If you are a first time parent, congratulations! You have brought this tiny little human being home and it is your sole responsibility to care, feed and teach everything you know to him/her. It can be extremely overwhelming and despite all the child birth classes that you have taken and books you have read, it still doesn’t fully prepare you for the task ahead. No matter how much you prep, you learn by doing when it comes to taking care of a little one. But, a little bit of education and knowledge goes a long way in calming fears and building confidence.
Facts about Infant Sleep
It is a well-known fact that infants (0-3 months) need a lot of sleep. In fact, they sleep 16-18 hours in a 24 hour cycle; however the longest stretch they sleep is 2-3 hours. It doesn’t mirror an adult’s sleep habits, hence the reason that parents of newborns are so sleep deprived and tired.
Babies don’t develop a circadian rhythm (differentiating between night and day) until they are between 6 and 8 weeks old. Couple this with the fact that they need to be fed every 3 to 4 hours, and you are looking at frequent waking.
Parents often don’t know what to do to get an infant to fall asleep. Your baby has just arrived in the outside world from a place where there was no differentiation between night and day, constant motion which soothed them to sleep and a perfectly temperature controlled environment with no loud noises or visual stimulation. So to expect them to sleep without fussing or crying in a world that is full of light, noise and sometimes very still can be overwhelming. Infants “learn” to sleep and develop these skills just like learning to communicate and moving their limbs.
Some babies naturally fall into a great sleep pattern and start sleeping through the night on their own as young as 8 weeks. However, others (like my own son), need some coaching and gentle help to figure out the difference between night and day and to sleep longer stretches at night.
So what can you do?
Despite the inevitable sleeplessness that is going to follow the birth of a baby, there are some very good habits that you can instill when you bring them home, so that you get your baby off to a great sleep start. By following these tips, you are laying the foundation for healthy sleep, in the hopes that ‘sleep training’ is not needed sometime in the future.
1. When you bring the baby home follow a WAKE>EAT>PLAY> SLEEP pattern every 45 minutes. Infants cannot handle being awake for more than 45 min stretches. Anything more than this time frame, they become over-tired and it will be much harder to get them to settle down.
2. Swaddling provides an infant a lot of comfort and creates a similar environment to being in the womb. Swaddling can be a great soother for infants. However, after 3 months, swaddling can become a crutch, so they will need to be weaned off. It is also very hard to find swaddles for older children!!!
3. During the wake periods, keep your infant in a brightly lit room where there is a lot of activity, so they are clearly able to differentiate between night and day.
4. While feeding, make sure your child is getting a full feeding. If they tend to doze off, keep them fully awake. This ensures that they don’t develop a feed-sleep association. You don’t want them to become a snacker where they just fill themselves enough to doze off, only to wake up again in 1 hour, hungry. Full feeds also help with long naps, which is essential for your baby to wake up rested.
5. Develop a bedtime routine from a very young age, such as a warm bath, massage, book, song and sleep. A routine should be enjoyed by everyone involved, so come up with something that you know you are going to like doing night after night. A bedtime routine helpsyour baby wind down and sends the message that sleep is always expected after the routine ends.
6. Develop a shorter version of the bedtime routine for nap time – a book, a song and lights out.
7. After you have fed, changed and laid them down, they are most likely to fuss. This is your child’s way of figuring out how to get to sleep. Most first time parents (and I am guilty of this too), jump in right away and want to help stop the fussing. Children are extremely capable of figuring out how to make themselves comfortable to get to sleep. So give them a chance!
By following all of these tips, your child should have a great start to healthy sleep and fall into longer stretches of sleep at night time. Wanting your baby to sleep longer stretches at night, is not selfish or something to feel guilty about. Sleep is a very natural thing that our body craves and needs, just like food and water, in order to function normally. Sleep is a magical thing that helps your baby grow and develop and helps you be the best parent that you can be.