Caring for your newborn brings great joy and excitement, but with it also comes sleep deprivation. It’s a fact: Newborns simply can’t sleep through the night -- so neither can you.
The good news is that by 3 to 6 months babies typically develop regular sleep patterns and can slumber until dawn. As your baby’s brain matures over these first few months, you’ll probably see a sleep pattern start to emerge -- though it may not be the pattern you want. Help your newborn establish the sleep patterns of your dreams by following these simple steps now.
1. Recognize the Signs That Your Baby Is Tired
Your baby will let you know if they need sleep. Watch for these common signs of tiredness:
- Rubbing eyes
- Looking away from you
Don’t wait until your baby is overtired to put them to bed. An overtired baby has more trouble falling and staying asleep. Try to stay a step ahead by looking for the signs that they are getting sleepy before they are fussy and cranky.
2. Set Your Baby’s Day-Night Sleep Cycle
Starting when your baby is 2 weeks old, try to teach them that “nighttime is when we sleep, and daytime is when we have fun.”
During daylight hours, keep things stimulating and active for your baby. Play with them a lot. Try to keep them awake after they feed, although don't worry if they conk out for a nap.
When it's dark, become a more low-key parent for your baby. Feed them in a semi-darkened room. Cut down on all stimulation. For instance, keep lights low and noise soft. Gradually, they'll learn that daytime is fun time and nighttime isn't, so they might as well sleep when it's dark outside.
3. Separate Eating From Sleeping
After the first month, you don’t want to let your baby fall asleep while you’re feeding or rocking them, because you want them to figure out how to put themselves to sleep.
They may eat a little, doze a little, and eat some more, a couple of times. If they go to sleep and keep sleeping when you’re feeding them, stop and put them to bed.
Some parents try to push more formula, breast milk, or baby food to try to make a baby sleep on schedule or sleep longer. This isn’t good for your baby. Just like you when you’ve eaten too much, your overfed baby won’t be comfortable enough to rest well.
Note: Never prop a baby bottle in your infant's mouth when you put them to bed. It can lead to choking, ear infections, and cavities.
4. Don’t Wake Your Baby to Feed After 2 Months
If your baby is gaining weight properly, you don’t have to wake them at night for feedings. Your baby needs to find them own sleep schedule. Once they are eating more in the daytime, they don’t need to wake and eat at night.
Here are some instances where you should wake your baby:
- They are sleeping more in the day than the night and missing their daytime feeds.
- Don’t let them go more than 4 hours without eating during the day. You may need to wake the baby up to feed at night, but it is probably better to try to change your baby’s daytime habits rather than continuing to wake them every 4 hours at night.
Your baby’s pediatrician will give you advice for your baby. For premature or special-needs babies, you may need to adjust feedings.
Be a Patient Parent
Remember to keep your expectations realistic. For the first few months of your baby’s life, plan for unpredictable, sporadic sleep. Try to sleep when the baby sleeps, because that may be the only rest you will be getting for some time!
If your baby's sleep pattern changes suddenly, check for symptoms of illness. It could be a warning sign of an ear infection. Or it may simply be a new turn in their development.