First published Fall 2011/Winter 2012
Some babies are good sleepers. If you are fortunate enough to have one, you may wonder why other parents complain about getting their infants to sleep.
If your newborn isn’t a good sleeper, take heart. A good sleep routine will happen eventually. Learning about infant sleep patterns may help until then.
How Much Babies Sleep
Newborns sleep around 16 (or more!) hours a day. Your newborn at first may seem to have her days and nights “flipped,” because in utero, your active times of day are when she is being happily rocked to sleep. It can take some weeks before cues like daylight will help her reverse this. By the time she is two months old, she may be able to sleep for five to six hours at a stretch, which is considered sleeping through the night. By six months, most babies are able to sleep 8 or even 12 hours at night.
Some signs that your baby is ready for a nap include yawning, rubbing her eyes or glazed staring. Younger babies will need a nap every two hours or so. Around three months, babies typically have three naps a day, which may drop to two as they approach six months.
Setting the Mood
Your newborn will seem to sleep so much in the first few weeks that the idea of needing to set the mood for a nap might seem silly. But as he gets older, more curious and increasingly engaged with play, your child will benefit from the clear message that sleeptime is coming soon. Rituals such as a special song or book, a warm bath or an evening feeding in a dimly-lit room can help your baby settle down, and set the tone for sleep. It is important for you to be consistent.
Getting Your Baby to Sleep
When you are recovering those first few weeks and your newborn needs to feed every few hours, it’s understandable that you would try to get your baby to sleep any way you can — in a swing, with a sling or just cradled in your arms. But after a month or so, you will do better to put him to sleep when he is drowsy but not already asleep. If he is used to falling asleep getting rocked in your arms, it will be what he is expecting in the middle of the night. Do your best to comfort him at night without picking him up.
Following Your Instincts
Sometimes there really is something the matter that’s preventing your baby from sleeping well. For example, while nearly all babies spit up due to an immature sphincter at the top of their stomachs, some have reflux so bad they wake at night with heartburn. If you have a concern that your baby is not sleeping because she seems to be in pain, tell your healthcare provider. As a parent, you know your baby and can trust your instincts!
June Tester, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician and researcher in Oakland, CA.
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For more information on newborns and on new parenting, visit www.youandyourfamily.com.