It's an early parenthood puzzle: Is my baby sleeping too much? Is it normal for him to feed so much at night? Why are her naps so short? Newborns don't magically "sleep when they need to sleep."
And parents who are just getting to know their new family member haven't yet figured out baby's sleep needs or cues. But supporting healthy sleep starts early. Read on for tips on helping your wee one sleep well (so you can catch a few zzz's, too!).
New parents are often shocked by how much new babies sleep, says Roslinde M. Collins, M.D., sleep specialist at Vermont's Rutland Regional Medical Center.
In the first month, it can hit 18 hours a day. "But lots of parents wonder if something is wrong when their baby sleeps that much," she notes.
Newborns don't have a predictable naps until 3-4 months. Until then, don't fret about short naps. Just wake your child from any nap longer than two to three hours, to protect nighttime sleep.
Make some noise
After being lulled by a blanket of mom's internal sounds for nine months, new babies often find life outside the womb strangely quiet, says Harvey Karp, M.D., pediatrician and author of The Happiest Baby on the Block.
He recommends high-quality white noise to help support longer sleep periods. "White noise is like an audible teddy bear – it's very soothing to babies," he says.
Night owl nudge
In the early weeks of life, a baby's circadian rhythm begins to develop. This "body clock" helps her organize sleep patterns, resulting in more daytime wakefulness and sleepiness at night. This rhythm falls into place around the second month. Until then, many babies swap day for night, preferring to snooze all day and play all night, leaving parents exhausted.
To help babies learn that night is for sleeping, seek out bright light by day and avoid nighttime light exposure, says Collins. This allows your baby's brain to produce adequate melatonin at night.
"Melatonin is the hormone that tells our brains when we should be sleeping, and it's suppressed during light exposure," she says. Skip night lights, use blackout curtains and go with very dim light for nighttime feedings and diaper changes.
Support independent sleep
In the womb, your baby drifted off without your help. It's perfectly fine to nurse or rock a new baby to sleep – but these are learned habits. And if you'd like your child to learn to sleep independently, take small steps now.
Put your baby down to sleep when he appears tired and try to allow him to fall asleep unassisted. Your kiddo may surprise you by revealing that he can fall asleep solo, at least some of the time.
Allowing him to do so whenever possible is the key to healthy sleep habits through babyhood, toddlerhood and beyond.