Newborn Bekah sleeping!
Parents, especially new parents, are obsessed with it. It’s kind of hard not to be. In the last few weeks of your pregnancy (or longer!) you’re exhausted from frequent bathroom trips, the inability to get comfortable, and crazy dreams about what being a parent is going to be like. And if you’re anything like me, you end up needing the TV on low all night just to have something to listen to besides your own thoughts, but then you can’t sleep that well because it’s on. You start out tired, and then your newborn comes and doesn’t sleep. At least not when you want him or her to. Being so sleep deprived, sleep is the only thing on your mind!
But fastforward 2 months, 6 months, 12 months. We all anticipate that our newborns will interrupt our sleep. But we also anticipate, as the doctors and media tell us, that by 6 to 8 weeks, our babies will start sleeping through the night, at least mostly. And definitely by 3 – 4 months…or 6 months…! But when it doesn’t happen (as in, I’m convinced, the majority of households), we believe that we are the only ones experiencing these problems. Our baby is the only one who wakes up 4 or 5 times a night (or more!) and demands to nurse. And those few friends you talk to who say, “Gee, I don’t know what to tell you, my baby just started sleeping 8 hours straight by 6 weeks old!” do not help the situation.
The whole thing leaves us feeling exhausted and resentful. But what we really need to do is to understand how babies sleep, and why, and what is truly realistic, so that we can get through this period as peacefully as possible.
It is a myth that babies simply sleep through the night by 6 weeks of age and don’t need anything at night. Or even that they do this by 6 months. It is common for children up to 3 or 4 years old to need some night time attention. No, they sure don’t need to eat at night that long, but they do have other needs. Children continue to need their parents at night for eating, diaper changes, illness, teething, potty training, nightmares, and much more for quite some time. And this is normal. Expecting babies to sleep independently for 10 – 12 hours a night while they are still young (and I mean under 3 years old) is just not normal. They have needs which must be met!
Do they and will they sleep all night eventually? Yes. Do some babies happen to do it quite early? Yes. Should we expect or force this? No! My daughter didn’t sleep consistently through the night, every night, until 2.5 years old. Even now there is a rare night she will wake up because she is sick or has wet her diaper, but those are only every month or two. My son, at 18 months, slept through the night the first time just this past Monday. I suspect eating grains was bothering him and keeping him up.
So what is normal for infant sleep?
Weeks 1 – 4: Babies sleep in 2 – 4 hour stretches evenly broken up over a 24-hour period. They have 1 or 2 “wakeful” periods during the day (that is, the 24 hour day) where they are actually awake and want to interact for a couple hours. They may choose mid-afternoon, or they may choose the middle of the night! They do not have “normal” regulation at this point. So if your baby wakes at 3 am and wants to be awake until 6 am, snuggle and rock him and enjoy these dark, quiet moments alone.
Weeks 4 – 8: Babies are settling into a more “typical” pattern of sleeping more at night than during the day, and probably don’t have long wakeful periods at night anymore. By bringing them out in the light and playing with them during the day, and snuggling them quietly in the dark at night, they have learned to separate night and day. They now may sleep in 2 – 4 hour stretches at night, and go back to sleep after feedings. This can change briefly around 6 weeks as they go through a growth spurt, and they may wake more frequently. Babies usually take 3 – 4 “naps” during the day.
Months 3 – 12 (or so): Most babies now sleep primarily at night, in increasingly longer stretches. Maybe. Some will adopt 8 – 12 hour nights by 4 to 6 months; some may still be waking every hour at 12 months. It depends on the baby. They will take 2 – 3 naps, although by a year old most are taking 2. A few have already dropped to just one nap, usually 3 – 4 hours in the afternoon. Many things can disrupt their pattern, such as teething, starting solids, illness, routine disruptions (vacations, etc.), and so on. Some babies prefer to co-sleep and are only comforted when a parent is near. These babies may be visibly nervous if they are sleeping separately from a parent. Some babies like to nurse frequently through the night, saving most of their calories for this time (they may be too busy playing during the day to eat much).
