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How do I get my newborn to sleep so I can sleep?

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By Ann Bacon, Registered Nurse, Chair of WGH Advisory Board

You are not alone in asking this. One of the biggest challenges for all new parents is adjusting to their baby’s sleep and feeding schedule, and the impact this has on their own (lack of) sleep. In the first weeks of your baby’s life, wakings are due primarily to their need to feed. They will wake about every two to four hours (8-12 times per day), and will stay awake for about 30 - 60 minutes at a time. On average, your newborn baby will only sleep for about 2 - 4 hours at a time. It’s no wonder you are feeling exhausted!

Parents are often asked if their baby is “sleeping through the night.” This question can create unrealistic expectations and leave parents feeling like a failure if their baby isn’t yet. Most babies are not physically or developmentally ready to begin to “sleep through the night” until about 6 months of age (or 5 - 6 kg). Some may give their baby rice cereal or other solid foods before 6 months of age to help their baby sleep through the night. However, research has shown that the introduction of solid foods does not decrease a baby’s nighttime wakings. In addition, just as babies may start to sleep for longer stretches, babies can have sleep regression periods at 2, 4, and 6, 8, and 12 months. These temporary periods can disrupt the good sleep stretches your baby is having. But rest assured, they usually only last just a few weeks and are a good indication that your baby is growing and developing normally.

While some babies may sleep more and some less, most babies will follow a somewhat similar sleep/wake cycle. As your baby grows, they will begin to stay awake and alert for longer periods of time during the day. Thankfully, this can result in their sleeping for longer stretches at night, and offering their sleepy parents a few more hours of rest, too.

Tip: Babies often follow a similar pattern of alertness. Familiarizing yourself with these may help you understand your own baby’s rhythms.

  • Deep sleep - Does not startle, no movement
  • Active (light) sleep - May startle, REM stage sleep (Will cycle between active and deep sleep several times throughout their sleep)
  • Drowsy state (waking up or falling asleep) - May yawn and stretch
  • Quiet alert - Soon after waking, lays still, looks around, taking in information
  • Active alert - Happy, expressive, engaged, learning while playing
  • Fussy alert - Cry, flail arms and legs; newborns require comfort, older babies may be able to be distracted

(Adapted from ‘The Earliest Relationship’, by T. B. Brazelton & B. G. Cramer)

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by Lola&Lykke Team