Nothing drives home the maddening unpredictability of parenthood more than your baby’s sleeping habits. Despite all the resources and techniques, it seems like getting your infant to sleep through the night is like chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow–probably impossible, but you’re hooked on trying, anyway.
But here’s the truth: no two babies sleep the same–so no matter how many well-meaning co-parents tell you their newborn is clocking in 7 uninterrupted hours already, or how many websites tell you your 6 month-old should be snoring through the night at this point, you don’t have to feel bad about it.
Because as long as your baby is adjusting and growing well, and his pediatrician says his height and weight are within the normal percentile, you don’t have to agonize over every nap and bedtime. You and your baby will fall into a groove soon enough, and you’ll learn to ride with it–whether it’s still 2-3 wake-ups for a snuggle at 2 years old, or a solid 12-hour knockout at 2 months old.
However, as it always pays to be informed about baby’s sleep (it’s an integral part of their development, after all), here are some answers to frequently asked questions.
How much does my baby need to sleep?
From birth to about a year of age, babies should clock in between 9-12 hours at night. Bedtimes can range from 6 pm to even 10-11 pm–that’s a pretty wide range right there. Naps vary in number and duration as they get older too: You can expect anything from 1-4 naps, from 30 minutes to two hours each nap.
You should start noticing a gradual decline in nap number or duration as they reach the crawling stage (6-8 months). As their routines, mobility, and eating habits develop, their sleeping patterns adjust as well. By around 8-9 months, most babies should be able to soothe themselves back to sleep, but this might not hold true for babies who still nurse or need a bottle to go back to sleep.
Why won’t he sleep through the night?
Most babies have the ability to sleep through the night development-wise when they reach around 9 months; meaning, they can self-soothe and go back into peaceful slumber without needing your assistance when they inevitably wake up a little at some point.
However, a lot of babies don’t–and that’s where a lot comes into play. Some baby sleep proponents believe in introducing a sleep routine as early as 4 months old, to better prepare your baby for sleeping through the night (read: sleep training–more on that in a bit). Others think overstimulation or overtiredness could be the culprits disrupting baby’s sound, unbroken sleep, so a bedtime routine to help your child wind down could help. Consider:
- Setting a feasible bedtime hour, then listing down a short routine
- Routine can include: a warm sponge bath, turning down the lights in the nursery, and putting on a white noise machine or lullabies
- Removing distractions and stimuli from baby’s room, like brightly-colored or noisy toys, and turning off the TV.
- Regulating the room temperature
- Making sure baby is full but not overfed–don’t be tempted to feed baby cereal through his bottle, as some old-school advice dictates, in order to induce satiation and better sleep. Only feed baby cereal in a bottle if mandated by his doctor–and even then, seek a second opinion! The choking hazard isn’t worth it.
What about sleep training?
It isn’t for everyone; that’s pretty much all we can say about it. Many purport its benefits are boundless–calm and rested babies, which means calmer and well-rested parents, and a good routine that runs like clockwork–but it does take some work. Read up on sleep training and decide if it’s a good fit for your family (as some believe it has a deep psychological effect on children), and if you feel it will be worth a few nights of tears (your and your baby’s).
Why can’t my baby sleep on his tummy? He seems to sleep better that way.
Back is best, as safe sleep advocates love to say. Putting younger infants to sleep on their tummies may seem comfy, but also poses a dangerous risk. Airways can be obstructed, and babies that age still lack the reflex to avoid suffocation. If you feel he sleeps better that way, consider that it’s probably because gassy tummies are relieved by that position. Try massaging baby’s tummy before bed to let out excess gas.
What’s the deal with baby beddings? What’s so bad about them?
Safe sleep advocates advise the following:
- No pillows or toys in baby’s crib as long as possible to avoid the risk of SIDS.
- Only a fitted sheet snugly placed on a well-fitting crib mattress must be a used.
- Use a swaddle instead of a loose blanket to keep baby warm.
- Make sure there is nothing above or beside the crib that could fall in and harm baby while asleep.
My baby keeps waking up and doesn’t seem to want to sleep anymore. What do I do?
They weren’t kidding about those sleepless nights. Try the following tips and techniques:
- Babywearing: A sling or carrier could make it easier for both you and baby to calm back down into sleep.
- Adjusting the temp: Baby might be too warm or too cold. Make sure you adjust baby’s beddings and sleepwear to the seasons.
- Consider aromatherapy–but only on older babies: Lavender- and camomile-scented baby washes are now being marketed to help soothe babies come bedtime. Essential oils with calming benefits are now all the rage among moms, but it’s always best to consult your doctor before using them–some aromatherapy oils are actually bad for children.
- Turn on the noise: A white noise app or machine can help lull your baby back to sleep.