New parents hear many baby sleeping tips including soothing sounds, sleep training, and swaddling. From the moment your friends and family found out you were pregnant, the advice started pouring in on how to get your baby to sleep through the night. It can be overwhelming to try to plan a sleep strategy. A common problem arises when you bring your baby home, only to find that it is not very easy to manage how your newborn sleeps. Additionally, the difficulty of the new responsibility becomes compounded because you and your partner are already exhausted.
The truth is, for the first month or so, babies don’t know day from night and wake to feed often due to their tiny tummies. Breastfed babies will generally wake more frequently than those who are bottle-fed, but they are also benefiting from a boosted immune system from their mother’s milk. Newborns need to sleep 16 to 17 hours a day, but it can be in spurts as short as 1-2 hours. While these first weeks can seem chaotic and without any pattern, there are things that you can do to build a routine.
1. Make nighttime, quiet time.
When the baby wakes up in the night to eat, keep lights off or dimmed, and resist the urge to turn on the television or make loud noises. Keep talking and playing with the baby to a minimum. This can help the baby learn the difference between night and day. Some babies can get into a pattern of having their days and nights mixed up or day-night reversal, but these strategies, as well as not worrying about keeping the environment super quiet during the day, can help babies reverse this behavior.
2. Learn sleepiness signs and put the baby in a crib for bed.
Babies are quick learners and love habit and routine. When it is time for bed, and the baby shows signs of being sleepy (fussing, looking away, yawning, and rubbing her eyes), try not to rock or feed the baby to sleep. Instead, put the baby down in their crib. The baby can then learn how to self-soothe and fall asleep on her own. Playing quiet music, especially the same or similar song(s) at bedtime, can help with triggering these self-soothing reflexes. Try also putting the baby to bed around the same time every night.
3. Check-in, but not too often.
As your crying baby is trying to fall asleep, it is important to step in the room and let the baby hear your voice. Your voice helps the baby feel safe and know you are still there. New research out of Finland on a group of 5,700 children and published in the journal, Sleep Medicine, found that it took, on average, 20 minutes for a six-month-old baby to fall asleep. This time could be even longer in younger infants but gets shorter as the child moves toward the age of two. Try not to run in the room every 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 overtired can have a harder time caring for a 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, be sure they are in a separate crib, cradle, or bassinet. Avoid falling asleep with the baby in your arms or in your bed. This can put the baby at risk for injury.
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. It is okay to not worry about formally training your baby on when, where, and how to sleep. The most important thing is for you to be comfortable in how you are caring for your baby and for your baby to be safe. Be aware of safe sleep recommendations for infants, such as putting the baby down on her 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 a 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.