Understanding Newborn Sleep

Restful sleep is crucial to your baby's development during the first months of life. Check out this guide for everything you need to know about newborn sleep.

Everything in this slideshow

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Signs of Sleepiness

Aimee Herring

Signs of Sleepiness

Helping your baby develop safe, healthy sleep habits is a learning process for both of you. According to Priyanka Yadav, D.O., pediatric sleep medicine specialist at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, New Jersey, one of the most important things you can do is to learn to recognize when your little one is sleepy. For example, your baby may rub her eyes or become fussy or irritable.

If Baby always rubs her eyes when she's drowsy, for example, or if she becomes fussy or irritable, you'll know it's time to get her ready for bed. This will help Baby get the sleep she needs, when she needs it.

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Sleep Hygiene

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Sleep Hygiene

The best way to help Baby develop good sleep habits is to establish a routine before bed, called "sleep hygiene." When your child becomes familiar with this set of bedtime rituals, he'll know it's time to get ready to sleep. Dr. Benildo Guzman, M.D. director of the Sleep Institute of Florida at West Boca Medical Center, recommends starting this series of winding-down activities about an hour before Baby goes to sleep each night. Choose activities that will soothe Baby and help him feel drowsy, such as feeding him, putting on his pajamas, and reading or singing to him.

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Falling Asleep

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Falling Asleep

To help your baby learn to fall asleep on his own, put him to bed when he's drowsy, but before he falls asleep. This will train him to fall asleep in his crib and not in your arms. Your baby will also learn to soothe himself back to sleep instead of being rocked or held, which means more restful, uninterrupted sleep for you. According to Dr. Guzman, your little one will be less likely to suffer from insomnia or other sleep problems as he grows older if he learns to fall asleep on his own from a young age.

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Baby Sleep Safety: Reduce the Risk of SIDS

Suffocation and SIDS are the leading cause of accidental death in babies under 1 year old. Learn how to reduce your baby's risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death.

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Back to Sleep

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Back to Sleep

Baby should always sleep on her back. This position keeps her safe while she sleeps and greatly reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). At this stage Baby may be able to roll from her stomach to her side, but she is not yet strong enough to roll from her back to her side or her stomach. If your baby does roll onto her stomach in her first few weeks, reposition her on her back.

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Sleeping Through the Night

Sleeping Through the Night

During Baby's first weeks of life, she will not be able to distinguish between day and night. To help her develop the habit of sleeping through the night, Dr. James Dufort M.D., pediatrician at Eagan Valley Pediatrics in Apple Valley, Minnesota, recommends feeding her just a little bit more (even half an ounce) before bed. This will help her sleep for a longer period of time in between feedings.

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Crib Safety

Aimee Herring

Crib Safety

Dr. Yadav stresses the importance of providing a simple, safe sleeping environment for your little one. Make sure that your baby's mattress is firm and is flat against the sides of the crib. Her sleeping area should be free of pillows, comforters, and plush toys.

If your baby is using a blanket, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that Baby sleep with her feet at the end of the crib. The blanket should be tucked around the crib mattress and should only go up as far as her chest.

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Babyproofing Your Home: Crib

Follow these child safety tips to babyproof your crib and help keep your child safe when you put her to sleep.

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Sleeping Environment

Kaysh Shinn

Sleeping Environment

Because Baby develops many of her sleep habits during her first weeks of life, it?s important to provide a consistent sleep environment. According to Dr. Yadav, your baby's room should always be dark when she is sleeping. This will make it easier to transition to sleeping only at night as she grows older.

Although Baby's room temperature may feel comfortable to you, her body may get cold during the night, causing her to wake. To keep her warm while she sleeps, Dr. Yadav recommends dressing your baby in one more layer of clothing than you are wearing. Since Baby loses most of her body heat through her head, cover her head with a warm hat if it?s especially cold.

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Sleep Stages: Quiet Sleep

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Sleep Stages: Quiet Sleep

Just like you, Baby goes through several stages and depths of sleep once she shuts her eyes. During her first stages of sleep, called quiet sleep, your little one will lie still and breathe very regularly. The different stages of quiet sleep will take her from drowsiness to light sleep to deeper sleep, and then back to light sleep.

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Sleep Stages: Active Sleep

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Sleep Stages: Active Sleep

After Baby returns to light sleep, she will gradually move back into active sleep. About half of her sleep is active rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which occurs when babies are dreaming. At this stage, you will still see some movement, including twitching of her muscles and a rolling eye movement under her eyelids. Baby will cycle through quiet sleep and active sleep several times each time she rests.

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While Baby Sleeps

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While Baby Sleeps

Don't be concerned if Baby's body jerks around or if his breathing pattern is slightly irregular as he sleeps. If you think something's wrong, though, follow your instincts. Dr. Dufort recommends alerting your pediatrician if you see any sustained motor activity or if Baby's breathing sounds distressed and labored as he sleeps.

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Sleep & Memory

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Sleep & Memory

While no one knows for sure why we sleep the way we do, Dr. Yadav believes that your baby uses these periods of deep, active sleep to consolidate her memories, all the things she learns throughout the day. Adults go through a similar process when we sleep, but because Baby is learning so many new things during her first few weeks of life, her brain needs more time to process it all as she sleeps.

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Sleep & Feeding: The First Month

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Sleep & Feeding: The First Month

During your little one's first 30 days, he should sleep for two to three hours between each feeding, for a total of eight feedings each day. When Baby is getting the right amount of food for his age at each feeding, he should wake up on his own when he is hungry or wet.

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Sleep & Feeding: As Baby Grows

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Sleep & Feeding: As Baby Grows

In the coming months, your baby will be able to sleep for longer periods of time (three to four hours) between feedings. According to the Mayo Clinic, Baby will develop a more consistent sleep schedule as his nervous system matures and he is able to go longer between feedings.

Copyright © 2010 Meredith Corporation.

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Understanding Baby Sleep: 4-6 Months

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