- The Fam
This post is part of a parenting series focused on raising happy, resilient children. Read more about this series HERE.
Oh my little baby Raine sleeping. She WAS and IS so sweet.
For those of you who have popping in for my Happy Kids Series, it is time to move on to number 3 in my 5 newborn parenting tactics that make all the difference when raising happy kids. Here is a refresher of our list and what we have covered so far:
5) FALLING IN LOVE
Let’s face it. You NEED your baby to sleep so you can get some well-deserved rest. And really, baby needs YOU to be well rested so you are fully attentive and ready to meet their needs.
So let’s make this happen. Here is my best advise for helping your baby establish healthy sleeping patterns and making sure that lack of sleep is not a barrier to having a happy and content little one.
Sleep is essential in baby’s development, and just like all the other things I keep going on and on about, babies with healthy sleep patterns turn into children with healthy sleep patterns, so save yourself a lot of grief and sleepless nights by establishing the ground work now.
Tips for establishing healthy sleeping habits for baby
Learn the signs. For the first 6-8 weeks babies will have a hard time staying awake longer than 2 hours, and if you wait longer than two hours, they may become over stimulated and have trouble falling asleep which = lots of crying/screaming.
Stuff like this makes me wonder why we even try! It’s such a fine balance.
But really, once you can get a feel for recognizing signs that your baby is tired, this all makes so much more sense. You’ll soon become THE go-to expert regarding your baby’s rhythms and patterns. Just take a couple days to really hone in on your babies behaviors and patterns– if you put aside some of your prior assumptions, you may be surprised at what you learn about your baby.
To give an example, after I did this with Raine for a while, I was surprised to find out that when she did start to get fussy the #1 reason was because she was TIRED, not hungry. It got me to thinking, most parents first reaction to a fussy baby is to feed them…but if what they really need is sleep, feeding them when they are not hungry will just lead to overfeeding which will lead to an upset stomach and then they won’t be able to sleep– although that’s what they really needed in the first place!
Sounds miserable right? For parent and baby! I really like to sleep. I NEED my babies to sleep.
In this process it’s important to keep an open mind, don’t make assumptions and really investigate your baby’s cues to determine their true needs and patterns.
Some common signs of sleepiness:
- A glazed stare that may turn into arching their back (newborn)
- Facial grimaces (newborn)
- Clenched fists, flailing legs or arm movements (newborn)
- Seeking comfort through sucking or feeding (newborn)
- Rubbing eyes (3-12 months)
- Pulling on ears, nose or hair (3-12 months)
- Slowing down or becoming disinterested
- Clinginess (sign of overtiredness)
- Behavior deteriorating quickly (no matter what they can not be happy)
Keep in mind if these signs are not recognized, baby may escalate quickly. An example of this would be your baby may try to fuss a bit to signal it’s time for bed, this doesn’t work so he tries his hand at whining and all he gets is a boob in his face so he’ll give it his all and scream his head off in pure frustration. While you were still looking for ‘fussiness’ as a sign of babe being tired, he has already moved on.
Start establishing a difference between day and night (At 2-6 weeks). After a couple of weeks of getting familiar with each other it will be time to start working on healthy sleeping habits which includes separate night and day routines. During the day you should be playing and interacting with baby when they are alert. Wake them for feedings and don’t tip toe around them when they are sleeping. Leave the windows open, exposing them to lots of light and let in fresh air during the day.
At night, make sure his environment is more appropriate for nighttime routines. Keep the lights low, don’t play with him when he wakes (feed, diaper change and then back to bed) and keep the noise and talking to a minimum.
Regular naps. This is a part of creating a flexible schedule for baby. Once you have a finger on their sleeping habits, you will be able to anticipate when they need to go to sleep and to make it easier on yourself and other caretakers, establish a napping schedule throughout the day. This also makes it much easier to get things done and run errands when you have a good idea when baby will need to be home to sleep.
Here’s some sleep science: We all have sleep patterns that differ from each other due to age and our daily routines. They are controlled by our internal clocks and consist of 5 stages, with the fifth stage being our REM sleep. This is the most important sleep, our active dreaming stage when our bodies do most of our repairs. Typically, a newborn’s sleep cycle (from stage 1-5) lasts for 20-40 minutes and they need 1-3 cycles during a daytime nap to feel well rested. For infants, their cycles typically last 30-60 minutes and they too need 1-3 cycles during a daytime nap.
