In my work with new parents, the number one question I am asked is, “When will our baby sleep through the night?" I wish the answer was straightforward!
A baby's sleep depends on many factors, such as gestational age (premature or not), health and temperament. A review of sleep research [PDF] by The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) of the United Kingdom found that by 12 weeks most but not all babies have settled into longer sleep patterns at night. The research also showed that by six to nine months, 63 percent of babies slept at least eight hours during “family-friendly times” which researchers defined as 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The First 2 Weeks
During the first two weeks of baby’s life, simply enjoy getting to know your child. Remember that getting less sleep is normal, so seek support from family, friends or a postpartum doula to get yourneeds met. Take this time to observe how your baby tells you she is hungry or wet. Listen to the noises yourbaby makes during active sleep. Know that babies open their eyes during active sleep and appear to be looking deeply into your eyes, but in reality, they are asleep.
The Next 10 Weeks
NCT research and popular sleep books suggest a few things parents can do during the first 12 weeks of a baby's life to promote nighttime sleeping:
- Follow a bedtime routine.
- Place your baby to bed awake but drowsy.
- Introduce a small, safe "lovey" for a positive sleep association and for self-soothing.
- Some experts suggest consistent naptime routines also play a role in longer nighttime sleep.
Establishing a Routine
Consider these tips for developing a consistent, enjoyable nighttime routine:
- Start at a consistent time.
- Keep lights and noise levels low.
- Use whisper voices and minimal conversations during night feedings and diaper changes.
- Use a consistent order, such as bathing, then feeding and reading to your baby.
- Put your baby to bed awake but drowsy.
- Consider using routines at naptime as well.
Remember, as I tell parents in my practice, to place your focus on your baby and your family's unique needs and desires. And remember that your baby will, one day, sleep through the night!
—By Angie Dobbins-Frisbie, PCD, PDT, ICCE, CLE. To learn about becoming a doula, visit Bastyr University's Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations.