Sleep can be one of the most baffling issues of new parenthood. As many of us learn through gritty nights and zombie-like days, babies simply don't snooze like the rest of us. Here's why.
Some newborns party all night and sleep all day
Many babies arrive in the world with their days and nights completely reversed. These little night owls sleep for longer stretches during the daytime, saving their more alert periods for the moonlit hours.
A baby who wakes every hour at night to kick his legs, eat, and demand an adult's loving care makes for increasingly exhausted parents. "This can be very challenging for adults, because our bodies are not physiologically oriented to being up all night," "That's why shift work is so difficult."
Try to nap during your baby's longer stretches of sleep, and remember that the day/night switcheroo is temporary. As your baby's brain and central nervous system mature, his sleep cycles will get longer and more sleep will occur at night. Most babies adjust to the family timetable in a month or so.
You can assist this process by creating a calm, dark environment at night, while letting the sun shine in during the day. "During daytime feedings, I talk a lot to my baby, while the night feedings are very quiet with as little light as possible," says one mom. "This is helping her figure it out."
Newborn sleep is erratic and unpredictable
In those early weeks, your baby may rack up sleep hours like a college student home on winter break. But here's the catch: Most babies don't stay asleep for more than two to four hours at a time, day or night, during the first few weeks of life.
Newborns typically sleep 14 to 18 hours a day in the first week and 12 to 16 hours by the time they're a month old. (Because every baby is an individual, some sleep quite a bit less or quite a bit more than average.)
Unfortunately, even if your baby is a sleep glutton, you may find yourself staggering around like a wet dishrag. In a recent survey, 71 percent of moms revealed that lack of sleep is the hardest part of having a newborn.
You can blame your lack of energy on the erratic nature of your baby's sleep. "My 9-week-old's sleep is so sporadic!" says one mom. "Sometimes we'll get a good four-hour stretch, while other times, she'll be up within an hour."
In contrast, some parents are startled and even alarmed by how much their new baby sleeps. "My 9-day-old baby sleeps all day, with only five minutes here and there of awake time," one mom says. "Should I be worried?"
Not at all, says a pediatrician. He says it's normal for some newborns to sleep up to 20 hours per day. If this describes your baby, get your 40 winks now because the phase won't last long.
Newborns don't need peace and quiet to sleep
Don't feel like you have to whisper or tiptoe quietly around your sleeping newborn. "Most young babies can sleep in the noisiest, brightest places" "They don't need the same kind of sleep environment we do."
This isn't surprising when you consider that your baby just spent nine months in utero – which is not the serene place you might think. The sounds of the mother's heartbeat, digestive system, and other bodily functions are actually quite loud.
Many newborns sleep better surrounded by some kind of repetitive sound, like a fan or white-noise machine. "I put my daughter's bassinet next to our noisy dishwasher while it ran, and she napped like a dream," says one mom.
New babies are also too young to be distracted by the sparkly necklace worn by the woman across the room or by an impulse to engage the nearest stranger in a smiling game. They simply sleep whenever they need to. So, at least at first, you probably won't need to shush visitors. And you'll be able take your baby out and about without worrying about sabotaging his rest.
The uncanny ability to doze through a thunderstorm is so strong in some babies that parents wonder whether their baby hears properly. If you're concerned, certainly check in with your baby's doctor. But because newborns are screened for hearing problems shortly after birth, the most likely explanation is that your child is simply "sleeping like a baby."
Enjoy it while it lasts. As your baby leaves the newborn phase behind, gets on a schedule, and becomes more aware of his environment, he'll begin to outgrow this "sleep anytime" stage. Then noise and other distractions do start to matter, and you may find yourself tiptoeing through the house.
Babies have their own sleep personalities
Babies are anything but blank slates, and they come to us with their own sleep temperaments. "There are definitely individual differences in how babies sleep, just as there are light sleepers and heavy sleepers among adults," says a pediatrician.
Parents of more than one child often see these differences from very early on. As one mom of two says, "My first baby was a sound sleeper, but my second tossed and turned a lot and woke up after short periods."
Personality comes into play too, Some babies are more determined and will fight sleep as long as they can. Others are more easygoing.
Whether or not you won the baby sleep lottery, you can begin to teach your baby good sleep habits by establishing a bedtime routine and reading up on baby sleep basics.
Babies need a spartan sleeping space
A generation ago, a well-appointed crib included a nice soft bumper, a few cozy blankets, and a pillow or two. But things have changed. It turns out that it's much safer for babies to sleep in a more streamlined environment. The safest sleeping position and space for babies is on their back on a firm, flat mattress with a tight-fitting sheet and nothing else.
A bed with no blankets or pillows? Sounds chilly and uncomfortable to an adult, but with the right clothing, it's just perfect for a baby.
Remove any item from the sleeping area that could potentially suffocate a baby, cause overheating, or otherwise impair breathing, including blankets, bumpers, pillows, stuffed animals, or quilts. This reduces your baby's risk of SIDS.
If you're one of the percent of moms who share a bed with their baby, you can reduce your baby's risk of SIDS by following a few basic guidelines.
And even though your baby can't yet safely sleep under that gorgeous quilt you received as a baby gift, you can still get plenty of use out of it. Hang it on the nursery wall, drape it over the back of your rocking chair, or let your baby spend tummy time on it during the day.