Babies and sleep

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Babies have a fairly good life. They pretty much just eat and sleep.

Hi, I’m Dr Joe.

One of the things that probably concerns parents the most about their baby is their sleep pattern and it’s fair to say that most babies will adopt their own sleep pattern at a fairly early stage. However, it is important to know that you can influence and monitor their sleep pattern by the things you do as a parent.

Even as adults we know that some people sleep a little bit better than others and that’s the same at any age so not every baby is the same and its sometimes very frustrating for parents when the first child slept through the night and the second one is up half a dozen times. It just reflects that people are different.

So what is a normal sleep pattern for a baby?

It’s a little bit like saying what’s a normal eye colour for a baby or what’s a normal hair pattern for a baby. There is no “one size fits all”.

Babies will sleep a fair bit of the day, a newborn baby may sleep as much as 18, 19, 20 hours per day, this gradually lessens as time goes by. The average adult will sleep about 8 hours per night so there is this gradual reduction in sleep.

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In some respects there is nothing absolutely intrinsic that tells a baby when it is bedtime. Yes, light does influence it and we know that the body’s own sleep hormone is activated by the absence or presence of light, but the baby doesn’t necessarily know its bedtime at 8 or 7 o’clock – whenever you want to put a baby down.

And the other thing is very young babies do need to feed more frequently. Now people get very passionate about this and some people almost get to the point of being zealous as to whether you should demand feed or whether you shouldn’t. I think you’ve got to go with what works for you and your baby. It is a two way street so the parents have some rights and the baby has some rights as well. My view, from what I have seen over the years, most babies by the age of 3 months they can get through about 8 to 10 hours without having something to eat, they are not going to starve to death, it’s just not the case.

So you really want to try encourage a night time sleep pattern fairly early. One of the ways of doing that is having baby up a little bit during the day; sounds obvious. There is no absolute right or wrong time to put your baby down for a sleep but if you can get into a routine that is going to help, for example, a feed at 6, 7, 8 in the morning – whenever it suits you to get up – have your baby up for a while and play, do those sorts of things. Put baby down for a sleep mid-morning, again getting up at lunchtime to early afternoon, feed at that point and some play time and an afternoon sleep. So get into a bit of a routine. Human beings are creatures of habit and this does start at an early age so if you can get a routine going that has some up time during the day then it’s more likely the baby will be tired at night. When you do get a baby up at night time and it is for a feed, then it’s probably not the time to be playing. Why? If your baby is used to playing at night time, the baby will expect to play at night time. We are creatures of habit.

You can look to reduce the number of feeds at night time over the first few months, it is quite okay. I do stress – opinions vary and some people hold their opinions very passionately, interestingly not all of these people have children. You’ve got to do what works for you and your baby. There is no absolute “one size fits all”, some babies will sleep a little bit more than others, some will sleep a little bit better than others.

Things that can help – playing whale music or forest music seem to help some babies, I think there are even CDs of sounds like a heartbeat which is supposed to be soothing for a baby. Keeping them rugged up, in winter time in particular, is good and babies like to feel snug and secure keeping in mind they’ve come from a very confined space in the uterus so simple things like that can make a difference. If you want to have them in your room in the start, it’s quite ok, some people like that, others don’t but at some point it is time for them to go into their own room. Again, that is a function of when it is right for you.

So to sum up – there is no absolute right or wrong, however, babies do need to sleep and they do need quite a lot of sleep. You can help shape the pattern by when you do things like feeding and playing and when you do put babies down.

One last little point – when babies do wake up in the middle of the night and cry, you can leave them for a minute or two, it’s not going to be a problem. Poke your head in the door, have a look, if they’re okay you can still tend to them but you don’t have to. Sometimes they just wake up, they’re a bit grizzly and they will grizzle themselves back to sleep. Again, do what’s right for you. Most of us reach a stage where we eventually sleep through the night, for some it happens a little bit sooner, for some a little bit later. But be aware that babies will sleep, there is no “right” sleep pattern but you can have a bit of a say in it.

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Date Created: August 24, 2014 Date Modified: November 14, 2018