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 can’t sleep for more than a few hours without eating. You are up and down at all hours. 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 is 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 her 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 night and day. You have to help teach her. 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 her. Avoid any type of stimulating talk or actions. Simply change her diaper, feed her, and put her back in her crib.
Recognize when your baby is tired.
Your baby will give you cues that he’s tired. Pay attention and catch these cues early:
- rubbing eyes
- looking away from you.
Don’t wait until your baby is overtired to put him in bed. He will have more trouble falling asleep. He probably won’t sleep as long.
Keep baby awake during feedings.
Many babies fall asleep while they’re eating. This is understandable. They are very comfortable, snugly wrapped in someone’s arms as they eat. But if you let your baby go to sleep, she won’t get a full feed. She will wake up sooner and want to eat again sooner. Tips to keep your baby awake while eating include:
- Rub her feet or hands.
- Wipe her forehead, neck, and face with a wet wipe.
- Strip her down to her diaper so she isn’t too warm and snug.
- Sit her up and talk to her.
- Burp her frequently.
Separate eating from sleeping.
Don’t feed your baby in order to get her to go to sleep. If she gets used to this pattern, she will only be able to go sleep while eating. Keep the two separate. Keep her awake while she’s eating. When she’s done, have playtime. This will keep her awake for a little while. Then when she starts to show signs of sleepiness, you can put her to bed.
Teach your baby how to go to sleep on his own.
Once your baby learns how to go to sleep on his own, 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.
Babies crave consistency. It can take several weeks for your baby to get used to doing things at the same time every day. But once she does, your life will be easier. Create routines for naptime and bedtime. Your routines don’t need to be complicated. Just doing the same thing at the same time every day is what’s important. Ideas of activities to include in your sleep routine include:
- Turn down the lights.
- Start soft music or white noise.
- Quietly change your baby’s diaper.
- Read her a story.
- Give her a soothing bath.
- Rub her arms and legs like in a massage.
- Sing her a lullaby.
- Rock her for a few minutes (but not until she goes to sleep).
Any combination of these things should work. Once she recognizes the pattern, she will start getting sleepy before you even lay her down.
Things to consider
It is 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 think their baby will sleep longer if her belly is full, so they feed her extra. Some parents mix baby cereal into the bottle of formula. But babies’ tummies are too small to hold extra food. And their systems aren’t developed enough to be able to handle cereal. If your baby has eaten too much, he will be uncomfortable and will be less likely to sleep well.
- Don’t prop a bottle in his mouth. Some parents put baby in her crib with a bottle propped into her mouth. This would allow her to eat and fall asleep on her own. But this is never a good practice. It can lead to choking or ear infections.
- 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 her?
- 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.