Few situations are as stressful for new parents as caring for a new baby who will not settle and fall asleep. Although most new parents expect to get less sleep than they did before their baby's arrival, a baby who stays up all night long can try the patience of even the calmest and most dedicated parents. Maintaining realistic expectations about infant sleep—and sharing night-time parenting with your partner—can help your household cope with a sleepless and restless baby.
Sleeping too long or too deeply is not generally healthy or desirable for new babies, who usually need to eat every few hours in order to grow and develop properly. As babies grow older, gain weight and eat more at each feeding, they will naturally begin to sleep better and go longer between feedings, suggests Kids Health. Although you might not be able to change newborn sleep patterns, establishing consistent sleep routines can help your baby sleep better as he grows older.
Watch your baby for signs of sleepiness, such as eye-rubbing, faint circles under his eyes or pulling on his ear, and put him to bed as soon as you notice that he is tired. Over-tired, exhausted babies often fight sleep and might be difficult to settle down. By watching your baby's cues, you can create a sleep routine based upon his patterns. Try to put him down for naps and night-time sleep at the same time each day and start the proceedings with a consistent routine, perhaps including a bath and stories or songs before bedtime.
Some new babies might need help differentiating between night-time and day-time sleep. Although babies usually adjust their sleep and wake patterns on their own within a few weeks of birth, Stanford pediatrician Alan Greene suggests that you can speed up the adjustment process by altering the environmental stimuli surrounding your baby. Keep the house brightly lit during the day and play with her frequently. At night, talk in soft voices and keep your interactions with your baby low-key and minimal. Change her diaper and feed her without making eye contact or turning on bright lights.
Many new parents expect their baby to sleep quietly and peacefully throughout the night, but in reality, most babies toss and turn, cry out from time to time and wriggle in their sleep. The University of Illinois Extension suggests waiting a few minutes to see if your baby will settle back down before responding to her at night. If she continues to cry after five minutes--or if the crying escalates or sounds urgent--you should check on her and help her re-settle.
Creating the right sleep environment for your baby can help improve her sleep patterns. Use a white noise machine or fan in her room to muffle household noises and voices. Install light-blocking shades on her windows so that she will not wake at the first hint of sunlight. For your baby's safety, keep soft objects and loose items out of the crib, suggests HealthyChildren.org and the American Academy of Pediatrics. This includes blankets, pillows, bumper pads and toys.
- AskDrSears.com: 31 Ways to Get Your Baby to Go to Sleep and Stay Asleep Easier
- Babycenter: Baby Sleep Basics: Birth to 3 Months
- KidsHealth: Breastfeeding FAQs: How Much and How Often
- Kids Health from Nemours: All About Sleep
- DrGreene.com: Asleep All Day, Up All Night
- University of Illinois Extension: When Will Baby Sleep at Night?
- HealthyChildren.org: Suitable Sleeping Sites