Your heart may swell with love when you watch your baby sleeping. She looks so sweet and innocent. Your heart may race, though, when you can’t get her to stay asleep all night or at times when you really want her to nap or sleep.
You can ease your stress and better prepare to set your baby’s sleep schedule by understanding which parts of her sleep routine are in your hands — and which aren’t.
Understand Your Baby’s Sleep Needs
During the first 2 months, your newborn’s need to eat overrules her need to sleep. She may feed almost every 2 hours if you’re breastfeeding, and possibly a little less often if you bottle-feed.
Your baby may sleep from 10 to 18 hours a day, sometimes for 3 to 4 hours at a time. But babies don’t know the difference between day and night. So they sleep with no regard for what time it is. That means your baby’s wide-awake time may be from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.
By 3 to 6 months, many babies are able to sleep for a stretch of 6 hours. But just as you think your baby is getting into a nice routine — usually between 6 and 9 months — normal developmental stages can throw things off. For instance, when your baby begins to associate bedtime with being left alone, she may start crying just to keep you around.
Set a Bedtime Routine
A study of 405 mothers — with infants between 7 months and 36 months old — showed that babies who followed a nightly bedtime routine went to sleep easier, slept better, and cried out in the middle of the night less often.
Some parents start their baby’s bedtime routine as early as 6 to 8 weeks old. Your baby’s routine can be any combination of regular bedtime activities. The keys to success:
- Play active games during the day and quiet games in the evening. This keeps your baby from getting too excited right before bedtime but gets her tired from the day’s activities.
- Keep activities the same and in the same order, night after night.
- Make every activity calm and peaceful, especially toward the end of the routine.
- Many babies enjoy bathing right before bedtime, which calms them down.
- Save your baby’s favorite activity for last, and do it in her bedroom. This will help her look forward to bedtime and associate her sleep space with things she likes to do.
- Make nighttime conditions in your baby’s bedroom consistent. If she wakes up in the middle of the night, the sounds and lights in the room should be the same as when she fell asleep.
Put Your Sleepy Baby to Bed
Starting when your baby is 6 to 12 weeks old, soothe her until she is drowsy. When she’s on the verge of sleep, put her down and let her drift off on her own. Don’t wait until she’s fully asleep in your arms; this could be a behavior that may become a struggle to get rid of later in her life.
This routine will teach your baby to soothe herself to sleep, and you won’t need to rock or cuddle her to sleep every time she wakes up during the night.
Safety First: Lower SIDS Risk
Every time you put your baby down to sleep, whether it’s at night or for a nap during the day, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you do the following to lower the chances of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome):
- Always put your baby down to sleep on his or her back.
- Always use a firm sleep surface. Car seats and other sitting devices are not recommended for routine sleep.
- If you baby falls asleep in a stroller car seat or swing, try to remove her and lay her down on a flat surface.
- Your baby should sleep in the same room as you, but not in the same bed as you.
- Keep soft objects or loose bedding out of the crib. This includes pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, and bumper pads.
- Don’t rely on devices which claim to prevent SIDS.
- Do not use wedges and positioners.
- Offer your baby a pacifier at nap time and bedtime.
- Avoid covering your baby’s head or overheating.
- Do not use home monitors or commercial devices marketed to reduce the risk of SIDS.
- Make sure your baby gets all recommended vaccinations.
- Get some skin-to-skin contact time with her.
- Give your baby supervised, awake tummy time every day.
- Don’t smoke.
- Breastfeed your baby.
- If you are tired, don’t breastfeed while in a chair or on a couch in case you fall asleep.
- If you’re pregnant, get regular prenatal care.