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How to Get a Newborn to Sleep Through the Night

Updated on December 5, 2016
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Whitney is a mom trying to evoke a healthy, happy life for herself and her family.

Newborn babies sleep 16 to 17 hours a day for two to four hour periods. They don't care if it's day or night, they're going to wake up.

Because of the shorter sleep cycles, babies spend more time in REM sleep, which is thought to be necessary for the rapid brain development.

The irregular sleep pattern is a necessary phase for your baby, but it doesn't last forever. Some babies will begin sleeping longer periods of time earlier than others - there's no norm for your baby's habits. Your baby will begin to comfort himself and sleep for longer stretches at his own developmental pace.

Sleeping through the night is a milestone, just like crawling, walking and potty training. Each baby develops as his own pace, but understanding why your baby wakes and what you may be able to do to calm him at night could be steps to get your baby sleeping for longer periods.

Why Do Babies Wake at Night

Babies will wake at night for many reasons. Even when your baby starts to sleep through the night for a few weeks or even a few months, he may start waking up for a variety of reasons.

  • Hunger
  • Want time with mom
  • Teething
  • Developmental advances - often before or after learning to turn over, crawl or walk
  • Illness - allergy, eczema, diaper rash, etc
  • Reflux
  • Solid foods - many babies start to increase night waking after they start eating solid foods (specifically babies less than six months old); avoid solid foods late in the evening
  • Room temperature - too hot or too cold
  • Reverse cycling - some babies will reject most/all supplements while mom is working during the day and will only nurse in the evening and night.

Tips for Getting Baby to Settle Down

Frequent Naps. For the first six to eight weeks, most babies aren't able to stay awake for more than two or three hours at a time. If you wait longer than that to put your baby to bed, he may be overtired and may have trouble falling asleep.

Night and Day. Some babies are night owls and will be wide awake at bedtime. When your baby is about two weeks old, you can start teaching him how to distinguish night versus day. When he's alert during the day, interact with him as much as you can, keeping the house and his room lights on and bright. Don't worry about minimizing daytime sounds and noises, like the vacuum, phone, doorbell, dogs, etc. At night, don't play with him or spend a lot of time talking to him when he wakes up. Keep the lights and noise level low, and he'll figure out that nighttime is for sleeping.

Signs of Being Tired. Watch for signs that your baby is tired, such as rubbing his eyes, pulling on his ear, being fussy or yawning. If you see these signs or other signs of tiredness, try putting him down for bed.

Set a Bedtime Routine. Start a bedtime routine as early as you can. Even though your newborn may not appreciate a nighttime routine as much as a six month old, starting a routine earlier helps create habit for you and your baby.

  • Keep activities the same and in the same order every night.
  • Make nighttime activities calm and peaceful.
  • Bath time calms many babies before bed.
  • Keep nighttime conditions in your baby's room consistent. Keep the sounds and lights the same when he wakes up as when he fell asleep.

Go to Bed Tired But Awake. By the time your baby is six to eight weeks old, you can start giving him a chance to fall asleep on his own by putting him in his crib while he's still awake. At this age, babies are still learning their sleep habits, so rocking him to sleep can set the precedent for the long run.

Night Weaning

Breast milk doesn't last last as long in the belly as formula, so breastfed babies tend to wake every two hours, or so. This can be quite tiresome, especially if you have to get up early and go to work.

Try night weaning your baby to reduce the how often your baby wakes at night.

  • Nurse More During the Day. Encourage your baby to nurse every two hours instead of three or four.
  • Minimize Distractions. During the day, breast feed in a room that has as few distractions as possible. Sometimes babies can become distracted feeding during the day that they don't consume enough milk that they must make up for it during the night. One study even showed that babies will consume about 25% of breast milk throughout the night, possibly because they become distracted during the day.
  • Power Feed. Nurse more often in the hours leading up to bedtime. Try feeding every one to two hours. Nurse on one breast only during this time so that your baby consumes more of the higher fat milk at the end of the feeding. When the baby does wake in the middle of the night, nurse with the other breast.
  • Dream Feed. Nurse your baby before you go to bed, even if your baby is already in bed. This will let you have a longer period of sleep before your baby wakes again. Your baby may still be half asleep, but he should get a feeding in.

Night weaning should not be attempted unless your baby is at least four months old.

Let the Baby Cry it Out

Crying it out is a type of sleep training that is well-known but controversial. The goal is the teach your baby how to sleep on his own and put himself back to sleep if he wakes. The director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children's Hospital Boston advises not to start this type of training until their baby is at least five to six months old.

Steps for crying it out:

  1. Put your baby in his crib - tired but awake
  2. If your baby cries, wait a few minutes before you check on him. The amount of time you wait depends on you and your baby, start off waiting just one to five minutes.
  3. When you enter the room, try to console your baby without picking him up. Don't stay for more than two to three minutes, even if he's still crying when you leave.
  4. If he continues to cry, gradually increase the amount of time you wait before going into the room to check on him again.

The first few nights may be difficult, but by day three or four, you may see a change. Typically, you'll notice an improvement within a week.

Sleep Training

Twelve Hours' Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old: A Step-by-Step Plan for Baby Sleep Success
Twelve Hours' Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old: A Step-by-Step Plan for Baby Sleep Success

Whether you have a new born or an infant, this book has tips that will help your baby sleep longer at night. I've tried it with my newborn and had him sleeping through the night by 15 weeks after starting him at six weeks old. My sister-in-law had her five month old sleeping through the night within five weeks of the sleep plan.

 

There are many different books that teach sleep training a baby. Each of these methods come with their own controversies. It's up to you to read the reviews and make the best decision for yourself and your baby. If you have any questions or concerns, please consult your pediatrician, especially before making any drastic changes to your child's routine.

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