From the moment your friends and family found out you were pregnant, advice probably started pouring in on how to get your baby to sleep through the night. You’ve heard all the recommendations – soothing sounds, sleep training, and swaddling. It can be overwhelming to try to plan a sleep strategy. Despite the overwhelming joy the birth of your little one brings, many parents face a rude awakening (more like a literal awakening) when they bring their baby home and discover the difficulties of maintaining a healthy sleep schedule.
Most newborns require about 14-17 hours of sleep per day, but they may only snooze for 1-2 hours at a time. The truth is, for the first month or so, babies don’t know day from night and wake often to feed due to their tiny tummies. Breastfed babies will generally wake more frequently than those who are bottle-fed, but breastfeeding is still worth it if you’re able. It remains the gold standard for infant nutrition and brings a multitude of benefits that carry on long after you stop breastfeeding. While these first weeks can seem chaotic and without any pattern, there are things that you can do to build a bedtime routine.
1. Make nighttime quiet time.
When your baby wakes up during the night, keep the lights off or dimmed and resist the urge to turn on the television or make loud noises. Keep talking and playing with your little one to a minimum. This can help your baby learn the difference between night and day. Some babies can get into a pattern of having their days and nights mixed up, also known as day-night reversal. Don’t worry about keeping the environment super quiet during the day, and follow these tips to help reverse this behavior.
2. Learn sleepiness signs and put your baby in a crib for bed.
Babies are quick learners and love habits and routines. When your baby shows signs of being sleepy (fussing, looking away, yawning, and rubbing their eyes), it’s time for bed. Try not to rock or feed your baby to get them to go to sleep. Instead, put them down in their crib. Your baby can then learn how to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own. Playing quiet music, especially the same or similar songs at bedtime, can help trigger these self-soothing reflexes. You can also try putting your baby to bed around the same time every night to develop a consistent and predictable routine.
3. Check in – but not too often.
As your crying baby is trying to fall asleep, it is important to step into the room and let the baby hear your voice. Your voice helps your little one feel safe and know you are still there. A recent study involving 5,700 children revealed that it takes an average of 20 minutes for a six-month-old baby to fall asleep. It may take even longer for younger infants to fall asleep but tends to improve as children reach age two. Try not to run into the room every single time you hear the baby cry or make a sound. Often a baby will fall asleep, wake up for a bit, and then fall asleep again.
4. Make your sleep a priority.
Parents who are sleep-deprived may have a harder time caring for their new baby. Sleeping when the baby sleeps, asking for help from friends and family, and going to bed at a consistent time each night are all ways to make sure that you are rested enough to care for yourself and your baby. If your baby is sleeping in your room, make sure they are in a separate crib, cradle, or bassinet. Avoid falling asleep with the baby in your arms or in your bed to prevent injury to your baby.
5. Remember, there is no right way to sleep train.
There is no recommended number of minutes to let a baby cry it out at night. Don’t worry too much about formally training your baby on when, where, and how to sleep. You’ll figure it out together. If parenthood is a brand new venture for you, work on becoming comfortable with caring for your baby and focus on making sure your baby is safe. Follow safe sleep recommendations for infants, such as putting the baby down on their back, using a firm mattress, avoiding sleep positioners and pillows, and keeping soft bedding out of the crib (wearable blankets are a great alternative).
Regardless of when and how you establish a sleep routine for your baby, it is important to communicate with your pediatrician about how sleeping is going and if you have any concerns. Babies that cry for extended periods of time or who are too sleepy to eat may need some additional support – and your doctor is there to help. Know that sleep patterns can change as your baby gets teeth, has a growth spurt, etc. The more you realize these disruptions happen, the more you can be prepared to help your baby (and you) get back on track for a good night’s sleep.