If you haven't had a good night's sleep since your baby was born, you're not alone. Sleepless nights are a rite of passage for most new parents — but don't despair. You can help your baby sleep all night. Honestly!
Developing a rhythm
Newborns sleep 16 or more hours a day, but often in stretches of just a few hours at a time. Although the pattern might be erratic at first, a more consistent sleep schedule will emerge as your baby matures and can go longer between feedings.
By age 3 months, many babies sleep at least five hours at a time. By age 6 months, nighttime stretches of nine to 12 hours are possible.
Encouraging good sleep habits
For the first few months, middle-of-the-night feedings are sure to disrupt sleep for parents and babies alike — but it's never too soon to help your baby become a good sleeper. Consider these tips:
- Encourage activity during the day. When your baby is awake, engage him or her by talking, singing and playing. Stimulation during the day can help promote better sleep at night.
- Follow a consistent bedtime routine. Try relaxing favorites such as bathing, cuddling, singing, playing quiet music or reading. Soon your baby will associate these activities with sleep.
- Put your baby to bed drowsy, but awake. This will help your baby associate bed with the process of falling asleep. Remember to place your baby to sleep on his or her back, and clear the crib or bassinet of blankets and other soft items.
- Give your baby time to settle down. Your baby might fuss or cry before finding a comfortable position and falling asleep. If the crying doesn't stop, speak to your baby calmly and stroke his or her back. Your reassuring presence might be all your baby needs to fall asleep.
- Consider a pacifier. If your baby has trouble settling down, a pacifier might do the trick. In fact, research suggests that using a pacifier during sleep helps reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- Expect frequent stirring at night. Babies often wriggle, squirm and twitch in their sleep. They can be noisy, too. Unless you suspect that your baby is hungry or uncomfortable, it's OK to wait a few minutes to see if he or she falls back asleep.
- Keep nighttime care low-key. When your baby needs care or feeding during the night, use dim lights, a soft voice and calm movements. This will tell your baby that it's time to sleep — not play.
- Don't 'bed share' during sleep. This can make it harder for your baby to fall asleep on his or her own. Bed sharing might also increase your baby's risk of SIDS. If you'd like to keep your baby close, consider placing your baby's bed in your bedroom.
- Respect your baby's preferences. If your baby is a night owl or an early bird, you might want to adjust routines and schedules based on these natural patterns.
Keeping it in perspective
Getting your baby to sleep through the night is a worthy goal, but it's not a measure of your parenting skills. Take time to understand your baby's habits and ways of communicating so that you can help him or her become a better sleeper. If you continue to have concerns, consult your baby's doctor for additional suggestions.