For the first two months, newborns are unable to decipher between day and night because they haven't yet developed their own circadian rhythms of melatonin production, says Kim West, aka "The Sleep Lady" and author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight. For the first week, they sleep a total of 16-18 hours, about half during the night and half spread out over four daytime naps. From 2 weeks to 2 months of age, they sleep an average of 15.5-17 hours total, about 8.5-10 hours at night and six to seven hours during the day spread out over three to four naps. During the third month, babies need an average of 15 hours of sleep, 10 at night and five spread out over three daytime naps.
Many parents hope that their baby will be a champion sleeper right off the bat, but that's usually not the case, says Nadav Traeger, M.D., director of pediatric sleep medicine at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center. "Parents need to have patience and realize that it's going to take some time for their baby's internal clock to kick in. Sleep also varies dramatically from child to child, so you can't compare one baby's sleep habits to another. Just remember that over time, it does get better."
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Keep in mind that your baby's stomach is small, so he'll digest breast milk or formula fairly quickly. This is why newborns need to be fed every two to three hours. If you're lucky enough to have a newborn who sleeps longer than three hours at a time, there's no need to wake him "A full-term baby with no medical conditions does not need to be awakened for feedings," says Marc Weissbluth, M.D., a pediatrician and author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. If your baby does wake up for frequent feedings, rest assured it's temporary. By 3 months, his stomach has gotten larger and he'll stay fuller longer -- which means he'll hopefully stay asleep for extended periods of time.
Create the Right Environment
Whether the baby is sleeping in your room or his own, you want to make sure it's a relaxing and peaceful place. "I like room-darkening shades and calm, soothing colors in the baby's bedroom," West says. "And I don't like bright or stimulating mobiles in the crib. Let him enjoy the mobile somewhere else where he spends his awake time. At bedtime, the message to the brain is "Slow down," not "Stay up and watch your bright-color mobile spin." You also want to make sure your baby has a firm mattress to sleep on and that the room isn't too hot or cold (65 degrees F is the perfect baby bedtime temperature).
Keep Them Safe
Babies sleeping on their stomachs have a greater tendency toward sleep obstruction and rebreathing their own carbon dioxide. They might also suffocate on softer bedding if they're lying facedown. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends always placing babies on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In addition, don't place anything in the bassinet or crib that can hinder your baby's breathing: blankets, stuffed animals, or soft pillows are all dangerous. West recommends making tummy time a playtime a priority. "Good strength and control of the head and upper body reduces the risk of SIDS or suffocation," she says.
"The pressure of swaddling, similar to what babies felt in utero, comforts babies and lengthens their sleep," West says. "Wrap him snugly in a thin receiving blanket, making sure it's not near his face, and his ears and toes are not too hot. Usually, babies like their hips to be slightly bent, and for the first three months, they usually like having their arms inside the blanket." If you're not a swaddling pro, there are special wraps and sleep sacks that make the process easier.
Don't Introduce "Sleep Crutches"
Dr. Traeger warns against introducing certain sleep rituals to your newborn. Playing a lullaby CD or having a white noise machine in the room, letting baby doze off with the bottle every night, and rocking your little one to sleep might seem harmless, but it can actually hinder her sleeping patterns later on. "These actions become a crutch that makes it harder to get the baby to sleep on her own," Dr. Traeger says. "If you rock your baby to sleep every night, then whenever she wakes up she's going to expect and need that to get back to sleep."
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Drowsy, but Awake
Once your baby is 4 weeks old, get in the habit of putting him down drowsy but awake at least once in each 24-hour period, West says. "He doesn't have to be wide awake, but he shouldn't be out cold from being rocked, fed, or swung each time he goes to sleep. He might fuss a little, but give it a moment or two. Don't pick him up at the first squeak -- let him surprise you. Between 6 and 8 weeks, try to make this the norm at bedtime."
When to Establish a Bedtime Routine
Between 2 and 3 months, it's time to introduce a bedtime routine to the little one, Dr. Traeger says. These rituals -- a bath, bottle, reading a book, then bed -- will signal to your baby that it's time to go to sleep. "Even though the baby's internal clock really doesn't kick in until about 4 months, it's a good idea to set a routine now for when that does happen. And this evening practice of relaxing and preparing for bed can really last your child a lifetime."
Copyright © 2010 Meredith Corporation.