When you have your baby, people will ask how he is sleeping and how tired you are. Chances are, in the first few months, your answer will be that you are very tired. But that does not last forever, and I will give you some basic tips that you can start using whether you are still pregnant or have had your baby already.

First, it is good to understand some basics of sleep. Did you know that none of us sleeps all through the night? We all have partial awakenings when we switch through sleep cycles. For most of us, we roll over, fix a pillow and go back to sleep. Sometimes, we may wake, get a drink of water and go back to sleep. Many issues with children sleeping through the night are related to these partial awakenings. If your child always falls asleep in your arms, then when he has a partial awakening all alone in his crib he may need you to help him fall back asleep. This is not absolutely always the case; my daughter nursed to sleep and still started sleeping through the night.

For newborns, these partial awakenings are quite frequent and very important. Your newborn will have to wake frequently to eat during the night. Another thing to know is children's bodies (as well as adults') produce melatonin (a calming hormone) when they are ready to sleep. If they do not go to sleep when the melatonin is being produced, their body starts producing cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Once this hormone is produced, it is harder for babies to fall asleep; they are more likely to wake during the night and earlier in the morning. At around 3 to 4 months old, your baby will start producing melatonin on his own.

Now that you understand some of the basics, let's talk about specific steps you can take to encourage your baby to sleep.

Where Should Your Baby Sleep?

Before you have your baby, or soon after he's born, think about where you plan on having him sleep long-term. Do you want to co-sleep? If so, for how long? If you plan on co-sleeping, make sure you research safe ways to do this. Do you want the baby in his own room and own crib? While these arrangements may change depending on circumstances, having a general plan early will make things easier. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends: The safest place for your baby to sleep is in the room where you sleep, but not in your bed. Place the baby's crib or bassinet near your bed (within arm's reach). This makes it easier to breastfeed and to bond with your baby. See A Parents Guide to Safe Sleep for more information.

Make Sure You Are Sleeping

If you are still pregnant, be sure you are getting enough rest now. While some may say being sleep-deprived while pregnant is preparing you for more sleep deprivation, the best preparation for sleep deprivation is being well-rested. So be sure you get to bed early, try to do whatever you need to in order to be comfortable while you sleep, and do not feel guilty about taking a nap.

The First Six Weeks

For the first six weeks of your baby's life, try not to worry about too much. Spend time getting to know your baby, rest when he rests and let others do the housekeeping. Listen to the people who say sleep when your baby sleeps. Since you will frequently be up at night feeding your baby, be sure that you get to rest during the day as well.

Six to Eight Weeks

When he's around 6 to 8 weeks old, you can occasionally try to put your baby down while he's drowsy but awake. If he gets upset, go ahead and pick him up and put him to sleep however you normally do. At this age, you are not doing any formal training; you are just giving your baby the chance to show you what he can accomplish on his own. If your baby is older than 8 weeks, you can try again in few days. Another good thing to do around this age it to be sure your baby is occasionally spending time wherever he will eventually sleep. So if he is in your room now but you plan on eventually putting him in a crib in his own room, occasionally put him in that crib. Even if he is awake and not sleeping, you want him to feel comfortable there.

For the Rest of the First Six Months

To generalize a bit, for the first six months of your child's life, make sure he does not get overtired. Once a baby or child is overtired, it is often harder for him to fall asleep at night or naps times, and he is more likely to wake during the night, get up earlier in the morning and take shorter naps. Therefore, make sure your child is napping often and going to bed early enough at night. I also recommend sometimes putting your child down awake when he is ready for a nap. If he always falls asleep nursing or bottle feeding, try occasionally waking him slightly while putting him down in his crib. I know you have been told never to wake a sleeping baby, but this practice will help your child learn to do some falling asleep on his own.

Parents should not feel guilty about wanting to get more sleep than they do. Of course it is not always possible, but there are some simple steps that you can take with your child, as well as yourself, that can improve everyone's sleep.


Ideal Sleeping Temperature

The ideal sleeping temperature for us all is between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Your body temperature decreases while you sleep, therefore, a temperature on the cooler side is better so your body does not have to work too hard to reduce your internal temperature. Being too hot is also a SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) risk for your baby.


Sleep Do's and Dont's

Do:

  • Try to get as much rest as you can while you are still pregnant.

  • Sleep when your baby sleeps for at least the first few weeks.

  • Accept help from anyone who offers it.

  • Make sure your baby does not get overtired.

  • Discuss with your partner where you would like your baby to sleep.

Don't:

  • Worry about how clean the house is.

  • Feel guilty about needing to sleep.

  • Stress about baby's sleep too much in these first 6 months.


Michelle Winters Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Eco-Maternity Consultant; SleepWell Sleep Solutions.sleepwellsleepsolutions.com; michelle@sleepwellsleepsolutions.com