Are you finding that you have trouble getting your little one to sleep? You are not alone. Often times, parents have issues trying to get their little ones to sleep through the night. So, let’s talk about some tips to get you, and your baby some quality sleep.
First, let’s talk about normal sleep patterns. As your baby gets older, the amount of total sleep decreases. The amount of nighttime sleep, however, will increase, while daytime sleep will decrease. For example, your newborn will sleep for about 16 hours a day splitting that time in half, sleeping around 8 total hours at night and 8 total hours during the day. A 9-month-old infant, however sleeps about a total of 14 hours a day, with about 10 of those hours being at night and only 4 hours during the day.
If you haven’t noticed, your newborn baby sleeps in short intervals (about 1-2 hours at a time). Most infants don’t start sleeping through the night until they are about 3-4 months old or weigh about 12-13 pounds. At that point, their little bodies are better able to sleep through the night without the aid of nighttime feedings. Don’t be discouraged, if your child meets these parameters, and hasn’t reached the point at which he/she can remain asleep throughout the night. There is a range of when this will start and some infants don’t start sleeping through the night until they are 6 months old.
Establish a routine
How can you help to facilitate sleep in your baby? The first thing you should do is create a bedtime routine. Reading bedtime stories, lullabies, or white noise help to set the tone for bed. Lights should be minimal, as should the noise level. Using a softer, soothing tone of voice will also help to set the routine. Things such as a warm nighttime bath also help to set the tone. A clear bedtime routine helps your baby recognize and develop the concept of a sleep environment.
Routines are important and can be established early on. Infants as young as 2 or 3 weeks can respond well to routines. Wait until your milk is in if you are nursing or until your baby has returned to birth weight and then get a routine in place for both feeding and sleep.
Typically babies will eat about every 3 hours (from start of feed to start of feed) during the day and then more frequently in the evening hours (cluster feeding) leading up to the longest sleep stretch. By putting a feeding routine in place throughout the day babies are more apt to sleep longer stretches at night.
Routines for eating are the lynchpin for good sleep at night. By having a routine for feeding in place, you also learn that not all cries mean hunger. This helps you interpret your baby’s cries at night and intervene less often allowing her to self-soothe.
Drowsy, Not Asleep
You should place your baby in his/her crib when they are drowsy, instead of asleep. This will help your baby associate their crib as the place to sleep. It will also help to teach your baby how to fall asleep on their own. When babies are put to sleep in your arms, or in other areas throughout the house, they begin to associate those environments with sleep. Studies have shown that infants who are placed in their cribs while drowsy, are more likely to develop the ability to self soothe.
Sometimes, your baby needs space
I know it’s hard, but you don’t have to jump to your child’s rescue every time they cry. This only helps to reinforce the need to have your presence to fall back asleep. Try to gradually extend the time that you take to respond to your child’s tears. This concept is known as extinction. It is controversial, because some believe that when pediatricians recommend this we are being cruel. This is not the goal. The purpose is to give your child a chance to calm themselves, and convince them that there is no need for a specific response from you to calm down. If you continue to respond to their every cry, it will reinforce the need to cry for the attention your baby seeks from you.
Sometimes with older infants going into the room to soothe them when they’ve been crying for you can actually make matters worse. You can start back at square one with the crying and the self-soothing skills never get developed. The younger your baby is when you start letting them learn how to put themselves to sleep (or back to sleep when they wake during the night) the easier it will be in the long run.
Letting an infant cry isn’t harmful to them. Because you are constantly meeting their needs throughout the day, learning to self-soothe to go to sleep at night won’t cause them to have anxiety or lack trust in you or others.
Reduce nighttime stimulation
If your baby requires more attention i.e. changing or feeding prior to falling back asleep, be mindful of the level of stimulation you provide. You should avoid turning on bright lights and use a dimmer or lamp instead of lighting the entire room, if a light is necessary. This allows your baby to return to sleep quickly. Also, make sure to limit the amount of movement used to soothe your baby. Try to perform activities such as changing and soothing while the child remains in their crib.
Why is my baby still crying at night?!
Your child’s cries can indicate several different things, around 6 months of age, a phenomenon known as separation anxiety occurs. Your child will think that when you are not around, you have left him/her permanently. They do not understand the concept of object permanence. They will cry out for reassurance even though you are just down the hall. This phenomenon is a normal progression of development. Other reasons baby cry include can also include hunger, discomfort, loss of a comforting item such as a pacifier, or even for no reason at all.
No matter what the reason for the waking, once your baby is about 4 months old letting your baby cry through it is fine and even recommended at this point since they will learn to accept that you are returning in the morning. By going in at night you reinforce the waking which can result in a longer stretch of sleep disruption.
Is it Colic??
Colic is defined as excessive crying for more than 3 hours, for more than 3 days and greater than 3 weeks duration. Typically, colic occurs between 2 weeks and 3-4 months of life. The peak is around 6 weeks, and in rare cases it can last up to 6 months. It is the cause of stress and anxiety for a lot of parents, and peaks during the afternoon/evening periods. Colic is a cause of disrupted sleep in infants. There are many theories as to what the causes of colic are, but the true answer has yet to be identified and likely has many factors.
Many treatments have been suggested i.e. elimination diets for nursing mothers, simethicone drops (gas drops), and soy/lactose free formulas. Unfortunately, these treatments have largely been proven ineffective. The only “treatment” that has been recommended by the AAP and pediatricians, has been patience and behavioral techniques including some of the calming and soothing efforts discussed above. Many of the treatments suggested can provide a placebo effect, and make parents feel like they are doing something, so they are worth a try, but don’t be discouraged if they don’t work for your child. Honestly, the thing I tell my parents most, is to take turns checking on their child, and support each other through the stressful, and noisy times.
Maintaining Your Own Sanity
So, we’ve discussed you baby, but what about you! Make sure to take some time to yourself, especially during times of high anxiety and stress. Often, as a parent, you neglect your own needs, remember your baby can sense your stress, and can sometimes reflect the level of stress and anxiety you show them. Take some time to relax! Things like exercise and an occasional date night/night out with friends can help to maintain a since of normalcy in your life. Oh, and don’t forget, when the baby is sleeping, that’s YOUR opportunity to sleep too!