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Your newborn's sleep

Caring for any newborn is a lot of work, but it's even harder when parents are sleep-deprived and exhausted.

The good news is that by four to six months most babies have developed a regular sleep pattern and the ability to sleep through the night. The bad news is that, until that time, it's unrealistic and unfair to expect your baby to be a great sleeper. In the first months, the average infant sleeps around 13 to 16 hours or so, but that sleep may occur unpredictably and for just a few hours at a time.

As the brain matures over the first months, you'll probably begin to see a sleep pattern emerge: longer periods of sleep (hopefully at night), more activity during the day, less activity at night, and more sleep during growth spurts. (Much of growth occurs during sleep.)

Tips for parents of newborns

  • Keep your expectations realistic. Plan for unpredictable, sporadic sleep for your baby -- and therefore for you -- in the first few months.
  • Don't try to sleep train your baby yet. It's too early to let your baby "cry it out." Since it takes three-six months for a baby's brain to mature enough to establish a regular pattern and to sleep through the night, wait until then to try sleep training.
  • Never wake a sleeping baby during the night (with a few exceptions, such as a need for extra calories).

Establishing sleep patterns for your baby

Parents can set the stage now for baby's good sleep patterns to emerge in the future. Try the following:

Regulate your baby's day-night sleep cycle. As soon as possible, try to teach your baby that "nighttime is for sleep, and daytime is for fun."

  • During daylight hours, keep things stimulating and active for baby. Play with them a lot. Try to keep them awake after feeds.
  • When it's dark, become a more low-key, relaxed parent for your baby. Feed her in a semi-darkened room. Cut down on all stimulation (e.g. keep light and noise soft and low). Hopefully, this way babies learn that daytime is fun time and nighttime is relaxing, so they might as well sleep when it's dark outside.

Begin to teach your baby to fall asleep on her own, without getting used to (and then becoming dependent on) being held, rocked, fed, etc. The goal is that when your baby awakens in the middle of the night (as most babies do), they will be able to get themselves back to sleep without the need for you to come in and rock, feed, or soothe them.

  • After a few weeks (when everyone is not so sleep-deprived and things are settling down), begin to put your baby to bed awake and drowsy whenever you can, to help them learn to fall asleep on their own.
  • Your goal should be to try to do it when it's possible. If your baby conks out right after a feed don't wake them just so you can put them back to sleep. This is a skill that may take months to learn. If you are reasonably consistent in your efforts, your baby will learn healthy sleeping patterns quickly.

When to worry about baby's sleep

It's rare that a baby's sleep pattern is a cause for worry in the first few months. An infant sleeps as much as her body tells her she needs to. Talk to your doctor or health visitor if you have any concerns.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on January 12, 2016

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