That awful feeling of helplessness and frustration when the baby becomes wide-awake at the moment she hits the matrasses of her crib. In the first few months, many breastfeeding mothers have to wake up every one or two hours at night to nurse their newborns. Baby sleep, perhaps, is one of the toughest challenges we face and try take control over during our long parenting journey. If you want to do it gently, you will need to know the specificities of newborn and baby sleep first.
Understanding Newborn and Baby Sleep Patterns
Compared to their parents and older siblings, babies, and especially newborns, are extremely light sleepers. If an adult sleep cycle lasts about 90-100 minutes, an average newborn sleep cycle is only 50 minutes, during which a newborn passes from active sleep to quiet sleep. Babies are especially awakened during their active sleep that lasts about 25 minutes and constitutes the first half of their sleep cycle. When quiet sleep is over, babies either begin the next sleep cycle by re-entering the active sleep state or wake up.
The age at which babies develop a sleep pattern similar to that of an adult varies. The majority of babies start settling their nighttime sleeping habits between three to six months. The frequency of night awakening gradually decreases, and your baby learns to enter long deep sleep more quickly. In the first few months, however, sleeping through the night is more a myth than a reality. If you hear your friend telling her baby sleeps through the night, most probably she is simply not aware of her baby’s nighttime arousals because the baby does not make a noise loud enough to wake her up. Lucky her!
How to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night
Though, our ability to influence baby sleep is limited here are few safe and gentle tips on how to get a baby to sleep longer stretches at night.
1. Find the right sleep arrangement for your family.
The proximity of babies to their mothers may affect their sleep patterns in different and often opposite ways. Some babies may experience nighttime separation anxiety and thus wake up more frequently. Others may get hyper-stimulated with the proximity of their parents and, too, awaken frequently. Co-sleeping may work well with some kids. Others may form a better sleep pattern when co-sleeping part-time or sleeping in a separate crib. Keep experimenting with different sleeping distances and find the one that works best.
2. Maximize daytime contact and breastfeeding.
Babies, separated from their mothers or not getting enough cuddling during the day may seek more contact at night. If you breastfeed, maximize daytime nursing sessions and minimize any distractions during that process. Nurse on one breast just before the bedtime to tank up your baby with higher fat milk. Nurse on the other breast for all or most of the night.
3. Involve your baby in your daily activities.
Social activities have the greater influence on baby sleep pattern than environmental factors. Settling the sleep pattern means adapting to a 24-hour day and developing adult circadian rhythm. Include them in your in daily activities to help them adapt to your 24-hour schedule more quickly.
4. Expose your baby to natural light.
Strangely enough, babies who get more day light and afternoon sunlight develop better nighttime sleep pattern. It helps them to adapt to the above-mentioned 24-hour cycle more easily. Babies who stay longer outdoors and experience higher light levels than they would in their semi-dark bedrooms, tend to develop stronger circadian rhythms.
5. Eliminate discomfort.
Stuffy noses, nasal irritants such as cigarette smoke, animal dander, perfume, dust, etc., synthetic sleepwear, dietary sensitivities and allergies, tummy troubles, teething, very warm room temperature, and illnesses may significantly affect the quality of your baby’s sleep.
6. Don’t reward night waking.
Would you continue waking up at night, if you were instantly rewarded with your favorite treat each time you woke up? Babies would do the same. Any activity that may reward a night waking plays against you. However, avoid falling into extremes too. The renowned pediatrician Dr. William Sears argues that playing deaf to all cases of night waking and applying the “cry it out” may affect the mental and physical development of your baby.
7. Find the right comforting strategy for your baby.
Try to comfort your baby at the very first whimper. Nursing, tummy-patting, holding, rocking, singing, putting your hand on his tummy can help baby sleep again before she completely awakens. However, if immediate comforting does now work, try the slow response tactics. Don’t rush in to comfort baby at the first whimper. Take a few moments to see if she falls into deep sleep again without any intervention.
8. Get Dad’s help.
Never underestimate the role that Dad can play in nighttime parenting. Your baby may wake up not to nurse but to get comforted. If this is the case, he will be willing to accept Dad as the comforter who offers a drink or just holds his hand.
9. Try baby sleep aids.
We have already discussed the benefits of co-sleeping and bed-sharing to help synchronize mother’s and newborn’s sleep cycles. If your baby sleeps better when bed-sharing with you, try baby sleep aids such as baby positioners to minimize the risk of SIDS. Talk to your pediatrician about bed-sharing and baby positioners before you buy one.
How have you handled the nighttime awakenings of your baby? Which strategy worked well for your entire family? Share your experience with us.