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Health & Parenting

Better Sleep for Baby –- and You

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WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Sara DuMond, MD

Kara Cantrell knew she was in trouble by the second night after her son was born. "He screamed through the night," remembers the 41-year-old actor from Atlanta. "I'd
had a 4-day labor and C-section and was just a mess. And there was this screaming creature and I didn't know what to do."

A couple months later, things weren't much better. Just when her son seemed to be settling into a sleep pattern, he'd switch things up. "Suddenly he'd get up six times a night, or he'd sleep miraculously for 10 hours," Cantrell says.

About the only thing parents can predict about their newborn's sleep cycles is that they'll be unpredictable. "When babies are first born they're all over the place," says Jodi Mindell, PhD, associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night's Sleep. Hunger -- or a lack of it -- usually determines when a newborn sleeps and wakes. By around 3 months, babies start making the hormone melatonin, which puts their sleep cycle into a more regular rhythm.

Helping Your Baby Sleep Independently

Every baby's sleep needs are different. Newborns can sleep 10 to 18 hours a day. From 4 months to about 1 year of age, they'll sleep 9 to 12 hours at night, with a couple added naps during the day. But remember, most babies will sleep only about 5 to 6 hours at a time to start. Still, even a 5-hour interval will give you some rest.

After your baby is about 4 months old, running into the nursery at every whimper can set a pattern that's hard to break.

"You really want to start having your child fall asleep independently so that they're not dependent on rocking, nursing, going in the stroller," Mindell advises. "Then when they wake up in the middle of the night, they can fall asleep on their own."

Baby Sleep Secrets

Wrapping your baby in a blanket can help him feel secure enough to drift off to sleep. When you swaddle, make sure your baby's legs can bend at the hips, to avoid hip problems later. Also, make sure you only swaddle when you're awake and watching him. If your baby is alone in the crib, no blankets should be on or around him (you want to lower the risk of SIDS).

Expert Tip

"Unless you plan on having a family bed indefinitely, don't co-sleep with your baby, thinking you'll transition them to their own crib at some point in the future." -- Sara DuMond, MD

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine." 

Reviewed on April 15, 2013

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