Sleeping Baby – Part 2

In sleep as in life, you have to play the cards you get dealt. There are all kinds of sleepers out there. I am a good sleeper. My husband always wants to stay up, drink coffee and play chess.

My first two children were lovely little girls who slept through the night (by the way the pediatric definition is – a five hour stretch!), took two solids naps a day well beyond the first year, and would go get their blankets and pillows and beg to go to bed when they were toddlers and preschoolers. “What is the big deal on putting a baby to sleep?” I smugly thought. Then I gave birth to my son. He never seemed to want to nap, and didn’t sleep through the night until he was over two. Now where did THAT come from?

So do the best you can, taking your own needs and your baby’s needs into account. I’ve included some good websites to look at. You will note I don’t have anything about the kind of sleep training where you are encouraged to let your baby cry it out. I wouldn’t like it if someone did that to me, so I have lots of suggestions for other ways to get what you need and want when it comes to sleep.

So how do we make sleep a friend to our children? The first thing to remember is how important sleep is for babies. It literally helps them to grow. Babies who are sleep-deprived make more cortisol (a stress hormone) which sets them up for frequent night wakings. More naps during the day will lead to better sleep at night.

Treat sleep as a friend. Look forward to the time when you go to sleep, and help your baby do the same. Watch for your baby’s circadian rhythms – some babies need to go down at 5:30 PM and will sleep longer and better than if you try to keep them up to make them sleep better!

In the first weeks, many babies will sleep 16-18 hours out of 24. Think about that – it means that if a feeding takes 45 minutes, and the baby eats 10 times, and interacts with you for a couple minutes at each feed – the baby will either be eating or sleeping with just a few minutes of alert time. I’ve had moms tell me they were going to do crafts or make a quilt or paint their bedroom while they were home for six weeks. Do not believe your brain when it tells you these things! “Sleep when the baby sleeps” starts to make more sense. How can you make it happen?

What’s normal for feeding at night? Up to 3 months most babies are awakening 3-5 times for feeds. You can encourage more daytime feeds if you are breastfeeding. Formula fed babies do stay asleep for longer stretches as the proteins in cow’s milk and soy formulas are harder to digest and make the baby feel full longer. However, this doesn’t seem to matter by 6-12 months – bottle or breast, they awaken about the same.

In addition, research shows that the brain waves of breastfeeding moms and babies are so synchronized – you can’t tell who woke up first, the baby or the mom. That brings up another good point. The American Academy of Pediatrics has just published a new publication about safe sleeping for infants. Their advice is that babies should sleep in the parents’ room when they are at highest risk for SIDS. (Highest risk is between 2-4 months; 91% of SIDS deaths happen before six months.)

As James McKenna PhD from Notre Dame notes,

Infants should sleep on firm surfaces, clean surfaces, in the absence of smoke…and their heads should never be covered. The bed should not have any stuffed animals or pillows around the infant and never should an infant be placed to sleep on top of a pillow. Sheepskins or other fluffy material and especially bean bag mattresses should never be used. Water beds can be dangerous, too, and always the mattresses should tightly intersect the bed-frame. Infants should never sleep on couches or sofas, with or without adults wherein they can slip down (face first) into the crevice or get wedged against the back of a couch.

Read Dr. McKenna’s guidelines for happy, safe sleep with your baby.

Keep it DARK (light interferes with melatonin production) – especially look out for computers or tv screens. Power down electronics about thirty minutes before you are going to put your baby to bed.

As your baby’s sleep patterns become more predictable, think about making a routine as sleeptime approaches. Jodi Mindell PhD of Sleeping Through the Night suggests starting just before three months, with a “calming down” routine that looks something like this:

  1. Bath, massage, quiet activities
  2. Turn out lights within 30 minutes of bathing
  3. Put baby to sleep as you usually would

Read Baby Center’s ‘Establishing A Bedtime Routine With Your Baby.’

What’s happening in other homes? Well, by five months most people stop asking if your baby is sleeping through the night. Here’s what it looks like developmentally:

  • 0-2 months – too soon, baby can’t tell the difference between night and day, and needs night feeds
  • 3-4 months – very little separation anxiety at this age, begins to be able to sleep better
  • 5 months – a big month for emotional development, may be too interested in get a response from you to respond well to sleep rhythms
  • 6-8 months – More interested in toys than you. A good time to work on sleep
  • 9-11 months – Starts to understand you are close, why wouldn’t you want to sleep with him??
  • 12-16 months – Less clingy, another good time to work on sleep

Dr. Sears (the father of the guy we all know from The Doctors) suggests some babies need help getting back to sleep. He recommends

  • Daytime mellowing
  • Consistent and predictable nap routines
  • Consistent bedtimes and rituals
  • Calming down, nursing down, fathering down, rocking or walking down, nestling down, wearing down (the baby not you!), swinging down, driving down, mechanical mothers

Read Dr. Sears’ 31 Ways to Get Your Baby to Sleep and Stay Asleep.

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