Sleep Tips for Babies
When you have a new baby, it may seem like everyone is a sleep expert wanting to give you advice on what you should or should not do to help your baby (and therefore you) get a good night’s sleep. Though much of this advice may be well-intentioned, it may not be rooted in fact nor safe science. Below are some suggestions and recommendations as you work with your little one to help them develop healthy sleep habits for a lifetime.
- There are different options for sleep training, different styles of working with your baby to help them sleep, and many theories about what is best. We don’t claim to have all of the answers. Do some research at the library, on websites, and various blogs to learn more about different sleep training styles and options that you may want to explore. Then, when you think you know what you would like to try, discuss it with your pediatrician or CNM to ensure that it is a safe and research backed form of sleep training to try. Here’s a website that explains some of the popular methods as well as another source from the American Academy of Cardiovascular Sleep Medicine. The Cleveland Clinic’s Webpage on When and How to Sleep Train Your Baby contains useful information about sleep training, as does this article on Sleep Training Truths from NPR.
- Although it can sometimes seem like your baby will never learn to sleep through the night, especially when you are sleep deprived, remember that your baby will eventually grow-up, and likely sleep through the night without difficulties. This first part of their life, they are not meant to sleep through the night and will wake to eat until they get old enough developmentally to be able to sleep through the night. Have patience knowing that this stage is not forever. Look at the table below to see where your baby is at now. You are establishing healthy sleep habits for a lifetime. Your baby will likely have regressions and transitions, when they are teething, when they switch developmental stages, or aren’t feeling good. These are normal too. All of these stages are temporary, as is the sleep deprivation that comes with being the parent of a brand new baby. Remember that there are resources out there to help you and people who want to support you too. Reach out for assistance as they can be amazing resources as you go through this temporary, but sometimes stressful, sleep alteration that comes from having a new human being be part of your life. To learn more about Bedtime Habits for Infants and Children visit this Medline website.
- Honor your baby’s individuality. Your baby will give you cues when it is tired such as rubbing its eyes, yawning, being fussier, or other behaviors. It will take a while to learn these cues. Also, try to put them in their crib sleepy but not fully asleep. You will need to work with your baby to know when that stage is as each baby is different. You and your baby will learn more about each other, every day that you spend together. Honor that individual relationship as it grows. Make a list of the sleep cues that you have noticed your baby displaying.
- Your pediatrician, CNM/OB, partner, and reliable family and friends are part of your team. You are not in this alone, though it can sometimes feel that way if you are up in the middle of the night and are very tired. Reach out for help. Talk to your pediatrician or family practice physician as they are used to helping parents and babies with sleep guidance. Talk to your midwife, your wellness coach, sleep specialists, and other experts as needed too. Your pediatrician/doctor/CNM can guide you. Also, ask your partner and other trusted adults/friends for help so that you can get some rest while a trusted adult cares for your baby, or watches them while they sleep. Sometimes this is what you need most to get the sleep that you need to get through the next day. Make a list of those who you can reach out to help you when you need assistance. If you need help now, reach out now too.
- Working with your baby to establish a healthy sleep routine is a process. It isn’t a one time solution. What worked well yesterday, may not work today. Your baby will continuously grow, go through various stages as they age. See the Stanford sleep chart below. Understanding what is appropriate developmentally for your baby at each age and stage will help you to go through the process of helping your baby establish healthy sleep habits for a lifetime. Regressions and transitions are real and will happen. When your baby is going through a regression or transition, snuggle and spend time with them, giving them the love and support that they need, regardless of the time of day or night. After reviewing the Stanford sleep chart, have you noticed your baby transitioning between these various stages?
- Keep safety at the forefront when helping your baby sleep. It’s recommended that you share a room with your baby for at least their first 6 months, but ideally a year. Some studies have shown that it helps to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). It may support breastfeeding too. To read more about this topic, visit this Harvard blog.
- Your baby should have a sleep space of their own to decrease the risk of SIDS. Do not share a bed with your baby. Your baby should sleep on a firm and flat surface in a crib and not a carseat, couch, or armchair. Do not overheat your baby, cover their head or face, or put them in an environment where they will overheat. They should be put on their backs to sleep (naps and night), in a safe space, without bottles, crib bumpers, blankets, soft objects or stuffed animals. Their crib mattress should be firm with a tightly fitted sheet. Your baby’s safety is of the utmost importance and following these guidelines decreases your baby’s risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website that has information on sleep for babies and review what it has to say about safe sleep for your baby.
- Spend time cuddling and interacting with your baby during the day. Also, when they are ready to hold their head up while being on their tummy, you will want to help them do tummy time during the day (with supervision) to strengthen their neck muscles. It is important for your baby to sleep on their back, but they do not have a chance to strengthen neck muscles adequately while laying on their back. This is why they need tummy time too. Reach out to your pediatrician or family medicine doctor so they can give you guidance. Ensure that they have adequate stimulation during the day so that they are ready to sleep more during the evening. Try to put them to bed tired but not overtired. It will take time to learn your baby’s patterns and for them to get into a day/night routine. When they are a newborn, this is not possible initially as it takes time for them to get to a stage when they can sleep longer at night (see the sleep chart). Also, ensure that your baby is getting adequate caloric intake during the day so that they are not overly hungry at night. Talk with your pediatrician, physician, or CNM before stopping night time feedings as you want to ensure adequate growth and nutrients for your baby before moving to feedings only during the daytime.
- Think about what type of bedtime routine you want to have for your baby. Do you want to read a story and snuggle together prior to going to bed? Maybe your prebed wind-down ritual with your baby will be a relaxing bath and a lullaby. As your baby grows, you can create a relaxing pre-bed routine or ritual that will let your baby know that it is time for rest. Often pre-bed routines involve dimming the lights, not doing anything too stimulating, and encouraging wind-down before bed. Talk to your partner about what nighttime routines you remember from your childhood.
- What works well for you, your baby, and your family as far as helping your baby get restful sleep, may not work well for others who have tried to give you advice. Also, even though you had a previous child who liked a bedtime story before bed, you may find that this new child prefers a warm, soothing bath. Try different safe ways of helping your baby fall asleep or relax before bed, to find out what works best for you and your baby. Make a list of what seems to help your baby relax or prepare for sleep and once you’ve found that special routine, try to keep it consistent.
- Self-care and Support
- You’ve likely heard the advice, sleep when your baby sleeps. This is especially important if you are feeling very tired. Being a new parent is challenging and sometimes stressful, especially if you are struggling with fatigue. When you are exhausted, your mental health suffers too. If you are experiencing fatigue, sleep when your baby takes naps as well as when they sleep during the night. Also, reach out for help from your partner as well as trusted friends and family members to see if they can help you get additional sleep. They can watch your baby for you or ensure that they are listening for your baby if your baby is sleeping, while you get restorative sleep. If you are nursing, they can bring your baby to you when your baby needs to nurse. You have to protect your own wellbeing through getting enough sleep in order to experience overall wellness. Make a list of who you can reach out to in order to get additional support for sleeping if needed. If you are in need of help now, reach out now.
For more information talk to your pediatrician, family practice doctor, or CNM. You can also visit: https://www.babysleep.com/ or https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/features/baby-safe-sleep/index.html