For most new parents, feeding becomes the first major area of focus as it is essential to their baby’s growth and overall development. (If you’re breastfeeding, check out this article on how to overcome some common struggles).
Once feeding has been mastered, the next big hurdle parents face is sleep. Or lack therof. If you’re anything like me, you might find yourself asking, “Will me and my baby ever get more than a couple of hours of sleep at a time or am I doomed to look like an extra on the set of The Walking Dead for the rest of my life?”
Since I’m clearly no expert (aka my 4 month old is still up every few hours overnight and only takes 30 minute naps), I asked some of my most burning newborn sleep questions to renowned Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant Kim Davis, founder of Babes and Beyond.
What can people expect with newborn (0-3 months) sleep patterns?
KD: Newborn sleep is very sporadic and is never predictable. Newborns sleep in short bouts which typically range from 30 minutes to 4 hours at seemingly random times throughout the day and night. They can sleep up to 18 hours a day for the first few weeks waking to eat every few hours.
What kind of “schedule” should a newborn be on?
KD: Having a “schedule” for a newborn is nearly impossible as their sleep is not governed by strong circadian rhythms (internal body clock). As they mature, their sleep will start to rely on the external (light/dark) physiological changes that follow a 24-hour cycle like adult sleep does.
How do growth spurts and leaps affect a baby’s sleep?
KD: Growth spurts and developmental leaps will greatly impact sleep. Naps may be shorter, the baby will fuss a bit more when going down to sleep, and many night wakings may start to occur during these times. Parents may also notice that their baby is crying, being a bit more clingy, and being a bit crankier. These are the 3 C’s which are referenced in the book The Wonder Weeks which gives an amazing in-depth look at the 10 developmental leaps babies go through during the first two years of their lives. During the growth spurts, parents will also see an increase in the number of times they will need to feed their baby.
At what age should parents start sleep training?
KD: “Official” sleep training can start around 4 months of age. This is when the babies’ circadian rhythms become more like adults’ and start relying on the light and dark to cue their bodies for sleep.
What are the biggest mistakes parents make when it comes to sleep training?
KD: One of the biggest mistake parents make when it comes to sleep training is not being consistent. Parents need to choose a method that is right for their family and be consistent with every waking. Many times, parents wait too long to address the sleep issues that are present. Seeking guidance from a professional will help determine what the underlying issues may be.
Should parents let babies “cry it out” for hours?
KD: Letting babies “cry it out” for hours is extremely hard for any parent. If they are crying for that long, there may be some underlying factors that are hindering their baby to settle. There are many gentle methods that parents can implement to help their baby develop their self soothing/independent sleeping skills. Some babies need more coaching than others to learn the skills that help them transition into their different sleep cycles independently.
Why are naps important?
KD: Naps are extremely important as they are restorative for their body and their brain development and help set the stage for night sleep. Babies that are well rested during the day will sleep better during the night. Sleep begets sleep and having a well rested baby at bedtime will help them easily settle at night.
Why do some babies seem unable to take naps in anything but swings, rockers, strollers, cars, etc.?
KD: Some babies rely on motion to fall asleep when they are first born which is completely normal as this mimics the environment in the womb. Sleep associations are very common during the first few months and will change as their baby’s sleep needs change. For the first few months, many parents do rely on these sleep aids, but parents need to keep in mind that having them in a safe, flat surface sleep environment is best. The danger of positional asphyxiation increases if parents allow their babies to sleep in swings, car seats and strollers as they are not being used for their intended purpose.
What are sleep associations and how should parents go about weaning their children off them?
KD: Sleep associations are any actions that help your baby fall asleep. Children of all ages have them and they can be divided into 2 categories – positive and negative. Positive sleep associations typically involve the baby doing these actions on their own. These can include rocking back and forth, sucking their thumb, hitting their limbs against the crib, humming, and cuddling with a “stuffy” when it is age appropriate. We mostly hear about the negative sleep associations which typically involve a parent or caregiver doing one or more actions to help their baby fall asleep. These can include rocking/bouncing baby to sleep, driving around in the car until they fall asleep, pushing them in a stroller for their naps, and feeding to sleep. During the first few months of a baby’s life, these sleep associations are very common and very useful. It is not until the baby is older (4 months+) that these sleep associations can be posing a problem in consolidating night sleep and extending their baby’s naps.
To help with the negative sleep associations parents can help set up the baby’s room for sleep by having blackout curtains, using a white noise machine, and keeping the room temperature around 22 degrees Celsius. Implementing a consistent bedtime routine will also help in cueing your baby that it is time to sleep.
What is the best piece of advice that you have for new parents with regard to their baby’s sleep?
KD: The best piece of advice for new parents is to be proactive and consistent. Consistency is key for setting up your child for success. Parents will want to educate themselves with as much knowledge as possible about sleep so they will be prepared for those challenging times when sleep becomes an issue. There is so much conflicting advice out in the world regarding sleep and it’s best to seek professional advice if families are struggling with sleeping issues. Sleep is a learned and necessary life skill. Some babies need a little extra help developing their own independent sleeping skills and that’s ok!! I encourage parents to fill their “sleep toolbox” early on so they are prepared for what lies ahead.
Still stumped on sleep? Book a complimentary call with Kim to find a sleep solution that works best for you.