How to Set Good Sleep Patterns for Your Baby

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 she needs sleep. Watch for these common signs of tiredness:

  • Rubbing eyes
  • Yawning
  • Looking away from you
  • Fussing

Don’t wait until your baby is overtired to put her to bed. An overtired baby has more trouble falling and staying asleep. Try to stay a step ahead by looking for the signs that she’s getting sleepy before she's fussy and cranky.

2. Set Your Baby’s Day-Night Sleep Cycle

From the start, try to teach your baby 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 her a lot. Try to keep her awake after she feeds, although don't worry if she conks out for a nap.

When it's dark, become a more low-key parent for your baby. Feed her in a semi-darkened room. Cut down on all stimulation. For instance, keep lights low and noise soft. Gradually, she'll learn that daytime is fun time and nighttime isn't, so she 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 her, because you want her to figure out how to put herself to sleep.

She may eat a little, doze a little, and eat some more, a couple of times. If she goes to sleep and keeps sleeping when you’re feeding her, stop and put her to bed.

Continued

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 her 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 her at night for feedings after 2 months. Your baby needs to find her own sleep schedule. Once she’s eating more in the daytime, she doesn’t need to wake and eat at night.

Here are some instances where you should wake your baby:

  • She is 0 to 2 months old.
  • She is sleeping more in the day than the night and missing her daytime feeds. Don’t let her go more than 4 hours without eating. 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 your baby every 4 hours at night to feed.

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 her development.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 21, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Stanford University Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

Parker, S., Zuckerman, B., and Augustyn, M. (eds). Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics: A Handbook for Primary Care, Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2005.

Jennifer Shu, MD, an Atlanta pediatrician, medical editor of HealthyChildren.org, and co-author of Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality.

© 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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