Ensuring that your infant is getting adequate rest is an important part of his/her growth and development. Just like older children and adults, there will be some variation in the amount of time spent sleeping. Most young infants require somewhere between 14-16 hours of sleep over a 24 hour period. During the first few months of life, you will notice that your baby will only sleep for periods of about 2-4 hours, particularly due to the need to wake for feeds. These “blocks” of sleep will gradually lengthen, and sometime between 4-6 months old, this will become 6-8 hours periods of sleep. Naps will still be a part of your daily routine and for those infants over 6 months, anywhere from 2-4 naps will be required up until a year old.
Over the first two to three months, your infant should start to normalize their sleep-wake cycle, developing a pattern similar to our own. To promote this transition, maximize interactions with your baby when he/she is awake during the day. Providing stimulating playtime, for instance, in a well-lit environment will help you achieve this. At night, focus on predictably soothing bedtime routines. Given enough time, the natural sleep rhythm will take shape.
By the time your infant is 6 months old and likely sleeping for longer stretches at night, it is not unreasonable to begin teaching him/her how to self soothe. To start developing this ability, get in the habit of putting your little one to bed while drowsy. Placing your infant in his/her crib while drowsy but still awake will help to break the association that someone is needed in order to settle himself/herself back to sleep.
After conquering these initial milestones, you may feel as if you are on cruise control, when all of a sudden, nighttime wakings resurface. There is a simple explanation for this seemingly inconvenient situation. Around 9 months old (may be earlier for some infants), babies develop the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen. In other words they realize that when you leave a room, you are not gone forever; all they need to do is summon you with a cry. The good news is that this sleep milestone won’t last forever and there’s a healthy way to get through it all. First, continue to maintain nurturing bedtime routines. Then, in the instance your infant awakens during the night, simply check in and help settle him/her back to sleep. Over time you will notice that your little one will develop the ability to return to sleep independently.
Just as much as it is a priority to establish regular routines for good sleep hygiene, it is even more important to ensure a safe sleep environment. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) claims the lives of a significant number of infants each year in the United States. SIDS is the sudden and unexpected death of a baby younger than 1 year old. Placing your infant on his/her back to sleep (for naps or at night) on a firm mattress with well-fitted sheets, is one of the most important things you can do to reduce the risk of SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has developed a list of recommendations that has been shown to reduce the risk of sleep-related deaths in this age group.
Please familiarize yourself with these recommendations and do share them with anyone who helps you care for your infant:
Place your infant on his/her back to sleep.
Use a firm surface/mattress for sleep.
Room share for at least the first six months of life. Place your infant in a nearby sleep space (a crib or bassinet) in your room, but do not share the same bed.
Do not swaddle your baby after the age of 2 months old.
Do not place blankets, toys, bumper pads, or other items in the crib with your infant.
Offer (but don’t force) a pacifier during naps and nighttime sleep.
Fully immunize your infant.
Breastfeed when possible.
Do not smoke during pregnancy.
Make supervised tummy time a regular part of your baby’s playtime. This will help strengthen motor skills.