The sleep habits of newborns are often the source of concern and frustration for many new parents. Just as babies grow and change in size, ability, and personality, so will their sleeping patterns. There are several things parents can do to encourage their babies to establish consistent sleep patterns that will eventuate into nights of peaceful slumber.
Parents of newborns often struggle to find uninterrupted sleep that lasts for more than 2 hours. Because newborns need to eat often, long periods of sleep during the first weeks are not usually possible, and actually not recommended by most pediatricians. Newborns require regular intake of their mother’s milk or formula, so sleeping for more than 4 hours at a time is not typically feasible.
Much to the disappointment of new parents, newborns are not capable of recognizing differences in day and night sleep needs. It may be several weeks before a pattern can be established and newborns adjust to the rhythms of day and night routines. Even during this time, newborns will still need to be fed, and regular deep sleep might not occur for longer than 2 to 4 hours at a time.
Another key factor for establishing positive sleeping habits is for parents to begin providing bed time routines. Even sponge baths, quiet story times, or lullabies while rocking are good calming activities before bed. Parents should make sure the crib or cradle is free of any toys or unsafe, loose materials or extra blankets, and that this place is reserved for sleeping. Part of a good bed time routine includes establishing where night time sleeping happens and will help encourage healthy sleep habits for infants.
Newborns also might wake from deep sleep because they have a wet or dirty diaper or maybe they have an upset stomach and can?t get comfortable. During these awake times at night, parents of newborns should interact quietly with their babies. It is also important to keep the room as dark as possible, perhaps by using nightlights or dimmer switches. Parents should change diapers, feed, and burp the baby with as little stimuli as possible. Even if a baby falls asleep while eating, it is important to burp him to avoid an upset stomach later.
Helping newborns establish good, quiet sleeping habits does not mean parents can’t cuddle their babies at night. Some parents fear that doing so will cause their newborns to only sleep while being held. During these first weeks, however, babies need physical contact as much as they need food, and sometimes more. Some newborns will wake at night for that physical comfort. Babies develop for 9 months amid the sounds and experiences of their mother’s wombs and are often soothed by sharing closeness. Swaddling the newborns also mimics the close, cradled manner in which they grew and makes them feel secure.
Stories of newborns who sleep soundly at night should not discourage parents if their own infant does not. These are not typical situations, and often these sleeping scenarios do not continue. Newborns grow and change, as will their sleeping routines. Nutritional and emotional needs, and issues such as teething and first colds, will affect the sleeping routines of babies. Establishing quiet nighttime routines that begin with consistent bed time routines can be an effective way to help newborns create sleeping habits that will provide long periods of peaceful rest at night.
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