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Will I ever sleep again? Tips for an infant’s safe and happy night’s sleep

Baby sleeping

With interrupted sleep affecting both you and your baby, establishing good sleep habits will help your entire family. Here, pediatrician Tiffany Kimbrough, medical director of the Mother and Infant Care Unit at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, helps you prepare for the smoothest sleep possible.

Sleep safety ABCs

To help you understand how and where your baby should sleep, Dr. Kimbrough recommends you follow these “ABC”s:

• A stands for alone. Babies should always sleep in their own space — not with you or another caregiver. Your baby could fall out of bed or even suffocate if you accidentally roll on top of them or their face becomes covered with soft bedding while you sleep.

• B stands for back, meaning babies should be placed on their backs to sleep for every sleep opportunity. Once they get bigger and are able to roll over onto their stomach, you don’t have to flip them onto their back in the middle of the night if they roll over. At least start older babies out on their backs for the night.

• C stands for crib. Avoid putting your baby to bed in a swing or car seat for sleeping. Babies should be in a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) certified safe sleep space like a bassinet or crib every time they sleep. Support your baby with a firm mattress and no extra pillows, blankets or soft bedding.

Expect frequent feedings

“It’s important for babies to feed frequently, especially in the beginning, so they can help maintain mom’s milk supply,” Kimbrough noted. “It’s not uncommon for breastfeeding babies to wake up more often at night during those early weeks to help establish feeding.”

Move your baby to the crib after feeding. If you accidentally fall asleep while feeding, have your partner take the baby to the crib. “Parenting is a team sport, so use your partner,” Kimbrough said.

Bedtime habits start early

While your baby shouldn’t sleep in your bed, Kimbrough recommends keeping the crib in your room for the first six months to help reduce the risk of sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) and increase breastfeeding ease. Low light and low stimulation set the stage for good sleep habits.

Newborns are only awake 45-60 minutes at a time and enjoy six to seven sleep cycles a day. They may cue you that they’re ready to snooze by yawning or fidgeting. Older babies may rub their eyes or the outside of their ear.

“Jump on those early sleepy cues before you miss the boat and get into over-tired territory,” Kimbrough said. “By 6 months, you will notice your infant has three regular nap times during the day. And by 9-12 months, most babies are down to two daytime naps.”

Establish a healthy sleep routine early. Dim the lights and quieten the space as much as you can.

You can add a little structure to your baby’s day by weeks 4-6 — any earlier than that and your baby may not be ready to incorporate day/night cycles. This addition may be a bedtime bath, book or song. At this point babies begin to understand nighttime cues. Around 3 to 4 months, they may be able to get to sleep on their own with these cues in place.

Take care of your mental health

Every baby is different, Kimbrough cautioned. Your baby may not sleep through the night for months, even if your friend’s baby did so sooner. Half of all babies still wake up once a night around 6 months of age. Try to avoid the comparison trap and feeling like you’ve done something wrong if your baby isn’t sleeping the same as another.

Lastly, try to rest. Sleep deprivation during the first few months is real and can impact you significantly.

“Postpartum depression is incredibly common in women, but we’re learning it’s also common in men,” Kimbrough said. “The more you take care of your overall physical being, the more that helps your mental health. I encourage families to try to sleep when they can. We all know that adage of ‘sleep when the baby sleeps,’ but babies may have their nights and days mixed up for a few weeks. It’s important to nap during the day when you’re able.”

Your pediatrician and health care provider can help troubleshoot if you face too many sleepless nights with your bundle of joy and can help you find the solution that’s right for your family.

Listen to our podcast 

Listen to a podcast on this topic with pediatrician Tiffany Kimbrough, medical director of the Mother and Infant Care Unit at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.