Understanding Your Baby’s Sleep Patterns

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued some helpful information on infant sleep patterns. Understanding how and why your baby sleeps (or doesn’t!) can ensure a better night’s rest for everyone.

The healthy baby’s sleep and waking patterns often prove problematic to parents, and when a child doesn’t sleep as expected, the parent-child relationship can start off on the wrong foot.

Sleep patterns – and problems – differ as the child ages. As the newborn brain slowly matures, the infant acquires the ability to cope with the stimulus load of the waking world. In early infancy, a child is sleeping 16-18 hours a day, and may prefer to be wakeful during the peaceful night rather than the hectic daytime hours. If parents understand this, they won’t blame themselves or be fearful for the child, and may not make the mistake of trying to stimulate the baby into daytime wakefulness.

By two months, many children are staying awake well enough but have very difficult transitions to sleep. Mothers and fathers often encounter two or more hours of crying and irritability in the early evenings as
they try unsuccessfully to rock, walk, or sing their babies to sleep. At this age, they can be reminded that these babies are already overstimulated, and that a brief period of under stimulation (swaddling, quiet, dark room) may allow the child to settle to sleep after a little fussing.

Babies (like all humans) wake regularly through the night and often drift back into a deep sleep. The almost universal assumption that babies wake because they’re hungry may result in parents “training” the child to expect a feeding. Experienced parents often wait a few minutes before responding to a child who is quietly fussing, and find that they will settle themselves. If the baby does begin to cry in the night, once they have begun to sleep through the night, parents should resist feeding them. If they are fed in an effort to quiet their crying, chances are they will soon come to expect this response whenever they wake up in the night,

Parents may also face various challenges and stressors related to sleep starting around 4 months when separation anxiety usually starts. Sleep behaviors associated with separation anxiety include a new reluctance to go to sleep and resurgence in night waking. If these sleep behaviors are not positively addressed by the time the child is 7-8 months, they will continue to insist on the behaviors that cause stress because it is now habit to them. Bedtime routines, rituals, consistency and reassurances from parents can help the child settle down and become sleepy.

aa mom with baby in crib  safely