The first few weeks of your baby’s life can be some of the toughest for you. As your baby adjusts to being out of the womb, your life gets put on hold. Your baby doesn’t know day from night. He or she can’t sleep for more than a few hours without eating. You’re up and down around the clock. Many parents suffer from sleep deprivation.
Some parents think they can prevent this by putting their baby on a sleep schedule. Other parents think their baby should eat and sleep on demand. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. But there are steps you can take to set good sleep patterns for your baby. These will help him develop a routine. The routine will mean more stability and predictability for you.
Path to improved well being
Between websites, blogs, books, magazine articles, and other parents, you have endless sources of information on what’s best for your baby. Many times, these sources give different information. But here are some basic tips that most experts agree will help your newborn get the best sleep possible
- Teach your baby daytime from nighttime.
Your baby doesn’t know the difference between day and night. You have to help teach him. During the day, keep lights on. Open windows and do things with more energy. At night, keep lights low. Do things more slowly and quietly. When your baby wakes up in the middle of the night to eat, don’t engage with him. Avoid any type of stimulating talk or actions. Simply change his diaper, feed him, and put him back in the crib.
- Recognize when your baby is tired.
Your baby will give you cues that he is tired. Catch these cues early:
- Rubbing eyes.
- Looking away from you.
Don’t wait until your baby is overly tired to put him in bed. If you do, he will have more trouble falling asleep, and probably won’t sleep as long.
- Keep baby awake during feedings.
Many babies fall asleep while eating. That’s understandable. They’re very comfortable, snuggly wrapped in someone’s arms as they eat. But if you let your baby go to sleep, he won’t get a full feed. He will wake up sooner and want to eat again sooner. Tips to keep your baby awake while eating include:
- Rub his feet or hands.
- Wipe his forehead, neck, and face with a wet wipe.
- Strip him down to his diaper so he isn’t too warm and snug. Not to the point that he would be cold, just not cozy.
- Sit your baby up and talk to him.
- Burp him frequently.
- Separate eating from sleeping.
Don’t feed your baby in order to get him to go to sleep. If you do, he will only be able to go sleep while eating. Keep the two separate. Keep him awake while eating. When done, have playtime with your baby. This will keep him awake for a while. Then when he starts to show signs of sleepiness, put him in bed.
- Teach your baby how to go to sleep on his own.
Once your baby learns how to go to sleep by himself, your life will become simpler. To do this, put him in his crib when he’s drowsy, but awake. If he isn’t overtired, he probably won’t be very fussy. It could be hard at first, and he might cry. But give him a few minutes to work it out and see if he can fall asleep without being fed or rocked or held. You can give him a pacifier to soothe him if necessary.
- Establish routines.
Babies crave consistency. Create routines for naptime and bedtime. Your routines don’t need to be complicated. Just do the same thing at the same time every day. It can take several weeks for your baby to get used to this routine.
Ideas of activities for your sleep routine include:
- Turn down the lights.
- Start soft music or white noise.
- Quietly change your baby’s diaper.
- Read him a story.
- Give him a soothing bath.
- Rub his arms and legs like in a massage.
- Sing him a lullaby.
- Rock him for a few minutes (but not until he goes to sleep).
Any combination of these things should work. Once he recognizes the pattern, he’ll start getting sleepy before you even lay him down.
Things to consider
It’s easy to become desperate for sleep when you have a newborn. But there are certain things you should NOT do to get your baby to go to sleep.
- Don’t overfeed your baby. Some parents feed their baby extra thinking that will help him sleep longer. But babies’ tummies are too small to hold extra food. Some parents mix baby cereal into the bottle of formula thinking it will make the baby more full. But babies’ systems aren’t developed enough to handle cereal. If your baby has eaten too much, he will be uncomfortable and less likely to sleep well.
- Don’t prop a bottle in his mouth. Some parents put baby in his crib with a bottle propped in his mouth. They think this would allow him to eat and fall asleep on his own. But this is never a good practice. It can lead to health issues and even choking.
- Never give a newborn medicine or alcohol to help him sleep. Even if your parents say they did it with you, don’t do it.
Other things you should keep in mind:
- Premature or special-needs babies could have different needs. You might need to adjust their sleeping and eating times to accommodate them.
- If your baby’s sleep pattern changes suddenly, call your doctor. It could be a sign of illness, such as an ear infection.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Should I put my newborn on a sleep schedule?
- Should I wake my newborn up to eat to keep him on a schedule?
- When will my baby start sleeping through the night?
- How long should I let my baby cry before going in to soothe him?
- Is there anything I can do to help my baby sleep longer?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.