Ask any roomful of new parents what they wish for, and it’s a good bet that many will immediately respond, “Sleep!” Parenting a newborn is exhausting work that happens around the clock. And then, as your baby ages, new sleep issues come up like clockwork. How can you sleep train your baby? What’s a safe sleep environment look like? How can we create a healthy bedtime ritual? Dr. Deena Blanchard and Dr. Sara Connolly give us their insight!
How much sleep should a newborn get?
Dr. Deena: Newborns sleep a lot, but they sleep in small amounts. There’s a lot of exhaustion for moms, even though newborns sleep about 17 hours a day. But they wake up every few hours to feed. Even around 3-4 weeks, when they start to have more restful wakefulness, most newborns can’t stay up for more than about an hour.
Dr. Sara: A lot of new moms wonder if they should chart sleeping. That’s a good way to make yourself crazy, so I usually recommend against charting sleeping.
When should a baby go to bed?
Dr. Deena: What I tell parents is that the first 6 weeks of life is totally random. It’s not until 6 weeks, that they start to get that circadian rhythm with regular daytime sleep. Those long naps don’t really start until after 3 months or later. The expectation that your newborn is going to go down at a regular time or take a regular nap is a good way to create stress because that’s not going to happen.
What does “safe sleep” mean in the newborn period, even beginning in the hospital?
Dr. Deena: The AAP guidelines are pretty clear that a safe sleep space is a space where the baby sleeps alone in a crib or bassinet. There should be no gap between the mattress and rails. There should be no blankets, stuffed animals, bumpers, or anything else. A safe sleep space is really a space where the baby is left alone.
Dr. Sara: This doesn’t mean your baby can’t fall asleep in your arms. That’s great, but this is what we mean by a safe sleep space: it’s a place where the baby is alone in a crib with an appropriate mattress. Some people ask about breathable bumpers, and we say no. No wedges. It might look like a lonely crib, but that’s exactly what we want.
Why do we want to remove all those things from the crib? What’s the “why” behind it?
Dr. Deena: Bumpers, stuffed animals, and pillows are all suffocation risks. Babies don’t have much head control in the beginning, so you really want to be careful with the space your child is sleeping in. If your baby’s face gets wedged up against something fluffy, that’s a risk for suffocation.
How do we create a nighttime ritual?
Dr. Deena: We started our nighttime ritual early. I like nighttime rituals because it creates an idea that there is a difference between day and night. I tell parents three to four weeks is a good time to start. I feel like the house should settle around 7 p.m. It doesn’t mean the baby is in bed necessarily at 7 p.m., but the house is calmer. And you can read to babies! That’s a huge part of life around our house and it can be very powerful. As kids get older, you can let them start to make choices about their own bedtime routine. It doesn’t change it but gives them ownership over it.
Dr. Sara: Consistency is important when it comes to a bedtime ritual and sleep training. When you change your bedtime ritual, or when you let them cry it out sometimes and other times rush in, you’re changing the rules, and babies can react to that. So it’s very important that when you change the rules, give them time to adjust, and always stay consistent with your sleep training.