By 9 months you can gently ease the baby towards a “better” routine by offering more food during the day, more cuddles, creating a bedtime routine and sticking to it, soothing baby in ways other than nursing at night (snuggling/rocking, or even having daddy go in), making sure baby is completely comfortable at bedtime (changed, clean, not too hot/cold, no teething pain, etc.), and so on. By removing obstacles to sleep you may be rewarded with better sleep. Or not. For some babies it simply takes time.
For a select few, food intolerances may be an issue. If the baby also has eczema, red cheeks, red itchy palms, frequent diaper rash, a red ring around the anus, chunks of food in the diaper, or other signs, then suspect food. Try removing dairy or grains from the diet as a trial; see if it helps! I can say it has with both my children. Babies should not really eat grains before they have their two-year molars anyway; they do not yet have the mature enzymes to digest them.
Newborn Daniel sleeping!
A few months ago I posted what we did to help Daniel in Sleeping Babies. It is very important to realize that Daniel was a year old when we started this, not a newborn! Here is what our plan was:
Step 1: Allow him to fall asleep on our bed, near daddy, but not being held (this was going well at that time, it was as far as we’d gotten)
Step 2: Daniel falls asleep in his crib or on a mattress on the floor with daddy on the bed near him, but not on the same surface.
Step 3: Daniel falls asleep with daddy “nearby” in the room but not next to him (sitting in a chair a distance away or something)
Step 4: Daniel falls asleep in his own space alone in the room
Step 5: Daniel falls asleep in his own room (we may have to have someone “nearby” again for the first few nights we do this)
How did we do?
Around 15 months, I started to offer Daniel a hug or a drink of water instead of automatically picking him up to nurse when he woke at night (he started to wake a bit less often and resettled more quickly as a result). A couple weeks after that, we put him in his own room for nap. We’d successfully completed these steps by that time, with no crying. That day he fell right to sleep in his own bed, in his own room. We decided to try it out at night. The previous attempts had been disastrous; he’d ended up in my bed halfway through the night because he was clearly very nervous. This time he seemed very settled and calm and slept decently well.
Within a few days Daniel started to sleep better. He would still wake 1 – 4 times per night, but he’d usually cluster the wakings around my bedtime, so that he was sleeping a solid stretch from 1 – 6 or 7 most nights. There were the occasional nights he still woke every two hours, but they were much fewer. We always went to him when he woke, we never let him cry. That’s not to say there weren’t hard nights — there were. There were some nights that the second we left his room (after exhaustedly rocking him to sleep for the fourth time) he’d wake right up and scream hysterically. A couple of nights Ben slept on his floor. We figured out he only did that when he was teething or sick, though, and once we picked out which, we could offer him something to help and he’d sleep a bit (or a lot) better.
For weeks we had it where we could take Daniel in his room, give him a hug, lay him down, and just leave. He’d fall asleep on his own. But once I got pregnant he seemed to sense the change and got upset, so we’re rocking him to sleep again. But once he’s mostly asleep, I’ll lay him down a let him finish settling himself, often times. Occasionally Ben will sit or lay on his floor, but that’s generally rare.
Monday of this week, Daniel slept through the night! We put him down at 9:30 and he didn’t wake again until almost 7. I started to wonder if he was dead by 4 or 5 am because he’d never done this! We suspect it is because we removed grains from his diet. We also noted dramatic improvements in Bekah’s sleep when we removed grains and dairy. This is even though Daniel had no other signs of reaction to grains. None. I was absolutely positive he did not have any issues whatsoever with food. This is why I’m telling you that babies do not need to eat grains.
What now? We hope Daniel keeps sleeping through the night. We gently ease him back into settling himself, as he adjusts to the pregnancy and my hormones balance again. We talk to him about what’s happening, since he’s now 18 months and can understand us very well. By the time the new baby comes, he’ll be sleeping easily through the night! And then I get to do it all over again!
When did your babies sleep through the night, and how did you help them (if you did)?
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