Getting Your Baby To Sleep

Your still unfurling, ever growing new baby is not designed to sleep through the night, even several months old. That is probably one of the most difficult adjustments new parents have to make.

There are several products that purport to train your infant to sleep longer periods. Some of them have been recalled and most of them are dangerous. The most recent one I saw was a weighted pad to put on the infant’s belly.

The idea is that the pressure of the weight is comforting so babies sleep undisturbed. That’s an explanation for use with adults and children. There is no evidence-based research to confirm that this actually benefits infants and young babies. There is plenty known about infant development to caution against it.

First, consider this: A one-pound weight on a seven-pound infant is heavy. Imagine yourself, a 150-pound adult, sleeping on your back with a 21-pound weight on your chest: are you comfortable like that for several hours? As an adult, you would be able to move and shift when you got uncomfortable. An infant cannot do that.

Secondly, an infant needs to rouse, wake and feed every two to three hours. This is an important part of brain growth, it is not ‘being disturbed’ or ‘fitful’. This is especially true for preterm babies who tend to be sleepier and need to be roused. They are still developing these important basic reflexes.

Thirdly, babies need to feed often. They have small stomachs and use all that energy for growing. Sleeping for long periods means they are not feeding frequently enough.

Some parents are concerned that their baby will “only sleep on my chest”, “only when being held.” That is actually a good thing. Held skin to skin, your infant benefits from sensing your breathing rhythm, heart rate and body temperature. For a vulnerable newborn, that is important to their growth. Your baby is learning to regulate. This comfort means less stress, for you and your baby. And as a baby grows, it still needs that comfort of your embrace.

One argument in favor of the weighted pads is that they are used in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU). Look carefully at the obvious differences in that situation. In the NICU, a baby’s breathing, temperature and heart rate are constantly monitored. If breathing ceases or heart rate drops, trained professionals are right there to immediately respond. The fact is that babies in a NICU are usually on a schedule to wake and feed every two hours. Weighted pads are not used in an NICU to get the infant to sleep longer, they are not used for extended periods and there is still more research to do about their use for all infants.

I understand a parent’s need to make this easier. Please do not put your money and faith into these products. The fact is, it takes time to learn and to adjust to the twenty-four hour/seven days a week endeavor called parenting. Rather than untested, unsafe and maybe costly equipment, parents benefit more from honest support.

One option is to wear your baby in a front pack. That keeps them safe and comfortable while your hands are free.  Perhaps there is another safe, calm adult who can hold the baby for awhile. Having said that, even without COVID-19 quarantine, you may be isolated. You could benefit from talking with others. Here is some online help.

I also recommend these resources to figure out sleep strategies.:
James McKenna, PhD at University of Notre Dame MotherBaby Sleep Lab
Sweet Sleep: Naptime and Bedtime Strategies for Breastfeeding Families.” A well researched and well written book.

Waking often in the first several months is normal. Understand the biological markers of your baby’s abilities; find ways to nap while your baby naps. Babies need a safe environment in which to grow, one that is respectful of them as still forming human beings.

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