Why the crap am I writing about this you ask? One, it’s interesting. Two, I don’t want you to think I’m mean when I say, if they wake up before they have their needed amount of sleep, help them go back to sleep. It is very common for babies to wake between cycles. In fact, both of my girls did… and Lime was like clockwork. She would always wake up a little fussy halfway through her nap. Sometimes it would require me going in and rubbing her back for a minute, but most of the time she would fuss for a minute or so and then fall back asleep before I even got to her.
A great tip that I was given (or read?) once upon a time was that if your baby wakes up happy, then you know they have had enough sleep. If they wake up fussy or grumpy, then they did not get enough sleep.
Naps are an important part of a baby’s day because they promote alertness and growth. We can’t really afford to think of napping as a supplement to nighttime sleep. As a matter of fact, it might be helpful to think of it the other way around. When baby wakes up happy from restful naps and has in between nap periods filled with optimal alertness to ensure they are playing and learning all they need throughout the day, they will be ready to fall back asleep easily for a good nights rest. It’s a happy and content cycle!
Let baby fall asleep on their own (At two months). I know this can be hard. Who wants to give up snuggling a sweet resting infant? But you just have to consider the tradeoffs. By allowing them to regularly fall asleep in your arms, you are establishing a routine of coaxing them to sleep rather than learning to fall asleep on their own. Which is a very important skill to learn for healthy sleep habits now and later in childhood.
Really, I consider there to be one main difference between a baby who can fall asleep on their own versus a baby who has to be coaxed to sleep…parents that sleep. Nuf, said.
Take a moment to consider this question– do you really want your child to rely on you to get them to sleep by rocking, nursing or driving them around the block for the next year or more? And this includes EVERY TIME they wake up in the middle of the night and need to go back to sleep. I don’t know about you but I have a deep appreciation for an uninterrupted night of sleep.
When parents coax babies to sleep, they establish a routine or habit for baby and they will need you to be able to drift back to sleep. All babies wake up a few times throughout the night but how they handle the disruption will be determined by what skills they have coping mechanisms they have developed. For some that will be to whimper and allow their parents to hold them till they drift off. For others it may be to self-soothe and then quickly fall back to sleep. Believe me, it is so much easier to give them the chance to learn how to independently drift off into peaceful sleep as an infant so that coaxing them to sleep never becomes an issue.
This is how you do it– it’s very simple. Lay them down before they are completely asleep. You don’t have to give up snuggle time, just snuggle until they are very relaxed and sleepy and then lay them down in their beds while they are still awake. With time you can start to increase their level of alertness when laying them down. They will fall asleep on their own with practice and what an amazing gift you have given them! This is an example of self-soothing at a very young age. If they can self-soothe at bedtime, they are much less likely to have sleep problems as they grow older.
Additional tip: Try NOT to feed them to lull them to sleep. Keep them alert during feedings (rub their feet or gently blow on their face) to make sure they are well fed and do not depend on eating to fall asleep.
Start a bedtime routine. Once a routine in put in motion, babies will start to relax when their bodies receive signal which is formed by habit that its time to start winding down.
Here are my two sleep routine tips:
1) Make sure it’s a routine that you can enjoy and is not too much of a chore. Dreading putting your babe to sleep is a drag!
2) Make sure that it is adaptable to many different situations (including travel).
- Bath before bed
- Rubbing on nighttime lotion
- Baby massages
- Reading a story or telling them a story
- Singing lullabies
- Repeat sleep phrases softly when they are calm and relaxed
Consider Co-sleeping. Real quick. Co-sleeping is considered having your baby sleep near-by versus sleeping in the bed with you. I know we all do in-the-bed but babies aren’t really meant to sleep in big cushiony adult beds, its not very safe. So when I refer to co-sleeping, I mean having them sleep close by.
There is debate as to whether it is healthier for newborns to sleep in bed with you or out. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this. But I think it’s something to consider, determining what is the best choice for your family (while your awake).
I think it’s interesting to take into account that an infant sleeping independently is a relatively new cultural phenomenon…a huge first world experiment. For most of time parents have co-slept with their babies.
Personally, I don’t think it’s an all-or-nothing thing and not a huge issue. I think most parents co-sleep with their babies with out even making a conscious decision to do so. There are so many forms of co-sleeping, bassinette close by bed, on the couch and in rocker, etc. There are just as many studies for and against it.
But what’s cool is there are studies that find that babies naturally monitor their parents’ physiological states while sleeping… and then match them. This is how we naturally teach our children good sleeping habits. Some argue that the cases of SIDS among these babies dramatically drop (or non existent in some cultures). There are benefits of being much easier to breast feed during those early on middle of the night sessions and babies that co-sleep sleep longer! I’m sold.
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