Sleep strategies for newborns
It’s one of the most common issues faced by parents of a newborn baby: getting your little one to sleep.
For many parents, the situation plays out the same every night: Your baby’s tummy is full, his diaper’s been changed, and it’s been hours since his last nap, so he’s obviously tired. Yet he cries the second you put him down to sleep.
So what’s a frustrated parent to do? Get your baby on a routine – the sooner the better – and stick to it, advises Dr. Heidi Swanson, a pediatrician on staff at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.
“Most kids do a lot better when they’re following a schedule,” Swanson says.
The reason most babies don’t sleep through the night until they’re about four months old is because they’re hungry. Their stomachs are simply too small to hold more than a few ounces of breast milk or formula. Newborns need to refuel every two to three hours. But that shouldn’t stop parents from establishing a schedule right away.
Giving baby a warm bath, singing a lullaby and reading a storybook are a few routines parents can institute to signal that it’s time to hunker down for the night.
As for those times when your baby cries as soon as you put him down, Swanson also tells parents to wait five minutes before responding to the cries. If the baby doesn’t stop crying on his own, put your hand on his back or gently place his pacifier in his mouth and slowly back out of the room without providing excessive attention. Over the next few weeks, increase your response time to 10 minutes, then 15 minutes.
“This teaches him that bedtime is boring,” Swanson says. “Of course, you know your baby best. If it’s a frantic scream, the baby needs to be consoled. But if he’s just making noise, give him five minutes.”
When your baby is about eight weeks old, Swanson advises parents to put the baby in his crib when he’s drowsy but not yet asleep instead of holding or rocking him until he’s out. This allows him to get used to being alone and teaches him to soothe himself to sleep. That way, if he wakes up in the middle of the night and you’re not there, he will learn to go back to sleep without crying for your help. It’s also among the tips offered by the National Sleep Foundation.
The most important thing to remember, according to Swanson, is to stick to your guns.
“My daughter is almost 2 (years old), so I know how bad habits can start,” Swanson says. “You’re desperate to get them to sleep so you bring them to bed with you. Or you stay in their room until they fall asleep. Research has shown it can take two weeks to break a bad habit and establish a new one – if you start stern and stick to it. You’ll be thankful you did.”
About the Author
Lisa Parro, health enews contributor, is a content manager for Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. A former journalist, Lisa has been in health care public relations since 2008 and has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She and her family live in Chicago’s western suburbs.