Very often, the questions I hear about breastfeeding are also questions about sleeping. These are our most basic needs, eating and sleeping. 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. No point in even trying. Infants do not have a circadian (day/night) rhythm yet. This develops as their brain develops. They have to wake often to feed, even at night. In the first weeks, truly, you must nap when your baby naps. You’ll adapt more easily as a new family.
• By around three to four months, they begin to establish a circadian rhythm. They can sleep longer at night and have daily naps, though they still need to feed in the night. They still need you for contact and cuddles. What makes this easier is that now you’ll know more about your child. You may notice early signs of hunger and tiredness. Based on your baby’s rhythms, you can create routines for nap and bedtime.
Being held a lot is a normal need for babies. They are rapidly growing their brains and bodies. You are reassurance for them. Eye contact, your loving touch, your voice: these are your most valuable tools. “You are not managing an inconvenience. You are raising a human being.” Wise words from Kittie Franz, RN
There’s usually a pattern to when your baby is ‘neediest’, maybe cluster feeding (every hour for say, three hours) or just cranky. Note if it’s late afternoon, or early evening, or mornings. Anticipate your own needs (food, bathroom, book nearby) and be ready. Then you’ll have the energy for your child’s higher need time.
Here are some things to help you and your baby:
• Wear your baby in a sling or wrap. Walk, dance, get outside for fresh air. It frees your hands, is better for your posture and keeps your baby close.
• Dim lights, turn off the computer, radio and television to reduce stimulation.
• Massage is soothing. Offer this when your child is calm and receptive. An infant may only accept five minutes.
• At some point, you’ll fall asleep with your child. Plan ahead and make your bed, or co-sleeper, a safe place to sleep:
• Firm mattress • No extra covers or pillows
• Baby next to mother, not the wall. • No drugs, drinking or sedating medications.
When you are feeling really tired, lie on the floor or get into your safe bed with your baby. Falling asleep on the couch with your baby is not safe. Leaving your child in a car seat on the floor is not safe.
• When you feel overwhelmed, put your baby in a safe place (crib, floor), step back and take some deep breaths. Call someone who will listen. The Parental Stress Hotline is open 24 hours, 7 days a week. 1-800-632-8188. You will be able to weather 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.