Very often, the questions I hear about breastfeeding are also questions about sleeping. These are our most basic needs, eating and sleeping, and ideally they are done with calm. It will help to know what are normal sleep patterns for babies and ways to comfort them.
• In the first two months, babies sleep in 30 minute to three hour stretches, not on a schedule. They wake often so they can feed. In the first weeks, truly, you must nap when your baby naps. You’ll adapt more easily as a new family.
• Starting at two months, babies can sleep longer at night and have regular daily naps. By two months you’ll know more about your child’s signals and can anticipate patterns. Based on your baby’s rhythms, you can create routines for nap and bedtime. This benefits the whole family and develops a healthy habit for your child’s life.
Do take care of your needs first. If you’re really hungry or have a sore back, it’s hard to convey calm to your child. “Treat the mother, treat the child” as the old adage goes. I include fathers in that, too.
Understand that being held is a normal need for babies. They thrive on eye contact, your loving touch, your voice. These are your basic tools. You are not spoiling your child, they are not manipulating you. Babies are definately time intensive, with rapidly growing brains and bodies.
Here are some things you can do to help your unwind when you see him getting tired/fussy.
• Wear your baby in a sling or wrap. Your baby is close, your hands are free and it’s better for your posture. Walk or dance your baby to sleep. Get some fresh air and move beyond the rocking chair.
• Dim lights, turn off the computer and television to reduce stimulation. Music and smells can subtly change a mood or at least, make it smell like a different phase of the day.
• Massage is soothing. You can learn from a good video. Though babies do thrive on touch, be sure your child is calm and receptive at the time. Five minutes may be enough for an infant.
At times your baby may cluster feed, that is nurse every hour for say, three hours. Or she may prefer long nursing sessions. There’s usually a pattern to this, late afternoon or evening, or after a big event like a growth spurt or new skill. Your best bet is to plan ahead for these times.
• Have your own needs met (dinner, bathroom break, book nearby) so you can settle down and enjoy time with your child. Your baby will get the calories and contact she needs, the frequent nursing boosts production. Hopefully, you’ve got your feet up, too. (Good for your posture.)
• You’ll fall asleep with your child sometime. Make your bed a safe place to sleep: firm mattress, no extra covers or pillows, baby next to mother not the wall. Or use a co-sleeper. Either one is much safer than falling asleep with your baby on a couch. (Of course, no drugs, drinking or sedating medications).
All around the world there are many lullabies and types of slings. And you can see why it takes a village to raise a child.
• At any point when you feel overwhelmed, call a friend, another parent. The Parental Stress Hotline is open 24 hours, 7 days a week. 1-800-632-8188.
• It’s okay to put your baby in a safe place (crib, floor, car seat), step back and take some deep breaths, call for help.
• High pitched screams, tensed body and red in the face crying are distress signals that you must address. No doubt you will feel distressed, too. Call for help.
Your endeavor is to be the calm within your baby’s storm. It’s a huge learning curve in the first several months. Rest assured, you are learning with your baby and eventually you’ll have soothing patterns for sleeping.