Babies need sleep and lots of it. Newborns often sleep for 18 hours out of every 24. It sure doesn’t seem like it when you feel like you are up 10 times each night feeding baby though! The reason is that they usually only sleep for a few hours at a time, at least in the beginning. Not only that but it is often hard to get babies to figure out day from night so that they seem to want to sleep during the day and be awake at night! There are several “schools of thought” when it comes to sleep and getting your baby to sleep and none are necessarily right or wrong. What works for one baby may not work for others, even siblings!
First of all, you can’t expect your newborn to sleep through the night. They get hungry because their little tummies can only hold so much at a time and once that’s gone they are hungry again. The first six weeks to two months will most likely be a wake sleep cycle with only 2-4 hours of sleep at a time. Of course every baby is different and some may not sleep that long and a few may sleep longer.
So, for the first two months or so, I would suggest pretty much letting the baby run on her own schedule. You may try to get the baby to stay awake a little more during the day. You can play with her after feeding. Sing songs. Most babies love songs! You can try gentle dancing around the room with her and playing games such as peek-a-boo. Show her her toys (though most infants are not really terribly interested at this point). But, soon enough, baby will be worn out and want to sleep again. Don’t try to keep baby awake too long either as an overtired baby often has a hard time relaxing herself to sleep!
You can try to get baby to start understanding the difference between day and night by doing more stimulating activities during the day, as mentioned above. And, then when baby wakes during the night, allow for a lot less stimulation and no playtimes. Feed and change the baby with as few lights as possible. And, change baby only if necessary as opening the clothing and diaper can wake baby more than necessary. A sleepy baby will eat and fall right back to sleep!
After about two months, you should notice that baby is sleeping longer periods during the night–maybe 4 or more hours at a time. Baby will still wake up to be fed but should go right back to sleep after her tummy is full. Take advantage of these periods to catch a few winks yourself!
As baby grows, you may decide that baby needs a space of her own. If baby has been sleeping in a co-sleeper or bassinet in her parents’ room, there comes a time when baby should move to her own room. The right time will be different for each baby but I would suggest that once a baby is sleeping at least 4-5 hour stretches, it is probably the right time. The advantages are that baby will have a quieter space and may not wake as often. Of course, the disadvantage is that if baby does wake you have further to go (in your own sleepy state) to get her. In my own experience, putting baby to bed in her own room in her own crib got an extra hour of sleep out of her in a stretch which meant that instead of sleeping four hours she was sleeping five at a time and very soon that turned into six and more.
Feed baby before putting her to bed and then put her to bed in her own crib at a reasonable hour. Remember if baby is too overtired that it will be that much harder for her to fall asleep. If baby has not awoken by the time you are ready for bed, it may be a good idea to wake her just enough to feed her a good meal before you turn in. That way, you will get the benefit of a full tummy and the longest sleep stretch possible for yourself!
I know that some people will disagree but I really feel that one thing that really helps a baby to sleep longer is to put her in her own room. This way, her noises weren’t bothering you and waking you up to look at her and your noises weren’t bothering her and waking her up. I know many parents are hestitant about this but, in my opinion, it really works!
Anyway, my suggestions for getting a baby to sleep through the night are to most importantly listen to the baby’s signals. Many babies, especially breast fed babies are physically not able to make it though the night without eating and it is important for their growth that they do eat. Even though you feel like you’ll never get any sleep, you eventually will. Try to get your partner to help our at night time feedings if possible.
Enjoy your baby, even if it is the middle of the night! They grow up fast and you’ll look back and be not remember how sleep deprived you were. You will remember those happy times when you could snuggle with your baby, even if it was in the middle of the night. Be glad that you were able to spend this time with your child.