Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sleep for Newborns - 6 Weeks Old

I think some parents might find it relieving to know that it's okay if you don't want to start sleep training right away.  Maybe you feel like some crying is inevitable, but you aren't comfortable with letting your newborn, 6 week old, or even 4 month old do that just yet.  I hope that if do you feel this way, it will be encouraging to know that you can take your time and still gently ease your baby into good sleeping habits by taking advantage of the brain development milestones that occur naturally.

Less than 6 weeks old
Babies typically fall asleep at night very late and do not sleep very long during the day or night.  They have no circadian rhythms at this point so you can't set your baby to clock time yet.  Try to soothe him to sleep during the day or night before he gets overtired.  Always respond to the baby and avoid the overtired state.

After 6 weeks 
80% of babies become more settled and start sleeping longer at night (this is because of increasing brain maturity), and begin to get drowsy for bedtime at an earlier hour.  Try to start soothing earlier to facilitate this when you start to notice it.  You're still not sleep training at this point, so if you still want to go to your baby when he cries, follow your instinct.  Begin taking advantage of opportunities to put your baby down drowsy but awake.  It doesn't have to happen every nap and every night, but you will notice that sometimes it is easy to put him down and let him fall asleep on his own.  The more you can do this, the more comfortable your baby will get with falling asleep on his own in his bed.
20% of the babies who do not start settling into better sleep at night should still be soothed early, but more time should be allowed for lengthy soothing sessions.

In my opinion, a mom should not feel guilty about feeding or rocking her baby to sleep especially at this very young age.  It's natural for a baby to fall asleep while eating, so don't feel inclined to wake your baby up before putting him to bed.  Realize how important complete sleep cycles are to the developing brain, and focus on still, quiet sleep as much as possible.  Avoid waking or keeping the baby up longer than 1-2 hours.  Ideally you are able to always have the baby sleeping in his bed in a still, quiet room (this matters more and more the older they get as newborns sleep through anything!) You're not training yet, you're setting a foundation for a well-rested baby who will be better prepared for sleep training later.

Tips to set a good foundation:

• Respect and protect your baby's need to sleep.
• Anticipate and prepare for when your baby will need to sleep, the same way that you anticipate a feeding.
• Maintain brief intervals of wakefulness, a 1-2 hour max window (baby needs to be asleep by the 2 hour mark)
• Watch for drowsy cues and respond with soothing immediately.
• Start developing a bedtime routine that you can replicate in whole every night (i.e. bathtime, story, feeding, soothing, bed).
• Remember timing is key.  For those 80% of babies who start settling at 6 weeks, perfect timing produces no crying.

All this info, except what I specified as my own opinion, is paraphrased from the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth.

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