Your newborn may snooze a lot -- but not for long stretches.
That's because her internal clock isn't up and running yet. "There is no rhyme or reason to sleep until about 6 to 10 weeks," says sleep expert Jodi Mindell, PhD, author of Sleep Deprived No More. But even newborns can benefit from a bedtime ritual: "Parents don't realize how aware babies are, but when you nurse her, zip up her pjs, and put on music, it sends a signal," says Mindell.
Put him down sleepy but awake.
That way, if he rouses in the night, he can put himself back to sleep. Erika Riley, of Minneapolis, learned this the hard way with her second son, Max, who is now 2. She would lie with him in her bed until he fell asleep. But 30 minutes later, he'd wake and need her next to him to drift off. Another common blunder: giving baby the breast or bottle right before he goes down. "Make this the first part of the bedtime routine," Mindell says. "If baby falls asleep sucking on a bottle, he'll need that to fall asleep again if he wakes in the night." Just ask Kristen Fox, of Florham Park, New Jersey. Her oldest, Keira, now 3, nodded off with her bottle. When she no longer needed it at 9 months, Fox said, "Now what do I do?"
Exposing baby to bright light in the morning helps set her internal clock. Pull up the shades in the nursery or take her for an a.m. walk.
Good sleep habits are all about routine.
By 6 to 8 weeks, baby can benefit from a sleep schedule linked to feedings, with an "official" bedtime, even though he isn't sleeping through the night. By 3 to 4 months, baby should snooze about six hours (yay!), so you can drop a middle-of-the-night bottle, says pediatrician Jennifer Trachtenberg, MD, of New York City. As baby sleeps longer, bedtime shifts earlier, to between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.
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Baby's cries hurt you more.
The experts agree: for the first three months, feed baby on demand and cater to her every need. But eventually, you need to take a new tack. Kate Clow, of Chatham, New Jersey, let all three of her kids cry it out: "It was horrible, but it lasted only a few days," she says. Consistency is key. "If you decide to let them cry it out for two nights and then go in on the third, you're back at square one." Erika Riley let Max cry it out at 10 months. "He was eating table food, so I knew he wasn't hungry. I have a video monitor, so I knew he was okay. He wanted my attention, and he soon enough learned he wasn't going to get it in the middle of the night," she says. "I knew I had to let him cry so he could learn to sleep on his own."
Baby has her own nap style.
She might take two naps by 3 to 4 months, or she could sneak three to four 45-minute naps till she's 9 or 10 months. Follow your child's lead or "you'll pay the price," says Marc Weissbluth, MD, a pediatrician in Chicago and author of the forthcoming Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins. Don't expect your younger child to follow a big sib's patterns.
Flexibility is key.
"When you have more than one child, there will be compromises," Dr. Weissbluth says. Jamie Gallovich, of Keller, Texas, says her oldest, Andrew, now 6, "got the best of it." She'd often have to wake her younger son, Chase, so she could take Andrew to activities. Cut yourself some slack, says Mindell: "With baby number one, it's possible to keep to a consistent schedule five or more days a week. But when you get to your second or third child, if you can hit 50 percent consistency, that's good."
"By about 12 weeks, you'll see a schedule developing," says sleep expert Jodi Mindell, PhD. You and baby benefit from keeping to one.
Learn the signals.
Once baby is rubbing his eyes or yawning, he's overtired, says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Nap Solution. This goes for nighttime and naptime. "I call it the volcano effect: if he doesn't get the nap, he erupts." Watch out, too, for what Pantley calls a micro-nap: that five-minute snooze baby takes in your arms or while in the swing or car seat. "The first five minutes of a nap reduce feelings of sleepiness, but they don't rejuvenate baby," she says. After this brief snooze, "baby is tired, but he can't fall asleep, and he hasn't had the benefits of a good nap." And if he doesn't get those naps during the day, he won't sleep well at night.
It's hard for colicky babies to wind down for sleep.
Those first three months are grueling: there's no real bedtime, and you're up around the clock. Plus, many babies have colic, those inconsolable cries that seem to go on forever. How do you know if your baby has it? Listen for crying that is louder and higher-pitched than normal, and accompanied by signs of physical pain. The crying may follow the Rule of Three: it goes on for three hours a day, three days a week, for three consecutive weeks. Some good news: colic usually ends at 3 months. In the meantime, stay sane by keeping lots of soothing tricks up your sleeve. Swaddling, singing, and shushing are popular methods, while white noise from the bathroom fan works wonders for some babies. Bridget Pelosi's husband put their older son, Gavin, on his lap and bounced on a yoga ball. The Berkeley, Heights, New Jersey, mom said it worked instantly.
Since 1992, when the American Academy of Pediatrics first recommended that infants be placed on their back to sleep, the number of cases of SIDS has dropped by more than 50 percent.
Good sleepers run into snags.
"Even at 9 or 10 months, the best sleepers can have issues," says Mindell, due to separation anxiety or developmental milestones. Whatever you do, don't change the bedtime rules! Practice milestones like pulling up to standing during the day so he's less apt to try this in his crib.
Surrender to baby's schedule...really.
Kate Clow's second daughter Nora was a good sleeper, but she woke each day at 5 a.m. Clow tried putting her to bed later and changing her nap times, but Nora was just an early bird. "I kept fighting it, but what finally made it work was adjusting my sleep schedule," she says. That meant no more staying up late doing laundry, checking e-mail, or chatting with friends on the phone.
Originally published in American Baby magazine.