HELP!!! My 3 week old sleeps all day and is up all night. My 6 week old baby screams every day from 6-8pm. Our newborn will only sleep in our arms. These are all pleas I hear via email (often sent in the wee hours of the morning) from new parents. While I wish that I could help them teach their babies to sleep, the reality is that for the first 6-8 weeks of a (full term) baby’s life, there is nothing you can do to influence their schedule or teach them sleeping skills. They will sleep when they want to and eat when they want to and for the schedule-driven, Type-A parent – that is killer. Despite your personality type, those first several weeks are tough! Of course, there are the blessed few who have dream babies who angelically sleep day and night from day one. For the rest of us, thankfully there are ways to cope! Here are some ideas:
A Cure for the Confusion?
The dreaded Day/Night confusion! Babies are born without a biological clock. Our bodies follow circadian rhythms that are controlled by external light and dark cues. Without these rhythms present, a newborn’s sleep lacks any sort of pattern. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot you can do to “fix” this issue. Some babies respond well to “light therapy” – making sure they are exposed to sunlight upon waking and thru the day and then come evening, dimming all of the lights in the house until bedtime. This can start to “prime” their biological clock. It is also helpful to keep the room dim for any night feedings and to interact with your baby as little as possible so that you can communicate that it is in fact sleep-time and not playtime. I adhere to the philosophy “never wake a sleeping baby”, but when they are awake during the day, try to keep them up for a minimum of 30 minutes (but not so long that they become overtired) to help set their clock. I know when you are in the thick of day/night confusion it seems utterly horrible, but remind yourself that it is only for a short time and that all babies grow out of it by 6 weeks of age.
If your baby could talk, that is what he would tell you about that. Try as you will, but it is near impossible to get a baby 8 weeks or younger on anything that resembles a consistent schedule. One day there will be a two-hour morning nap then next day that nap will be 30 minutes. Remember – no circadian rhythms equals no sleep schedule. One thing that you can rely on is how long your baby can tolerate being awake. If you watch your baby you will see that after only 45-60 minutes of being awake they will be ready for another snooze! If you are dying for some sort of rule or reliable piece of info about newborn sleep – here it is: your baby cannot handle being awake for longer than 45-60 minutes at a time for the first two months of their life. So make sure to keep an eye on the clock and provide your little one with a nap when the time rolls around. And be sure to factor in enough time to have them asleep by that mark and not just getting the process started.
That Dreaded Time of Day
Most of us have heard of the “Witching Hour”, that lovely time of day when your precious baby just doesn’t seem so precious. Most parents assume it’s just something that they have to live with until their baby grows out of it. Or that their baby is colicky. Maybe, but remember that wakeful period we just discussed? With 99% of the newborns I have worked with, once their caregivers were watching the clock and taking care that their baby was asleep before they became dreadfully overtired (wait for it), it DISAPEARED! For many babies the witching hour is just that baby’s way of saying – “hey guys, I am really tired here”. So give it a shot and see if it happens. If your baby’s “Witching Hour” begins in the early evening around 6pm or later – opt for an early bedtime instead trying to squeeze in one last nap. Yes, your baby may be ready for a feed just three hours later (at your bedtime – bonus!) but they will be happy and rested and not screaming in your ear. Maybe you can even have a few minutes of downtime or enjoy dinner together!
I Want a Golden Goose Now, Daddy!
While none of us want to raise a spoiled child, this is one time you do not need to have that worry about that occurring. You CANNOT spoil a baby under 8 weeks of age or do anything that will impact their ability to learn to self soothe at a later date! This one is in a two-way tie for my most valuable piece of advice (along with the short wakeful period). You need to do whatever it takes to get your baby and you the sleep you all need. For some babies that means figuring out what soothes them. For some it’s a pacifier, for some it’s white noise and still for others it’s a combo of things. I highly recommend Dr. Karp’s 5 S’s as they do in fact work and may just save your sanity in those early days. This notion of not being able to spoil your newborn also means that means allowing them to sleep wherever it’s easiest for both you and them. Be it in a swing, or in your arms, or in sling attached to you (I love the Baby K’tan or Moby Wrap) – again, whatever gets your family the most sleep!
The Tip Take-Away:
Newborns are finicky little things. Just remember these two things and you’ll be fine: do not allow them to be awake for longer than 60 minutes at a time and do whatever it takes to get them (and you) the sleep needed. In less than 12 months all of this will seem like a distant memory. You will be missing your “baby” and contemplating doing it all over again.
This article originally appeared on Hoboken Mommies – click here for article.