I remember those early months of sleep deprivation. My baby slept for little bits at a time, during which time I would rush around trying to get things done. This was a huge mistake. I learned I needed to let baby sleep be a guide for my own sleep.
Eventually, we settled into a sleep pattern that worked for baby and me, and I learned how to reduce stress as a new mom.
But before I could do any of this, I had to understand how my baby slept, how to encourage him to sleep at night, and how to improve the sleep itself. So I want to share what I’ve learned and my best tips for better baby sleep!
Understanding Baby Sleep
When your baby is born, she does not know what is night and what is day. You should expect to be woken up persistently, no matter what the time, for the first few weeks. It is what it is. Embrace this as much as possible.
Babies sleep in short bursts when they are young because their stomaches only hold a maximum of three to four hours worth of nutrition. Thus, baby will wake every few hours and cry to be fed.
That said, you should — whenever possible — try and impose the fact that night is for sleep from very early on. This does not mean just letting your baby cry when she needs attention and ignoring her. Rather, you should do things in a way that gives your baby less attention than they would get in the daytime. For example, keeping the lights off and the atmosphere calm.
You can also try for fewer naps in the afternoon time. This will naturally tire your baby out more during the night time and improve sleep time. Do be careful, however — tired babies are unhappy babies. And unhappy babies make for unhappy mommies.
Tips for Improving Baby Sleep
Here are some very effective tips on helping your baby sleep far better. Did you know that for a lot of adults with persistent sleep problems stem from the early development years of a child’s life? Hence it is important for your child to associate sleep with a sense of restfulness and peace – and you can help create those conditions.
- When your baby naps in the day time use a well lit area. This will help keep the naps shorter and may encourage him to sleep better at nights.
- Feed your baby more during the day. This will help him meet his needs during the night so that he is likely to sleep better.
- Carry your baby more, particularly in the evenings. This keeps him relaxed which is likely to lead to a more restless transition to sleep.
- Remain flexible. If the sleep routine you are trying does not seem to be working then do not be afraid to try something new.
- Be alert to your baby and their quality of sleep. Where do you notice your baby sleeping well? If there is a “special place” then try and make that her sleeping place.
- Try and ensure your baby has a pleasant day. As odd as it may sound, the more peaceful your baby’s day the greater the chance that your baby will also enjoy a good night’s sleep. Some research shows that babies that are held more during the day sleep better at night . Is there any way you can work this into your daily routine?
- Depending on the baby, sometimes a warm bath and massage can lull babies into sleep at night. Keep in mind that this method can actually be stimulating for some babies, so experiment with it. Trial and error is the way to find out.
- A blend of soothing stimuli can help your baby sleep better too. For instance after a warm bath and massage, hugging your baby and then breastfeeding her is very soothing and can help bring the onset of sleep.
- What your baby wears during sleep can also be a factor. Babies in the early months are known to prefer sleeping slightly tighter (snugly wrapped in a nice baby blanket). If your baby is prone to allergies it may irritate her more during the night. If allergies are an issue, examine the allergens present at nighttime and minimize them as much as possible.
- Remove as many chances for physical discomforts as possible. Things such as having a peaceful and quiet environment, ensuring that her diapers are dry and comfortable, and making sure that the air is free or irritants are very important. I liked to use nighttime diapers so they stayed dry longer.
- The room temperature can also have a significant impact on your baby’s sleep. Apart from ensuring that the bed is suitably warm the best temperature for sleep is 70 degrees with a 50% humidity.
Where should baby sleep?
You also need to decide exactly where your baby should be sleeping. Some parents insist that your baby sleep in his own crib in his own room. Still other parents want their baby in their bedroom. Neither is right or wrong and there are advantages to both.
I bought a co-sleeper and placed it next to my bed. I did this because we were breastfeeding and my children would wake up during the night for nursing. I also just preferred it. It’s your choice.
If your baby sleeps in her room you will likely get more rest for yourself since you won’t be disturbed by the snufflings and other sleeping noises that newborn babies make. Your baby may wake less often if she is in her own room but this is not always the case.
On the other hand, if your baby is sleeping in the same room as you are, you might find it less disturbing and easy to be able to attend to your baby’s needs right there, as I did.
If you not only have your baby in the same room as you but also in the same bed, you should be aware of some of the dangers of sleeping in the same bed together. Baby experts are divided over the issue of sharing the same bed with your baby. You will have to research the safety versus the emotional issues and decide for yourself if you are going to be bringing your baby into bed with you.
How much sleep should we get?
You will likely need more sleep than your new baby. New babies most often are not able to sleep through the night until they have at least doubled their weight. This usually happens when your baby is between four and five months old. The following table shows the amount of sleep that babies should be getting. Keep in mind that this is just a guideline and don’t be discouraged if your baby doesn’t fall within the norm.
Baby’s Age (Days) Hours Sleep Per Day (including naps)
1-15 days – 16-22 hours
3 weeks – 16-18 hours
6 weeks – 15-16 hours
4-6 months – 14-16 hours
9 months – 13-16 hours
1 year – 12-15 hours
Once you have decided how you are going to handle where your baby sleeps and just how much sleep the charts say she should have, you will want to think about getting into some sort of a routine whether or not she is going to sleep any better because of it or not. A sleep routine can be a soothing and comforting part of your baby’s night time ritual. It is a way for you and your family to incorporate sleep into the daily routine without it becoming a battle of mind over baby. As your baby grows she will understand that bedtime comes after bath time and may start to settle down if she is comforted by the bedtime routine.
If you cuddle your baby, lay down with him, or sing to him one more time after you have put him to bed, he will come to expect that anytime he isn’t ready for sleep all he has to do is fuss and the pleasure of being rocked will be his again. You are not trying to play a game of control with him or deny him your affection after he has been put into bed. After all, it’s normal for him to want to be with you. What you are trying to do is make him understand that after the bedtime routine is complete, it is time to sleep.
A quick note on nighttime feedings, which will be further discussed in the Milk to Solids chapter. If you are feeding your baby during the night you won’t be able to establish that bedtime routine. If your baby needs to have a feeding at night you may have to delay a good sleeping pattern until he is ready to stop feeding during the night. Most babies stop feeding during the night around five to six months.
Does babies sleeping position matter?
Next we have to discuss the hotly debated topic of the baby’s sleeping position. It is worth seeing your family doctor for advice on this as there seems to be no one agreement for what a baby’s sleep position should be. Initially, it was thought that placing a baby on her stomach was the best position as it was thought to prevent aspiration (which is when food is sucked into the windpipe).
Recent studies seem to now indicate that the back is a better position as it is thought to reduce the chances of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). In addition, an infant placed on her back is also able to breathe better. Again, it is worth visiting your family doctor or paediatrician for further discussion of this matter.
It’s also recommended that you refrain from placing your baby on soft bedding items such as pillows and quilts. The reason is that her breathing passage may become obstructed if her face is deep into a pillow or quilt – the safest thing to do is use a good brand of crib and check that the mattress is firm.
There are further issues that could be covered under the “sleep” topic but over time you will derive your own nighttime rules and routines by trial and error. As your baby grows older you will find that his sleep patterns are constantly changing.
What you will have established with the use of baths and lullabies are certain characteristics that can be adapted to whatever nighttime routine you come up with to fit to your baby’s age and needs. With a lot of patience and love you will able to make it through the ever-changing world of baby’s sleep.