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  • Writer's pictureMaria H. Drzaszcz

Battling with sleep as a new parent

One of the most challenging struggles for any new parent is the lack of sleep and getting your beautiful new little one on a more worldly routine. (Courtesy Photo)

One of the most challenging struggles for any new parent is the lack of sleep and getting your beautiful new little one on a more worldly routine. There are dozens of sleep books and methods on the internet and social media that promise new parents a good nights sleep. Sleep is as important for a baby’s brain development as proper nutrition is. Healthy sleep habits in infancy also set the stage for healthy sleep habits as teens and into adulthood. Over the years and three kids, I have used a “hybrid” of a couple different methods. It is important to find the method or methods that works for both your baby and for your particular family situation. Below I will highlight some things to keep in mind when sleep training your infant.

Young infants need to eat frequently around the clock. Newborns are growing very fast, which will make them seem like little eating machines even at 1 and 3 a.m. During the first two weeks of life, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not letting an infant sleep for more than four hours at a time. Very young infants need to feed every two to three hours even during the night. Generally speaking, somewhere around 6 to 8 weeks of age, nighttime sleep starts to become more organized and you can expect one longer stretch of four to six hours of sleep, as long as your baby is putting on adequate weight and getting the majority of their calories from daytime feeds. So, when should you start sleep training your baby? Most experts recommend around 4 to 6 months of age, when they are able to learn to self soothe and also have put on enough weight that they no longer require night feedings.

Any sleep book you pick up will have two common themes that I pretty much lived by when my children were small. Sleep begets sleep and consistency is key. Sleep begets sleep may seem counterproductive, but it’s not. The more well rested your baby is, the easier and better night sleep will be for them. An overtired and overstimulated baby will not sleep soundly though the night. This leads to the importance of daytime sleep and a consistent nap schedule. Around 3-4 months is a good time to start a nap routine. At this point, baby should be taking three naps during the day. While putting your baby on a nap schedule, it is important to remember to keep awake intervals short. What this means is that baby should be awake for no longer than about 90 minutes to two hours max until the next nap begins. You can roughly plan out your child’s naps based off of the wake interval. Keeping the wake intervals short for your baby’s age allow them to not get overtired and overstimulated, allowing sleep to come easier. Once daytime naps are in place, the nights should be easier.

For both naps and nighttime, you want to establish a consistent sleep routine. A sample of this may look like bottle or nurse, bath, book and bed. You may also want to consider introducing sleep associations, such as a pacifier, a small lovey or white noise. Your baby will learn to associate those things with sleep, so when they see them they know it’s time for rest. Again, being consistent with your routine is key. You also want to put baby in his or her crib awake but drowsy, so they learn to fall asleep unassisted.

So what if baby cries out often in middle of the night? This is a stressful and common problem that we have all encountered. As long as baby doesn’t seem hungry, sick or in distress, you can try what is called gradual extinction. Gradual extinction is when you go to your baby less and less when they cry at night, so they learn to self soothe. An example of this is not going right to your baby at the very first cry. You wait at least two minutes then gradually increase your wait time before going to soothe your baby. The idea is to continue gradually extending this period over the next several days, until baby no longer cries at night. This approach is not appropriate for babies under 4-6 months of age, as many will still need a nighttime feed or two.

Early bedtime and controlling the wake up time for the day is also important. Most infants will need a bedtime somewhere between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., roughly two hours after waking from the last nap of the day. You also should control the morning wake up time to around 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m. This way you can structure you naps for the day appropriately. A sample sleep schedule for a 4 to 8 month old could look something like this: awake for the day at 7 a.m., first nap at 9 a.m., second nap at 1 p.m., third nap varying, but usually no later than 5 p.m., and bedtime between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Some babies will still wake up for one nighttime feed. Remember to keep the nighttime feeds short and sweet. Feed, change, then right back to crib. Avoid bright lights, playing with your baby or anything over stimulating.

The above gives a very basic overview. I’d encourage any new parent struggling with infant sleep to pick up the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth or The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp. As always, consult your pediatrician for any specific concerns you may have with your baby’s feeding or sleeping patterns. Happy sleeping.

Maria H. Drzaszcz, a Hammonton resident, is a registered nurse with 14 years critical care experience and is the proud mom of three young children.


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