed up. There is nothing worse than an infant that sleeps well during the day and is up all night! Moms often notice that babies before birth are more active at night too! To help your baby learn the day and night pattern, keep the daytime hours light with normal noise patterns in your home. Light on our eyes helps to cue our bodies to when it is time to be awake and when it is time to be asleep. That is part of the reason we feel so sleepy during the gloom of dark winter days! Stand in front of a window with your baby and expose your baby to natural light. Do not darken the rooms for your baby to nap during the day and keep regular noise in the house. No tip toeing! In the evening, start to dim lights and keep things calm and quiet about an hour before “bedtime”. Then with every nighttime feeding keep the room dark, do not change the diaper unless it is dirty, and do not interact. Just feed your baby and put back to bed. Eventually your baby will learn the difference between day and night and sleep more soundly and longer during the night hours. This pattern of day and night will help older children and adults fall to sleep more easily too!
5. Wake your baby to eat during the day.
Do not let your baby sleep longer than 2 hours during the day. Wake your baby to eat, and unless your doctor advises you differently, never wake a sleeping baby at night! You want your baby to receive most of their nutrition during the waking hours, and less at night.
6. Move with your baby!
Movement will calm a baby to sleep. Rocking, swinging, and wearing your baby will all help lull your little one into a deep sleep pattern. Rocking to sleep is fine in the early months. Many parents have a hard time transitioning from the swing or arms to bed without the baby waking. Do the limp arm test! Remember that babies have a very active sleep pattern before they move into a deep sleep. If you try to transfer when your little one is still grimacing, sleep grinning, or you see rapid eye movement under closed eye lids, most likely your baby will wake quickly. Rock or provide movement until your baby has transitioned from the active sleep pattern to a deep sleep. You will be able to pick up your baby’s arm and feel that it is limp. When you see that, then it is much easier to place your baby in the crib and your baby stay asleep.
7. Use a pacifier.
Babies need to suck many times to sleep soundly. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a pacifier at sleep as a deterrent to SIDS. Sucking calms a baby. A baby that tends to become over stimulated easily often needs more suck time. I am a big believer in the pacifier or a thumb or finger sucker resulting in a calm baby. We can worry about the habit later!
8. Establish a sleep routine.
The earlier your baby connects routine with sleep the better. Do the same thing every time you put your baby to bed and quickly your child will connect those activities with sleep. This pattern will develop good sleep patterns all the way to adulthood! So, plan the feeding, bathing, massage, rocking, singing, reading pattern that works for you! Keep the routine simple and repeatable. The bedtime or nap time routine should not be longer than about 20 minutes. You can establish a bedtime for your baby even though you know you will be up again! Just treat every feeding after “bedtime” as a night-time feeding. Children in general are wired early to bed early to rise! Have an early bedtime for a good sleeper and for you to have an evening of “adult time”.
9. Do not let your baby “cry it out” until 6 months.
The first 6 months parents need to respond to a crying baby at night. After 6 months, most babies are developmentally ready to sleep a stretch through the night. When you are emotionally ready and after your baby is at least 6 months old, you can do the “baby shuffle” and check on your baby every 5 to 10 minutes without picking your baby up. Comfort your baby with a “shh” go to sleep, a pat and then leave. The first night you may be “shuffling” in and out of the nursery for an hour or more. The 2nd night will be shorter and usually by the 3rd or 4th night your baby will comfort to sleep on his or her own. You must be consistent and not give in. Soon you will put a drowsy baby to bed and your baby will be able to fall asleep without your assistance!
10. Even with doing all the “right things” babies have sleep disturbances.
Children will have periods of sleep disturbances through all developmental stages. With each new skill a baby learns, example rolling over, there will often be a sleep pattern disturbance. Babies like to practice at night! There is also teething, separation anxiety, illness….many reasons you will see disturbances even when you are doing all the right things in establishing good sleep patterns. Always go back to the basics each time. Good sleep is essential! Teaching healthy sleep patterns is a huge gift to your child, and you!
Soon you will be getting longer stretches of sleep….until those darn teen years creep up and you find yourself waiting up for your child! That is another issue another day!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
I love these sleep resources:
The No-Cry Sleep Solution
The Happiest Baby on the Block
Dr. Harvey Karp
Paul M Fleiss, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P