Most of my sleep advice is directed toward children six months and up. By that age, babies are decreasingly reliant on nighttime feedings (though some may still need a few) and more responsive to behavior modification. That said there are some basic, developmentally appropriate ways in which we can begin to lay a solid sleep foundation with babies under six months. And in the case of parents returning to work, coping with postpartum depression or blues, or simply burnt out from sleep deprivation, some early interventions may be necessary.
Over the next few posts, I will focus on how we can gently introduce positive sleep habits for our very young babies. Hopefully new and expectant parents will find these suggestions helpful. On a personal note, my third baby is due in a few weeks so I’ll be using these techniques right along with you!
First, a word about sleep advice from well-intentioned family and friends…
Like parenting in general, how we approach sleep is very personal. Parents must decide for themselves what they feel comfortable with, what meshes with their values and philosophy, and what works for their child’s unique temperament and feeding needs. Lots of friends and family like to opine about sleep, but it is essential that parents listen to their gut and understand that just because an approach worked for one family, does not necessarily mean it’s a good (or healthy) fit for theirs.
There are significant individual differences between all children (and adults!), particularly in babies under six months. This is why one size does NOT fit all and what worked for a friend and her baby, may not work for you. For example, some infants may be able to consume large amounts of breast milk or formula, enabling the baby to go 3.5 hours without another feeding. Another baby with a smaller capacity may truly need to eat every 2 hours. Both are healthy and normal for this variable age group, but clearly the babies have very different feeding needs. Alternatively, one baby’s mother might have an abundant milk supply, while the other’s mother’s supply might be perfectly adequate, though not sufficient to stretch out feedings. Attempting to do so would actually put their otherwise healthy baby at great risk. For this reason, any recommendation from a book, friend, or family member for scheduled feedings should be taken with a big grain of salt.
Your infant will probably sleep much of the time, but she won’t sleep deeply. Infant sleep is not well organized neurologically, which means it’s a very light slumber. Hold her, rock her swing her, do what feels right and comfortable for the first few weeks/months. When you are ready, start weaving sleep friendly routines and patterns into her life. This is a gradual process so don’t expect huge, dramatic changes in her sleep patterns immediately. But you are laying the groundwork for improvement in the coming weeks and months.
Infant Sleep Tip #1: Establish a healthy feeding pattern as soon as baby is born
With young babies, everything revolves around feeding, including sleep. Making sure their feeding needs are being met is essential to their health and growth, as well as any sleep success. Most infants need approximately 6-7 full feedings between 6am–10pm, plus more at night depending on their growth and individual needs. “Full” is the operative word here. If breastfeeding, this usually means emptying both sides. The goal is to avoid snacking throughout the day, though shorter cluster feedings in the late afternoon are perfectly fine.
If there is any concern or doubt about whether the baby is getting sufficient calories during each feeding – or if breast or bottle-feeding become challenging – consult your pediatrician and/or lactation consultant promptly.
Note: Babies usually have growth spurts around 3 and 6 weeks, and 3 and 6 months. It is essential that they receive additional calories at these times and if breastfeeding, that they go to the breast more to up their mother’s milk production so that she can meet their need.
More infant sleep tips will be coming in my next posts. In the meantime, wishing everyone a good night’s sleep.