Parenting is incredibly challenging, even on a good day. With a new baby, parents must worry about numerous things, including feeding, safety, illnesses and promoting healthy development. Having a well-rested baby allows parents to get more rest, which in turn, can help make them better parents.
- start with reasonable expectations during the first few months
- prepare for the fussy period during the first two months
- establish good bedtime and naptime routines
- stick with the schedule
- forget about safety first
- overlook the need for an early bedtime
- worry about modifying the schedule
- assume others know best
The first few months with a new baby are often exhausting. Although newborns sleep often–sometimes up to 20 hours a day–they don’t sleep more than a few hours at a time for the first month or two. Newborns don’t have a “day” or “night,” and they don’t care if they interrupt your day or night. So, in the beginning, you will be extremely tired. You can prepare for this by engaging help from your partner, relatives, friends, and even professionals, such as night nurses and nannies, to help get you through the first few months.
Most babies go through a “fussy period” that begins in the first few weeks and peaks during weeks four to eight. This is the time period where colic sets in, but even babies who do not have colic (and most do not) will be fussier during this time period. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that it is safest for babies to sleep on their backs in an empty crib. However, during this time period, many parents find that their baby will only sleep in a swing, car seat or stroller. If you are rocking your baby to sleep in a car seat in the middle of the night, you are not alone. During the first four to eight weeks, babies typically start to smile and coo, assuring you that they can bring lots of happiness along with the fatigue they create. Once this happens, your tired days will begin to lessen.
Beginning at about two months, you can help babies develop a routine. Even if they don’t seem tired, most babies need to sleep at least every two hours during the day, by the time they are 2 months old. This means that if your baby has been awake for about 90 minutes–or if she is starting to get a little fussy and yawning/eye rubbing–try to soothe her to sleep.
The length of time that babies actually sleep is not very important. And if you can’t get them to sleep after a decent effort, it is okay to stop and try again in about 30 minutes. Also, most babies will begin going down for the night earlier, when they are between 2 and 4 months old. While most 2-month-old babies fall asleep for the night between 9pm and 12am, most 4-month-old babies go to sleep at about 6 or 7 pm. This earlier bedtime will often turn a poor sleeper into a great sleeper.
Most babies who go to bed early (6 to 7 pm) will wake up between 6 and 7 am. Within two to three hours of waking, most babies will show signs of being tired. To achieve a good nap schedule, parents should try to get babies down for a morning nap just before they show tired signs. The same thing goes for two to three hours after waking from the morning nap. Most babies are ready to go back to sleep at about 1 or 2pm.
Try to leave your baby in the crib for at least one hour per nap. This means that if your baby goes down for a nap at 9 am and wakes up at 9:45 am, you may find that he goes back to sleep if you just leave him in his crib for 15 minutes or so. Some babies also will take a brief late afternoon nap (30 minutes at about 4 or 5 pm). This is an exception to the one-hour advice.
For the rest of the first year, most babies will stick to a schedule of waking at about 6 or 7 am; napping at 9 am, 1 pm and sometimes at 4 pm; and going to bed at about 6 or 7 pm. Some babies wake up to eat once or twice until 6 to 9 months of age.
As long as your baby eats and goes right back to sleep, there is no need to worry about waking briefly at night to eat. However, after age 6 months, babies also wake up regularly every two to three hours as part of their normal sleep schedule. This is similar to adults, but we put ourselves back to sleep. If your baby is waking every two to three hours and does not seem to eat very much, it is a good idea to let her cry a bit to figure out how to get herself back to sleep.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep on their back in a smoke-free environment in their own space, instead of in bed with parents. This significantly reduces the risk of SIDS and accidental suffocation.
Babies, at any age, require a lot more sleep than adults. While some parents bemoan an early bedtime, keep in mind that it will free up time for you without baby. Additionally, a well-rested baby means a happy baby, and happy babies are much more fun to spend time with when they are awake.
Exceptions are okay. A well-rested baby who is accustomed to a firm schedule will do fine when the schedule is modified by an occasional late night, missed nap or vacation. Do not worry when you have a party to attend, and your baby is going to be up late. Have fun and try to get back on schedule when possible.
Grandparents, nannies, friends, and sometimes, complete strangers, tend to offer lots of advice about sleep: “My baby went to sleep at 11 pm and was fine!” “You only napped until you were 4 months old, and then you stopped completely!” “Going to bed at 6 pm? That’s crazy!” Remember that you know your baby better than anyone else. You will find that listening too closely to others may lead you away from your instincts. As a result, when it comes to your baby, do what feels right to you–and not what seems right to others.
Having a baby in the house can be exhausting–even on a good day. The sooner you start implementing a healthy sleep schedule, the better rested both you and your baby will be. Follow this advice, and you should all sleep well in no time.