To your health: Tips to help parents get newborns to sleep soundly

By Alfred Casale - To Your Health | December 12th, 2017 6:00 am - updated: 10:44 am.

What?… I thought he just wrote about getting kids to sleep.

We talked about toddlers. As I have just reconfirmed, after spending time with a newborn — beautiful, lovely, precious and all that — they’re a whole other ball of wax.

As the parent of a newborn, sleep is a precious commodity. That’s because during the first two months of your newborn’s life, his or her need to eat overrules your need to sleep.

A newborn may feed almost every two hours if you’re breastfeeding and possibly a little less often if you’re bottle feeding. That means a newborn will go back and forth between sleeping and waking no matter what time of day or night it is.

Many babies can sleep for six uninterrupted hours by 3 to 6 months (let’s hope Eve reads this!). However, between 6 and 9 months, some normal developmental changes can throw off a sleep routine you’ve established for your baby.

Here’s what you can do to help your baby sleep better and learn self-comfort so he or she can fall asleep and get back to sleep with very little help from you.

Establish a bedtime routine

Studies have shown that babies who follow a nightly bedtime routine go to sleep easier, sleep better and cry out in the middle of the night less frequently.

Set up a soothing routine each night, and perform each activity the same and in the same order every night. Give your baby a bath, read a book, tell a story, sing lullabies, or anything else that helps your baby relax.

These soothing activities every night signal to your baby that it’s time to sleep.

Try to not get your baby too excited with active games right before bedtime — every activity should be calm and peaceful, especially toward the end of the routine.

You can also save your baby’s favorite activity in this routine for last and do it where he or she sleeps — it can help your baby look forward to bedtime and associate the sleep space with enjoyable things.

Put your babies to sleep before they’re sleeping

Try to not rock your baby to sleep after he or she is 4 to 6 months old.

You can most certainly rock your baby, but it’s best to lay your baby down to sleep while he or she is drowsy and on the verge of sleep, but still awake. This allows your baby to drift off to sleep on his or her own.

Waiting to lay your baby down to sleep until they’re fully asleep in your arms could be a hard habit for your baby to break later in life.

This routine teaches your baby to soothe him or herself to sleep, meaning you won’t need to rock or cuddle them to sleep every time they wake up during the night.

Be strategic about nighttime feedings

The ideal time to feed your hungry newborns is when they start to wake up and are still calm.

If you respond to your babies once their hungry cries have gotten louder and more insistent, it may be harder for them to fall back to sleep after a feeding.

During nighttime feedings, try to keep the lights off and use a soft voice.

If your baby wakes up in the middle of the night and doesn’t settle him or herself back down, see if hunger or a dirty diaper is the culprit. Feed and change your child quietly with the lights low and put the infant back in the crib as soon as you can.

Other things you can try to help your baby get better sleep include:

  • Putting the child down for a nap as soon as he or she acts sleepy. Sometimes, if he or she gets too tired, it can be harder for your baby to get to sleep.
  • Settling your baby down to sleep as quickly as possible if he or she is not acting hungry during a nighttime feeding.
  • Trying to stay calm even if you’re frustrated — young children are very sensitive to parents’ feelings.
  • Always put your baby to sleep on his or her back — this helps prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Most of all, remember, it gets better. … You will sleep again someday.

By Alfred Casale

To Your Health

Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]