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!
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 to 4 months, many babies sleep at least five hours at a time. At some point during a baby's first year — every baby is different — he or she will start sleeping for about 10 hours each night.
Ideally, your baby should sleep in your room with you, but alone in a crib, bassinet or other structure designed for infants, for at least six months, and, if possible, up to one year. This might help decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Adult beds aren't safe for infants. A baby can become trapped and suffocate between the headboard slats, the space between the mattress and the bed frame, or the space between the mattress and the wall. A baby can also suffocate if a sleeping parent accidentally rolls over and covers the baby's nose and mouth.
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:
- Follow a consistent, calming bedtime routine. Overstimulation in the evening can make it difficult for your baby to settle to sleep. Try bathing, cuddling, singing, playing quiet music or reading, with a clearly defined end point when you leave the room. Begin these activities before your baby is overtired in a quiet, softly lit room.
- 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, check on your baby, offer comforting words and leave the room. 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 SIDS.
- 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.
- 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.
Remember, getting your baby to sleep through the night isn't 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 have concerns, talk to your baby's doctor.