Babies Need Movement
Although the first days at home with a newborn often pass in a blur, many questions also can arise regarding your new baby’s often unpredictable sleep schedule. While a baby can bring a tremendous amount of love and joy into your life, living with a new baby also can bring many challenges throughout the first year, including learning how to live with unpredictable sleep cycles and figuring out the best time to begin a bedtime routine.
What are the typical sleep patterns of a newborn? What’s the best way to get your baby to fall asleep on his own? How will you ever get any chores or grocery shopping done if you take a nap with the baby during those first few months? Two local pediatricians and one mom share their advice and tips on getting through the ever-changing sleep cycles during that momentous first year.
Sleep and the Newborn
After you bring your new baby home, you can expect he’ll sleep anywhere from 30 minutes to two or three hours at a time, both during the day and at night. Pediatricians advise the first two weeks home with your newborn are a crucial period, when he regains his birth weight and establishes proper feeding patterns. The old adage of “never wake a sleeping baby” doesn’t necessarily apply when your baby sleeps through important feedings.
“During the first month or two, babies are acquiring the nursing or feeding skills, which will take some time,” explains Dr. Pamela Johnson, a local pediatrician with Meridian Medical Group, who suggests parents wake their baby every two to three hours throughout the day for feedings. “Babies haven’t developed enough to distinguish between day and night. As they mature, and as feeding patterns develop, they should be able to go two to three hours a day and sleep five to six hours a time at night. This pattern continues until about 3 to 4 months of age.”
Local Fort Mill mom Ana Pryor warns parents not to expect too much too soon from their little ones. “I thought my baby would sleep through the night from the get-go, but I was wrong. Having him in a bassinet next to the bed helped out a lot,” she says.
When Regular Sleeping Patterns Emerge
While the first month with your new child may seem like an endless cycle of feeding and sleeping without much wakefulness in between, Dr. Daniel Neuspiel, director of ambulatory pediatrics at Levine Children’s Hospital, says the pattern typically changes when babies are around 1 month of age.
“By around 1 month, they start to be more awake during the day,” he says. “There are usually two to three feedings during the night. By 2 to 3 months of age, most babies will have the capacity to sleep through the night without a feeding. Some daytime sleeping will continue in the form of one or two naps.”
Parents Need Their Rest, Too
So how’s a new parent to survive juggling little sleep, feedings and regular household chores while living with a newborn?
If Mom is nursing, Johnson recommends pumping breast milk and letting Dad take over certain feedings so Mom can get some rest.
“Mom should also sleep during the day when the baby sleeps,” she says. “Lack of sleep can affect mood and diminish the milk supply. Babies can detect unease in the parents by this point.”
“I tried to nap when he was napping, and my husband would be on baby duty on the weekends so I could sleep a little longer,” says Pryor. “As far as chores, accept help when it’s offered. I tried to be Super Woman and exhausted myself. Accept the fact that the house might not be as tidy as you’d like during the first few months, but things will get back to normal soon enough.”
Establishing Nap and Bedtime Routines
Johnson recommends parents begin a simple bedtime routine with the baby by around 6 weeks of age to encourage good sleeping habits.
“At that point, the hard part is under your belt,” she says. “The baby should be drowsy, but not all the way to sleep. You are training him the way you want him to proceed.”
Neuspiel advises parents to help their baby establish self-soothing techniques early on as well. “By 1 month of age, if your baby starts to nod off during a feeding from the breast or a bottle, it’s time to put him in the crib,” he says. “If he starts to cry loudly, it’s OK to pick him up. But put him down as soon as he starts to close his eyes and lay him down again.”
Pryor began working on getting her son on a schedule around 3 months of age. “That was the magic age everyone talked about when he’d start sleeping through the night, and he did,” she says. “I’m not set on exact times for feedings and naps, but we are always within the same time frame, and he likes he mid-morning and mid-afternoon naps.”
Sleep and Your Older Baby
By about 6 months of age, most babies should be able to sleep six to eight hours at night, says Johnson. However, some parents may inadvertently train their children to do otherwise without realizing it. Like many adults, babies often wake up during the night, but they should be able to go back to sleep without the aid of a parent.
“Don’t rush to pick up your child as soon as he makes a noise,” she says. “Don’t rock him until he is totally asleep.”
By about 9 months of age, your baby should be sleeping 12 or 13 hours during a 24-hour period including nighttime and daytime naps.
Realize that there will be learning curves involving sleep schedules during the first year and beyond with your child.
“There are a lot of issues that come up with sleep later during that first year,” says Neuspiel. “Proper patterns may not have been established. With children who were sleeping well, sleep disturbances can occur around 9 or 10 months, when stranger anxiety can be occurring.”
Your child’s exact sleep schedule ultimately will depend on the needs of the entire family unit. Each child’s temperament is different and, with the right support, your baby eventually will settle on an amount of sleep that will complement his personality and help him grow mentally and physically at the same time.