Of all the skills your baby will learn from you, the first and most important skill you’ll teach your baby is how to sleep. Unfortunately, sleep isn’t a skill babies are actually born with – it must be taught.
Newborns sleep 16 or more hours a day, but often in stretches of just a few hours at a time. Although the pattern might be erratic at first, a more consistent sleep schedule will emerge as your baby matures and can go longer between feedings.
The first few months of baby’s life is the best time to lay the foundation for healthy sleep habits. This will help them take more consistent naps – giving you an opportunity to shower, enjoy a cup of coffee or do a little yoga – as well as sleep more soundly at night so you can get your own well-earned shuteye.
Start putting these tips into action right away and they’ll continue paying off for years to come.
1) Avoid an overtired state. When babies are awake for too long, they can become overtired. When this happens, the stress hormone cortisol floods their brain and makes it even more difficult for them to fall asleep. To prevent this from happening, offer a nap every 60 to 90 minutes from when your baby last woke up.
2) Swaddle your baby. All babies feel most secure once they’re swaddled. Swaddling helps prevent the Moro reflex from startling them awake. As a result, your baby is better able to stay asleep and connect sleep cycles, leading to longer naps and nighttime sleep. In most cases, if your baby is breaking free from the swaddle it means that the swaddle isn’t snug enough. Read our step-by-step guide on how to safely swaddle your baby.
3) Use a firm, flat mattress in a safety-approved crib. A firm sleep surface maintains its shape and will not indent or conform to the shape of the infant’s head when placed on the surface. Soft mattresses can create a pocket (or indentation) and increase the chance of rebreathing or suffocation if the infant is placed in or rolls over to the prone (face down) position. Also, the crib should not have bumper pads.
4) Put baby to bed drowsy, but awake. This will help them associate bed with the process of falling asleep. Remember to place your baby to sleep on his or her back, and clear the crib or bassinet of blankets and other soft, loose items. Babies who sleep on their backs are much less likely to die of SIDS than babies who sleep on their stomachs or sides.
5) Offer a pacifier. If your baby has trouble settling down, a pacifier might do the trick. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that using a pacifier during sleep helps reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). If the pacifier falls out after your baby falls asleep, you don’t have to put it back in.
6) Follow a calming bedtime routine. Overstimulation in the evening can make it difficult for your baby to settle to sleep. Play active games during the day and quiet, peaceful games in the evening, especially toward the end of the routine. Many babies enjoy bathing right before bedtime, which calms them down. Keep activities the same and in the same order, night after night.