When your baby first gets home from the hospital, it may seem like he or she does three things: eats, sleeps and cries. Newborn babies sleep a lot. During the first few weeks of life, it’s normal for a new baby to sleep up to 18 hours in a 24-hour period, but the sleeping will only happen in increments of a few hours – usually three to four.
Once your child is about 6 or 8 weeks old, he or she should start to sleep for longer periods at night and shorter periods during the day. By the time your baby is 8 weeks old, night sleep may last six hours or more, and by the time he or she is a few months old, sleeping through the night is possible.
Encouraging healthy sleep habits
In the first six weeks or so, you will have to work with your baby’s sleep habits. Let your baby sleep when he or she needs to, only waking for feedings if it has been more than three hours since the last feeding. Ask your baby’s doctor how long he or she can go between feedings and when it’s appropriate to wake for feedings.
But once your baby is about 8 weeks old, you can start to help mold his or her sleep pattern. Here are some tips:
Recognize signs that your baby is tired, such as:
- rub eyes
- whines and cries easily
- stares blankly
- yawns and stretches a lot
- flicks at the ear(s)
- becomes quiet and still
- turns away from people
- buries face in your chest
As soon as you see these signs, put him or her down to sleep.
Teach your baby the difference between night and day, which can begin as early as two weeks of age:
- During the day, try this:
- start each new day with a change of clothes to signal it’s time to get up
- keep the house and your baby’s room light and bright
- play with your baby as much as you can
- make feeding time social; talk and sing as you feed
- don't try to keep things quiet in the home
- At night time, try this:
- keep lights low and noise to a minimum
- don't talk too much, and when you do talk, keep it at a low volume or whisper
- put pajamas on at night to signal it’s time to sleep
- stay quiet for night time feedings
Teach your baby to fall asleep on his or her own
You can start teaching babies to fall asleep on their own by about two months. Put them down when they’re sleepy but still awake. Most parents find it’s best to leave the room and let their baby settle, but if you would like to stay in the room, that’s okay too. What you want to do during this time is to set up expectations. If you let your baby settle on his or her own every time, that will become the expectation. But if you stay or rock your baby, he or she will expect that too. Some experts recommend that you allow your baby to self-soothe rather than rocking or massaging him or her to sleep. The important part is to establish a predictable pattern and keep with it night after night.